I almost hesitate to mention this for the crush of people that are sure to crowd into the space already, but tonight is the opening of the much-anticipated survey of Will Munro: History, Glamour, Magic at the Art Gallery of York University. Will was a much-loved creative force in this city whose memory is still being celebrated, and full-heartedly, almost two years after his death. Tonight's opening will surely be a nexus of such things -- fond remembrances, joyful celebration, and more than a few tears. Starts tonight at 6; as with most things with Will, when and where it ends is anyone's guess.
The hits keep on coming at the AGO, which today announced that it would host a major exhibition of revolutionary Mexican painters (and lovers) Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. The show, imported from the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, is called, fittingly, Passion, Politics and Painting, and will feature 75 works from Mexico's Museo Dolores Olmedo. It opens Oct. 12.
In any case, I have no idea what the lads will be doing whilst in residence (the AGO site namechecks Northrop Frye, General Idea, and the Group of Seven, for heaven's sake, but why do pillowfights come to mind?), but I aim to find out. Happy weekend.
For those of you who missed the Justina M. Barnicke gallery's enthralling, more-than-occasionally troubling video-heavy show "Models for Taking Part" last fall, here's your chance to revisit what I thought was its most troubling, and most brilliant, portion: Episode III: Enjoy Poverty, a film by Dutch artist Renzo Martens that took absurd hyperbole to prove a point to a unnervingly distant extreme. (See trailer, above)
Martens is in town this week to talk about the film on Tuesday, but first, on Monday, the gallery will screen Episode III, filmed in Congo. Before Martens' talk on Tuesday, it will show Episode I, which was shot in Chechnya.
For Episode III, Martens spent almost two years in Congo, both documenting the daily lives of impoverished Congolese and exploring the relationship those at the lowest end of society had with the upper-level machinations of what we might in the broadest sense call foreign aid -- the various national and international committees working groups that funnel money into the country ostensibly to help the poor, and Non-Govermental Organizations (NGOs) that typically administer it.
Martens takes an intentionally-simplistic approach to what we in the west continually shrug off as a complex problem. Just to grab a single example among many, he asks villagers how much money each makes in a month -- about $1, they tell him -- and then reveals that the typical NGO worker who parachutes into the village for a month or so here and there lives on a $1000 monthly living allowance.
While this could easily smack of simple pedantics, Martens inflects Enjoy Poverty with an absurdists’ sardonic glee. He shows up at a meeting of a World Bank governors, where it's announced the latest international commitment to foreign aid for the Congo will be $1.8 billion, and asks some simple questions: How much of Congo's total revenue does the $1.8 billion represent, and if it's significant, is it right to suggest that poverty is in fact an important natural resource for the country, in terms of attracting foreign investment?
One of the governors laughinghly calls poverty "a defeat" for the entire international community, before he allows that foreign aid brings more money into the country than any of Congo's main resources -- copper, diamonds and coltan -- combined.
This is, in essence, the bombastic core of Martens' exploration: That poverty is in fact a huge revenue stream to be exploited. Martens wants to see the Congolese get in on the action, though here's where that artistic hyperbole comes in again. Among his revenue-sharing schemes is his suggestion to local wedding photographers that they turn their lens to international-media cliche images of starving children and haphazard, camo-clad militia -- bread and butter to many news agencies -- to make more money. "We should train them to become the beneficiaries of their own poverty," Martens said in a TV interview recently.
As a functional critique of what we typically call "poverty porn" -- those endless images of ravaged elsewheres that flash past our screens just long enough to register as generally troubling before being forgotten -- Martens work is brilliantly realized.
When he unapologetically films white aid workers on the scene of an emergency relief effort, gleefully snapping photos and videotaping the suffering that surrounds them, the sense is of a Disneyland of third-world misery -- as they grin broadly, this is the happiest place on earth, for them at least -- but it's just a prelude to Martens' point, eventually laid out in can't-miss fashion: Martens holds a party for a village he's spent time in, first fashioning an enormous neon sign in bright blue block letters: ENJOY POVERTY (smaller and bright pink is the word "PLEASE").
It's a tantalizing moment, as Martens fires up the generator and the sign, trussed up on ramshackle bamboo scaffolding, comes to life. Dark faces cast in the pale-blue glow light up in broad smiles, giving way to a chorus of cheering, dancing, drumming. As he explains earlier to some villagers that the sign is in English, not the native Congolese French, he points out that "for the audience, it needs to be in English." The villagers nod. In other words, they're not the ones for whom poverty is to enjoy. By baldfaced declaration and a sudden rush of self-implication, Martens makes crystal-clear: If you can read this, he's talking to you.
Episode III: Enjoy Poverty screens Monday, Jan. 9 at 6 pm at the University of Toronto's Hart House. Episode I screens Tuesday, Jan. 10 at Hart House, followed by a talk by Martens at 7 pm.
For those who aren't familiar with Brendan Fernandes' work, you need to know it's structured around a disarming array of multiplicities in his wildly hyrbid identity. An Indian-Kenyan Canadian living in New York who's also gay, Fernandes has always plied his mongrel identity in his work to uniquely potent effect, challenging assumptions and typecasts with a clever knowingness.
That's in part why his current show at Diaz is a little disappointing. Here, Fernandes, a Sobey finalist last year for the body of work I just mentioned, embraces the aching sincerity of contemporary dance -- he trained as a dancer before he became an artist -- choreographing high-romantic sequences between lovers. He complements these with take-away posters with text, and graphic works that work with the dance conventions of dots and lines.
The latter of these are the most satisfying, with their up-close visual qualities both magnifying the graphic qualities of these very practical forms (dancers use them to mark places and movements on the floor) at the same time as removing their function. But the video performances are awkward and uncompelling, and lack the tension that fuels so much of Ferandes unique sensibility. I give him credit for trying something new; it's both brave and risky. I just don't think it works.
Either way, Fernandes show wraps up tomorrow (Jan. 7) at Diaz with a live performance of Encomium, the piece he created for it, at 3 pm.
This is just sad. Apparently, a woman helped inaugurate the new Clyfford Still museum in Denver by assaulting one of the AbEx master's epic canvases. According to Reuters, "a police report said Carmen Tisch punched and scratched the painting, an oil-on-canvas called "1957-J no.2" (above) at the recently opened Clyfford Still museum in Denver and pulled her pants down to slide her buttocks against it." According to the Denver Post, Tisch "slid down it and urinated on herself," according to a criminal case filed against her. The incident occurred Dec. 29, but just became public this morning.
Art vandalism is hardly a new thing, but Tisch, 35, wasn't even able to be inventive in her blunt criticism of Still's work (which, for the record, is my favourite among the field.) She could take a page from Toronto's own Jubal Brown, who, as an art student in 1996, made a project of vomiting primary colours on famous works in museums to underscore his disdain of official histories (A Raoul Dufy at the AGO was targeted with a spew of bright red, created from gorging on cranberries, among other things; blue hurl was aimed at a Piet Mondrian work at MoMA in New York, though Brown apparently missed.)
Anyway. It gained Brown a rush of fleeting fame, though a certain kind, and will surely do the same for TIsch. Which I imagine is the point, though there are some things one might not want to be famous for, you'd think, wetting yourself in public being one of them. But maybe that's just me.
While we're at it, I guess New Year's is also an opportunity for looking back (or so they tell us in media land; gotta fill otherwise-empty pages and web sites through the holiday dead zone somehow), so I did. If you haven't already, have a look at my 2011 top 10. Ful disclosure: I was out of the country on leave from January of last year to mid-March, so I missed some things; and even when I'm here, I miss plenty, given the continuing failure of my best efforts to gain control over time and space. Nonetheless, I had enough memorable experiences to still leave a few on the floor. And please, disagree. That's what these things are for.
Above: A detail from Amy Swartz's show "Pest," at Angell Gallery.
New Year's is, theoretically, is all about new beginnings, and man, do I ever need one here. So let's get started: In the post-holiday hangover, the art world is starting to wake up from its slumber as the gears grind slowly back into motion and things start to open again.
Take next week, for example, where Neubacher-Shor is hosting the opening night of a couple of shows I'm interested in.It's a nice pairing, in that they couldn't be more different: One is a show of Bogdan Luca's dynamic, gestural figure paintings, and the other a selection of items culled from probably the most memorable installation at Nuit Blanche last year, Geoffrey Pugen and Tibi Tibi Neuspiel's The Tie Break.
What these things might be, I'm not sure; what I am sure of is both their sincere devotion to the classic 1980 tie-breaker between John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, who Pugen (above) and Neuspiel portray, respectively, and re-play, shot by shot. The experience of watching them play out in the cold night air, perfectly choreographed, never missing a step, was riveting, dislocating and enthralling. How they'll bring that inside on the walls, I'm not sure. But I'm game to find out.
Both shows open Jan. 11 at 6 pm, Neubacher Shor, 5 Brock St.
Well, this is a new one on me. The AGO's new Jack Chambers show has been temporarily closed due to conservation issues brought on by the recent rains. The show is in the old Signe Eaton gallery, one of the remaining chunks of John Parkin's original brutalist design. No word as to what the issue is, though I'm told the concern was moisture levels; here's hoping that doesn't mean a gusher on Chambers' sublime "Meadow" above. Surely not ...
Anyway, I'm writing about Chambers at both the AGO and McMichael for the weekend. Hope you enjoy.
And a bunch of other stuff, including stuff I didn't do, specifically Art Toronto; I always go, and it was ... fine. I guess. I don't really have much to say about it, year in, year out. There's always the cheeky, self-conscious installation that makes fun of the art biz at the top of the escalators (this year Kent Monkman; last year Jeremy Laing), and the tradeshow beyond. It's as though the hope is to cancel one another out -- an apology for vulgarity, and then the vulgarity, duly apologized for, beyond. Anyway. Not to be so precious. I just wish we'd stop apologizing, partly because it is what it is, and partly because who, other than the insiders themselves, care?
Anyway, those who know my preferences are well aware of my luke warm-ness to the old G7, but over this intensive exposure, I found some points of communion, particularly in Thomson, whose gifts were remarkable.
Once you strip away the layers of maudlin nationalism, you can start to see these guys as painters engaged with the tectionic shifts in representation that embodied early 20th century modernism, in painting, at least. Thomson was a standout not only for his raw abilities, but his relative lack of schooling; he was an intuitive genius, I think, and I've finally made my peace with him. See if you agree.
Murray Whyte covers visual arts for the Star. He's also a feature writer for the Saturday and Sunday Star. He has written about art for the New York Times, Canadian Art magazine, the National Post and many others.
Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved. The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Toronto Star or www.thestar.com. The Star is not responsible for the content or views expressed on external sites.
Distribution, transmission or republication of any material is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. For information please contact us using our webmaster form. www.thestar.com online since 1996.