GEOFFREY FARMER at Mercer Union (1286 Bloor West) to January 11. 416-536-1519. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Geoffrey Farmer, this year's winner of the Gershon Iskowitz Prize at the AGO, has been a rising international art star for a few years. Minds were boggled at Documenta 13 by his installation Leaves Of Grass, a 60-foot three-dimensional collage of thousands of images clipped from five decades of LIFE Magazine, a work of bewildering density and depth.
In A Light In The Moon, his new show created for Mercer Union, he unleashes his obsessive cutout imagery on the history of art.
Boneyard, which dominates the main space with an immense circular plinth, transforms the white cube of the gallery into a basilica. Hundreds of sculptural cutouts, tiny replicas of works ranging from ancient to contemporary, command a hushed solemnity. Massed in tiny rows facing outwards, they also make up an intriguingly free-associative and often delightfully weird diorama of the history of art.
The show's title is taken from the Gertrude Stein poem of the same name, and he's being as least as cryptic as her verse. But as in Stein, an intuitive method underlies the seemingly random quirkiness. By sending baroque puttos to support swooning classical goddesses, or juxtaposing a Brancusi with a diffident bust of Napoleon, he suggests a new visual grammar that transcends the usual mausoleum-style linear historicism of the fine art museum. Farmer proposes tentative new narratives and associations.
The delicate wooden backs supporting these images convey a sense of art's fragility. They're also a major part of the show's aesthetic. Weightless, the figures eerily resemble the flats from old Hollywood movie set. It could all blow over in a minute.
The installation also evokes the two-dimensionality of contemporary culture. Farmer's paper statues document our transition from monumentality to flatness, a world of images on paper and screens. We are becoming lighter and more crowded, and our interpretations of art and text are getting that much stranger.