James Prior , Dean Baldwin , Susan Dobson and Nate Larson at Gallery 44 (401 Richmond West) to April 17 (Larson closes April 15). 416-979-3941. Rating: NNNN
Here is an extraordinary little show about the ordinary. Four artists and a clever curator put the everyday on display, including the kitchen sink. Nate Larson 's Stories occupy the vitrines outside the gallery. Each case holds a photo-based piece mixing a picture with a story. For example, there's a shot of Larson's chin jutting toward the camera. On its tip is a scar. The story tells us that while eating a slice of pizza, Larson was burned by the sauce. The burn resembles South America. (This can happen - I once had Australia sunburned onto my back.) Larson refers to it as a "sign."
Each story toys with superstition. In another, an amulet helps explain why people keep seeing him in other cities even though he couldn't possibly have been there. It's a fun look at how we use our beliefs to create meaning in our lives. Like knock on wood.
In the project room, Susan Dobson has created a grid-like pattern of photographs of the doors of suburban houses. Now, there are few things more painfully ordinary than suburban subdivisions, but by focusing her camera on one detail - the doors - the personalities of the owners break through. Whether it's a paint job, a floral arrangement or ivy, small touches invest a cookie-cutter existence with humanity, like a ball cap on a gingerbread man.
In the main room, Dean Baldwin also uses photo grids to make the mundane and routine aesthetically pleasing. Even the leftover contents of Baldwin's fridge become palatable as art. Food I've Left In The Fridge Too Long is just that, part of Baldwin's series of work that is a portrait of a young, single man as an artist.
The Alarm Clock Portraits reveal him at his waking moment, day after day after day. The bedclothes change, the location changes (he obviously sleeps around) and the amount of beard growth changes, but the same pained expression remains. Having seen more than 150 photos of Baldwin waking up, I feel it's safe to say he's not a morning person.
Another series records discarded mattresses, a right of passage in the life of every young man who proceeds into adulthood by buying a new, unstained mattress. On January 17, 2004, Baldwin photographed the entire contents of his desk, but the pièce de résistance is his Kitchen Sink Arrangements, where various dishes and plates form beautiful, structured compositions. The only disappointment is the absence of the pee pictures Baldwin displayed in a recent Montreal show.
Montreal-based James Prior is the final artist rounded up by Cynthia Foo for this great little show. Prior has shot a series on the strange, sad yet sweet life of a guy named James Pierre who lives in his dead grandmother's house with his cat Pom Pom. It's kind of like the art gallery equivalent of the documentary American Movie; the stereotype is so ridiculous, it makes you laugh, cringe and empathize all at once.
In these pictures, Pierre - who looks older than he probably is in his thick glasses - cuddles with his cat on a flowered bedspread and throws a party for Pom Pom with hats and cake. Pierre eats from one of those trays that have sections so the different food groups don't touch. Pom Pom eats from a can on the kitchen table. They seem happy.
It's actually a really happy show, one that celebrates life.
Perfect for spring.