GREG CURNOE on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas West) from March 9 to June 17. Pwyc ($6 recommended). 416-977-0414. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
no one wants to get famous by dying with irony. But when Greg Curnoe was mowed down by a pickup truck while riding with his London, Ontario, cycling club, the ardent multidisciplinary artist was guaranteed the legendary status that his deeply personal and proudly political work should have earned for him, even without his spectacular death.
The Art Gallery of Ontario's Life And Stuff, curated by Curnoe's personal friend Dennis Reid in what might be the most personal exhibit ever staged by the AGO's chief curator, presents Curnoe's art as it must be remembered: brilliant, beautiful, defiant, constantly searching and deeply emotional.
The large-scale oils, intimate watercolours, rarely seen three-dimensional paintings and trademark letter-stamp works are all here, and almost all come from the AGO's own collection. In 97, on the fifth anniversary of Curnoe's death, his widow, Sheila Curnoe, made a major gift and sale to Canada's premier regional gallery.
Now that Dada-inspired anarchy is back in vogue, and the Nihilist Spasm Band that Curnoe gigged with are playing venues like Art System, it feels like the timing for this show is perfect.
Reid has organized the works thematically, arranging the rooms -- self- portraits, art and politics, studio nudes, regionalism and, finally, cycling -- in a sequence that works out to be roughly chronological, interspersing the display with photographs and bits of ephemera tracing Curnoe's day-to-day life.
A vintage display rack filled with six- packs of long-obsolete regional soft drinks -- Wishing Well, Sport, Wilson's, Brown's, Paschal's, Taylor's -- is a typical entry, and hangs underneath a related drawing.
A champion of numerous political causes including artists' ownership of copyright and a freewheeling form of anarchy, Curnoe's regionalism had less to do with his personal links to southwest Ontario than with a shrewd understanding that to function as an artist in Canada at any level was to opt into a regional ghetto on the global scale.
"What if daily life in Canada is boring?" a large black-on-neon-blue text-based piece demands of viewers as they enter the show.
It's the single issue that was most important to Curnoe's creative career. On many levels, his imagery -- the people and things he loved and knew best -- is profoundly banal. But in Curnoe's more than capable hands, the banal becomes sublime. DH