NANCY ANNE McPHEE at Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (34 Isabella), to December 3. 416-777-2755. Tuesday-Thursday 7:30-10 pm, Friday 11 am-2 pm or by appointment. See listing. Rating: NNN
In its digs in an old house off Church Street, the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives holds one of the world's largest collections of historical material about homosexuality. And it's fitting - not only because the arts are central to gay life, but also because the archive preserves all manner of non-text artifacts, like T-shirts, buttons and banners - that CLGA's programming includes art exhibits.
It's an appropriate setting for Montreal-based artist Nancy Anne McPhee's Libraries. Like the archive, her three-part show in the one-room gallery collects a wide variety of objects. And like much of the archival material, the art connects to a personal narrative - in this case a fictional one, that of the artist's unusual drag alter ego, a 19th-century naturalist/dandy named Cosimo.
Installed on one wall in front of a swath of damask wallpaper, The Library Of Depth And Gender displays natural science books, sea monster stories in the form of novels and a stack of DVDs, Cosimo's vest, a footstool ornamented with a portrait of Charles Darwin and an intriguing photo of Cosimo standing behind a modern sewing machine, linking the modern textile artist's tool to her persona.
On the opposite wall, shelves hold the Library Of A Traveling Dandy, six open books encased in sheer orange fabric, as if obscured by the passage of time, including Moby-Dick, Leaves Of Grass, a Darwin work and an anatomical illustration of the female genitalia. Filling the rest of the wall space, Delineation is a series of black-and-white ink drawings in different styles depicting squid, octopi and other sea creatures, a metaphor for homosexuality as a natural yet feared otherness.
If the various elements of the show feel more intellectually than aesthetically related, perhaps it's a reflection on the eclectic nature of libraries.