PREDATORS AND PREY at the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation (778 King West), through fall. Saturday noon-5 pm or by appointment. $5. 416-413-9400. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
An Ydessa Hendeles exhibit is a multi-layered allegory spelled out in the language of things.
An enigmatic recluse in her native Toronto but internationally recognized by the art world, Hendeles has devoted a private fortune to collecting art and objects for her exhibit space in a retooled garment factory.
In her new exhibit, Predators And Prey, she free-associates using a collection of eclectic objects, photographs and antiquities. It's curatorial work raised to an art form.
A dramatically lit deco tea set from the Hindenburg, the German luxury zeppelin that burst into flames before docking in New Jersey in 1937, starts the show.
Stamped with the Reichstag eagle insignia, it's placed across from a pair of Hendeles's own gold-plated Gucci stiletto heels. The metallic heels of the "predatory" collector Hendeles, a survivor of a Holocaust-decimated family, are juxtaposed with a remnant of one of history's most destructive regimes.
This stunning opening is followed by rooms that are compelling or downright eerie, weaving strands of historical and political narratives that resonate with the theme of predation.
A room devoted to the Hindenburg disaster includes ghostly pictures of the surviving crew. André Kertész documents the intensely regulated life in a French Trappiste monastery.
A collection of dolls, with a tiny ivory figurine meant for instructional use in obstetrics, is simply unsettling. The exhibit also includes original stereoscopic viewers, a German edition of Mother Goose and an authentic turn-of-the-century vampire-killing kit.
There is so much to unravel here that you need more than one trip to tease out the show's many implications.
Repeated viewing will broaden and refine your sense of the deep connection between the things we collect and our collective history.