ISTVAN KANTOR at Engine Gallery (1112 Queen West), to June 20. 416-531-9905. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
It's late October 1956 in Budapest. A six-year-old Istvan Kantor steps into the street to stop a Soviet tank with a homemade toy gun, a singular act of resistance in the doomed Hungarian Revolution.
As an explanation of the artist's videos, installations and performances, the anecdote gets a little more threadbare with each retelling, yet his devotion to revolution remains a unique, often fascinating anachronism. The spirit of resistance lives on in the form of Neoism, Kantor's invented ideology, which essentially proposes a sustained revolutionary response to everything.
This show, 1956, brings together over 50 recent mixed-media works in homage to the Hungarian resistance 50 years on, offering a rare look at Kantor the painter.
On surfaces of found objects, bits of broken furniture or discarded posters, Kantor has etched, scribbled, spray-bombed and brushed a litany of symbols that coalesce into Neoist propaganda. Coat hangers become Neoist communications antennas, while a steam iron is transformed into a wea-pon of empowered domesticity. Scratchy pointy-eared self-portraits appear repeatedly, and scribbled male and female genitalia add a sexual charge.
A few of these works suffer from negligence, as though Kantor were merely tagging the material. However, his labour pays off on pieces like Oh Linda, Give Me a Revolution. On plywood, Kantor paints over five photographs of women, working the shapes and colour into a composition that is much more than a collection of symbols.
Three performances accompany the show. On Saturday, June 10, after decorating a small deciduous tree in front of the gallery with cables and 16mm filmstrips, Kantor lit a clothes rack on fire and flopped around on the sidewalk on a pile of coat hangers while wailing into a megaphone. In a sober moment, he mixed a vial of his own blood into the dirt beneath the flagstones around the tree's base.
The shenanigans continue Saturday (June 17) from 2 to 5 pm , when Kantor is expected to erect a tombstone for Neoism.