ISTVAN KANTOR at DeLeon White Gallery (1139 College), to September 1. 416-597-9466. Rating: NN
How should I interpret my dislike of Istvan Kantor's show? His modus operandi for 25-plus years has been to piss people off, be it by spraying blood on museum walls or masturbating on computer keyboards.
So my dismay might confirm that Kantor's succeeded with his strategy... right?
Wrong. I'm not shocked by his radicalism. I'm tired of the claim that he's a radical. The curator's writeup for this show describes Kantor as "undeniably anarchic vandaliz[ing] the idea of art itself." Yet his recent work doesn't support that claim.
First, the show adheres to standard art-world conventions: clean white walls and a quiet, climate-controlled interior as substrate, with AGO-tasteful degrees of separation between contiguous groups of work.
Second, imagery of orgasmically arched Barbie dolls and of dicks inserted into cunts conforms to mainstream modes of male sexuality. Dude, Playboy's on prime time; it's not subversive any more, and neither is this.
Third, Kantor rarely transgresses the rules binding most self-proclaimed anarchists, artistic or otherwise. Colour schemes are mostly red, white and black. Performances are spectacular but trade in little actual political change.
To be fair, Kantor might be self-reflexive about these contradictions. Most pieces are stamped with labels like "neoist" and signed prominently, perhaps referring to the fact that many art objects are valued as examples of a movement or biography rather than in and of themselves.
And there are a couple of works worth seeing, like the understated filing-cabinet-cum-boardroom-table, and a grouping of skinny-handled protest signs.
Still, it's hard to shake the image of Kantor as the Ozzy Osbourne of the Canadian art scene. His tactics were groundbreaking back in the day, but recent efforts feel more like simple attention-seeking.
Maybe if Kantor steps outside the rules of his own rebel script someday I'll be (happily) proven wrong.