MICHAEL SNOW at the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas West) to March 17. $19.50, srs $16, stu $11, free Wednesday 6-8:30 pm. 416-979-6648. See listing. Rating: NNNN
The AGO's Michael Snow retrospective of his sculptural works honours his winning the Gershon Iskowitz Prize. The award is the latest in a long list of honours hastening his ascension into the pantheon of great 20th-century avant-gardists.
So it's reassuring that Snow at 83 still wears his laurels lightly and shows no sign of being any less nimble. The sculptural pieces in this show span a long career that pursues essential visual and spatial concepts with playful, tinkering deftness.
That is Snow's enduring talent. He makes the rigorous and conceptual less chilly and more friendly, inviting the viewer to join him in looking and investigating. His sculptures ask things of you, directing the eye and the body to make discoveries.
Core invites the viewer to walk around its massive cylindrical bulk, in imitation of the massive pottery wheel on which it was turned. Seated Sculpture, suggesting a more modest Richard Serra, calls upon the viewer to duck under its horizontal steel band and have a seat inside it. Monocular invites you to bend forward and look into its bottomless black abyss.
Sitting inside Seated Sculpture, I found my eyes drawn upward to the massive concrete girders in the ceiling; the broad rusted steel band obscuring my middle field of vision primed my eyes to notice the massive shapes echoed above my head. I hadn't noticed the ceiling before, monumental and interesting as it is, and I remained aware of it for the rest of the show.
Other sculptures are more enigmatic. In Transformer, a single spruce tree hangs horizontally by a rope, its tip lacquered and sharpened to an infinitesimal needle point. The progression from rough-hewn to polished suggests the movement from the materially coarse to the conceptually sharp, suspended improbably in mid-air.
As one of the remaining artists of an era that often thrust its formalist concerns onto the viewer, Snow emerges as its thoughtful, modest and ultimately more enduring ambassador.