Robert Rauschenberg and Thaddeus Holownia at Corkin Shopland Gallery (55 Mill, building 61), to January 22. 416-979-1980. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
Corkin Shopland inaugurates its new airplane-hangar-sized gallery space with a solid double show of work by 60s heavyweights Robert Rauschenberg and Toronto photographer Thaddeus Holownia . Though it would seem the artists have little in common, both series display an earnest idealism at odds with the current ironic cutesy creepiness that's just about everywhere. These are big works fuelled by big ideas.
Holownia presents his photographic series of 24 trees around Walden Pond, part of his lifelong study of Henry David Thoreau and ecology. In this series of monumental tree shots, the photos are of uniform size and evenly spaced, organizing the centre of the gallery into a virtual forest.
Shot vertically with a banquet camera, each photo appears to be a "portrait" of the tree, its trunk revealing details of shape and texture along with scars from human intervention. It's conceptual photography painstakingly rooted in nature.
In the 1990s, Rauschenberg, known for super-sized projects (including the world's longest painting), travelled widely to promote peace through cultural exchange.
Corkin Shopland is showing six giant paintings from this project, each containing his signature silkscreened photographic elements combined with acrylic and mixed media. Four of the paintings are on stainless steel, with explosive colours, layers of silkscreened images and scavenged sculptural objects.
Rauschenberg's unusual blend of abstract expressionist and pop art sensibilities has a roughness and visual boldness that save him from being too polished or glib. In Pegasits he juggles ambient bursts of image and photo negatives and tops it off with a silver-painted wooden chair glued to the painting. It shouldn't work but it does, giving a delicately balanced order to the jumble of imagery we carry around as a culture.