Iain Baxter&’s media-savvy show includes his pile of vinyl ampersands. Photo By Corkin Gallery, Toronto
IAIN BAXTER& at Corkin Gallery (55 Mill, building 61), to January 15. 416-979-1980. Rating: NNN
Iain Baxter& is Canada's long-standing apostle of the Zen-inspired 60s conceptualism that has solemnly taken its place in the art canon. But Baxter& is anything but solemn. In his latest show, he weighs in with his signature visual puns and semiotic slapstick in paintings, multimedia and sculpture.
The ampersand figures so significantly in Baxter&'s process that he legally added it to his name. It's both a device to keep the conversation flowing between artist and viewer and a potent signifier of our non-stop, addictively additive culture. Ampersands are everywhere in this show; there's even a bright multicoloured pile of them on the gallery floor.
Marshall McLuhan's ideas are a major influence on his work. In the television-set landscapes, for example, TV static forms the background of scenes painted directly on the screen's surface.
There's an environmental component as well. In Zero Emissions, taxidermied wild Canadian animals are impaled on the upended exhaust systems of SUVs, a work that edges from allegory to outrage.
This show teeters precariously between too-cleverness and obvious political subtext, both potential pitfalls of work that is this media-savvy and playfully conceptual. His animal preserves series (stuffed animals in shiny rows of Mason jars) seems too busy chuckling at its own conceit to give full weight to its underlying message.
Baxter&'s work is strongest when he's able to strike that balance. His giant silver Mylar balloon ampersand, which inflates to full height and then slowly deflates with the aid of an electric fan, is both a linguistic and a Lacanian prank: grammar meets erectile anxiety.
At his best, Baxter& demonstrates that language proliferates the way we do, in unpredictably amusing and astonishing ways.