Eleanor Antin’s 100 Boots series joins the Art Metropole: The Top 100 collection. Photo By Library and Archives, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa Art Metropole Collection, Gift of Jay A. Smith, Toronto, 1999
ART METROPOLE: THE TOP 100 at the Mocca Project Room (Museums of Contemporary Canadian Art, 952 Queen West), to December 28. 416-395-0067. Rating: NNNN
This new show at MOCCA takes Toronto back to the 70s and 80s, when the hugely influential trio General Idea - AA Bronson, Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal - founded the notorious arts collective that eventually became Art Metropole. The artist-run agency remains a key trafficker in pamphlets, photos, video, mail art, books and multiples traded among international artists.
The bulk of this collection was taken over by the National Gallery in Ottawa in 1999, and now Kitty Scott and Jonathan Shaughnessy have carefully culled a distillation of the over 13,000 objects collected over the last 35 years.
MOCCA's backroom show has the heavy imprint of Fluxus and conceptualism, from that volatile period when black power, Marxist student uprisings, the Vietnam War and the emergent gay liberation movement contributed to a turbulent and heady subcultural zeitgeist.
General Idea figures prominently, though there are also contributions from an eclectic international group including David Askevold, John Baldessari, Stan Douglas, Marcel Duchamp, Dan Graham, Guerrilla Girls, Agnes Martin, Yoko Ono, Michael Snow, Derek Sullivan and Lawrence Weiner.
The objects range from disturbing (a photo of the infamous My Lai Massacre) to nostalgic (pristine issues of the Situationist International journal) to charming (General Idea's cheeky New Wave send-up of mainstream television, Test Tube). You can chart the shift in tone from the deeply political, body-centred conceptualism of the early 70s to the feminist, punk rock and queer-positive art of the 80s.
To visually paraphrase such a rich and varied era in Toronto's art world is a challenge, and the curators have succeeded handily. They've assembled much more than an exhibit, presenting an archival history that is meticulous, entertaining and hugely informative.