ROLAND POULIN at the Olga Korper Gallery (17 Morrow), to October 28. 416-538-8220. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Roland Poulin's latest imposing and weighty painted sculpture, In Extenso, manages to fill the entire space at Olga Korper with its presence, and that is no mean feat. It might have something to do with its balance of sombre monumentality and a searchingly elegant and poetic formalism.
Weighty aesthetic statements, especially those made in the form of large abstract sculpture, seem out of place nowadays, as if a symphony were being played when we expected coy and ironic pop tunes. This is heady, high Modernism, as classically austere as it is serious.
Of course, such statements are no surprise from Poulin, a living Montreal institution and recipient of the 2005 Governor General's Award in visual arts, who is known for large-scale, dark and brooding sculptures that wrestle with transcendent themes.
In Extenso requires time as well as space. It is kinetically complex, and the pieces of wood that form its prow are integrated in a spatial and linear balancing act that reveals something at every angle, a nuanced and choreographed complexity enhanced by repeated viewings.
Every part of the subtly painted surface has been worked over with varying shades of rich brown and black edging into vermillion, bruised purple and even light rose, tonal variations that belie or offset the work's more imposing elements.
Poulin's skill at balancing darkness and weight with a lighter touch is also evident in the three handsome lithographs that round out the show.
These abstractions further the investigations of one of his primary influences, Paul-Emile Borduas. Like the sculpture, they invite the viewer to meditate on the meaning of presence.
Call it old-school, but this is undeniably great work.