Skimpy Sullivan

AGO underplays Françoise Sullivan

FRANÇOISE SULLIVAN at the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas West), to May 30. $18, srs $15, stu $10, free Wednesdays 6-8:30 pm. 416-979-6648. Rating: NN

Montreal artist Françoise Sullivan has had an influential career, producing important work in dance, sculpture, photography and painting since the 1940s.


Unfortunately, you wouldn’t know that from viewing Inner Force, billed by the AGO as “an exhibition celebrating the career of pioneering Canadian artist Françoise Sullivan.” This disappointingly small outing contains only five abstract paintings (all post-2000) and documentation of just one 1948 outdoor experimental dance piece.

Granted, the paintings are massive, and it’d be a challenge to squeeze any more work into the smallish room. But it’s clear that space itself is only part of the problem. None of the similarly sized rooms on the fourth floor (which feature Christian Marclay and Michael Snow) are billed as individual “exhibitions.” And there’s good reason for that – they’re simply not equal to the task, particularly for artists whose work is large or career long and varied.

Had this show been billed as “recent paintings” or a “project room,” it might’ve made the grade. But it’s definitely not a “celebration of a career,” particularly one that spans 60 years and four genres.

Overall, it comes across as a token, an item crossed off a list of obligations. Indeed, the AGO was duty-bound to Sullivan in 2007 it agreed to do a “solo exhibition” for recipients of the Gershon Iskowitz Prize, which she won in 2008.

It’s frustrating because the AGO knows how to do a lot of things right. It has compelling projects on the go right now. This exhibition is not one of them.

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