BACK FLIP by Anne Denoon (Porcupine's Quill), 323 pages. $24.95 cloth. Rating: NNN
Anne Denoon really knows how to take you back, in this case to Toronto's art world of the mid-60s.In her smart satire, Back Flip, painters, still able to afford grotty apartments on Spadina, fuel their vision with newly discovered psychedelics, nobody's thought of artist-run galleries and the term "postmodern" hasn't yet been coined.
Yorkville village is just emerging, and starving artists are trying to rescue Canadian art from the Group of Seven's grip while fending off egotistical gallery owners and toadying to critics, most of them foreign.
Into this setting Back Flip thrusts Bruno Gonzaga, a manipulative gallery owner desperate to get the work of his upstart artist Eddie O'Hara into the Artquake show, an exhibition curated for the Art Gallery by -- who else? -- a British critic, Quintin Margrave.
Eddie, who likes his pot, thinks everyone's out to get him, and he's half right. His painting called Back Flip is getting serious attention and might even make the Artquake show, except that control freak Bruno's hidden it away. Also active in the intrigue is Gonzaga's assistant, who knows more than anyone gives her credit for; collector Jerry Zeffler; his randy wife, Eleanor; Canada's one and only famous abstractionist, Tom Dale; and Robert Willard who, now consigned to the role of OCA instructor, has failure written all over him.
Denoon is skilled at evoking the time and place. The Park Plaza rooftop is the in spot. Budding artists still think about leaving it all for a trek to Nepal. And you gotta smile when Jerry loses it after wife Eleanor spends -- oh, my god -- 50 bucks on a purse at Harridges.
Denoon also does know something about art, how it's dealt, how talent often doesn't matter and how success can be based on a fluke.