War, history and nature all inspired the best visual art this year, but some artists managed to keep it playful, too.
1 BATTLEGROUND: WAR RUGS FROM AFGHANISTAN at the Textile Museum of Canada, April 23, 2008, to January 27, 2009
In the year's strongest war-themed exhibition, Textile Museum co-founder Max Allen has assembled 100-plus weavings showing key Afghan realities: Russian land mines, CNN terror alerts, grenade-rocked villages and more. The result interweaves culture, materials, history and expression with rare and urgently necessary curatorial clarity.
2 NOT QUITE HOW I REMEMBER IT at the Power Plant, July 7 to September 1
For this large international show, curator Helena Reckitt brought together some thought-provoking, moving works revisiting recent history, like Felix Gmelin's installation about blind children in 20s Germany, Dario Robleto's poetic assemblages, Walid Raad's photos of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Sharon Hayes's demo-slogan performances and Michael Stevenson's rusty Fountain Of Prosperity.
Kelly Richardson's Twilight Avenger at Birch Libralato offered one of the year's most arresting images.
3 KELLY RICHARDSON at Birch Libralato, July 24 to September 6
Richardson's magnificent glowing green stag preening in a nighttime forest was one of this year's most arresting art images in any genre. Richardson used her consummate skill as a videographer and animator to construct videos that cleverly subverted and toyed with our ideas of what is natural and actual in both nature and art.
4 STORIES, IN PIECES at Justina M. Barnicke, July 10 to August 24
Aileen Burns curated this playful show of young Canadian artists' installations that piqued the urge to fill in the narrative. Notable were Curtis Grahauer and Kara Uzelman's funky Firewatcher platform, Myfanwy MacLeod's creepy photos of abandoned Scottish homes and Jon Sasaki's 50s-noirish Antihero Decor room.
5 ROBERT LABOSSIERE at Convenience, March 8 to April 5
Before Fannie Mae's headaches made headlines, Robert Labossiere took aim at T.O.'s financial madness in Payday, using neon signs and vinyl stickers to make a Parkdale window resemble a cheque-cashing outlet. The gotcha? A poster print detailing current class-action lawsuits against the astronomical-interest-rate robbers at Money Mart. Now that's art worth investing in.
6 ANTHONY GOIcOLEA at Monte Clark, September 17 to November 2
Goicolea shifted into full-blown romantic surrealism, borrowing architectural details, landscapes and figures from around the globe and dropping them into Bierstadt-sized panoramas. His dystopian vision of a half-demolished warehouse (inhabited by elderly tenants lazing about in hammocks) seemed plausible if not downright desirable.
7 CARTE BLANCHE & ART METROPOLE: THE TOP 100 at MOCCA, November 15 to December 28
Juxtaposing two near-perfect shows, MOCCA provides a quick overview of current Canuck painting in one room and an in-depth survey of historic worldwide anti-painting - read multiples, performance and video - in another. From Graham Gillmore's Technicolour screeds to the Guerrilla Girls' pointed postcards, show pairings don't get much better than this.
8 DYED ROOTS: THE NEW EMERGENCE OF CULTURE at MOCCA, September 9 to October 26
Rina Banerjee's graceful assemblages of tropical souvenirs and natural objects added fizz, and Emelie Chhangur's iron, salt and blood sculptures gave weight to this Camilla Singh-curated show focusing on persistence and concealment of identity for immigrants in a globalized world.
Heroic women spies were the subject of Nina Levitt's Study For Thin Air.
9 NINA LEVITT at Koffler, March 6 to April 18
Levitt, in her Thin Air installation, skilfully deployed historical documents, a slowly inflating parachute, suitcases playing testimony by a British woman spymaster, a quonset hut with peepholes onto scratchy film projections and a list of full-moon dates to vividly commemorate Hannah Senesh and other heroic women who spied for the Allies behind enemy lines in WWII.
10 DAMN YOUR EYES at MOCCA, July 9 to August 17
MOCCA's transformation into dimly lit listening lounge this summer was an understated coup. You could nestle into any of its beanbag chairs to indulge in 15 minutes of orchestrated sound, music or pure ambient noise. Sitting in a white cube with legendary noise band Throbbing Gristle whispering in your ears was also pretty cool.