Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatzky’s Road Movie is both a subtle and a powerful political statement.
1. Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatzky
O'Born Contemporary, September 8 to 18
The Toronto duo pull no punches in their activism but take a subtle yet powerful approach to depicting Mideast conflict in their art. Road Movie caps a great year - work in the AGYU's Centre for Incidental Activisms and photos from their What Isn't There project, documenting sites of vanished Palestinian villages, featured at Beit Zatoun and as the MOCCA courtyard mural for Contact. Part of TIFF's Future Projections, Road Movie was screened as a six-channel video installation on three imposing "walls" - one side for Israelis, the other for Palestinians - that made a moving (in both senses) political statement out of the simple act of driving around the West Bank.
Rabih Mroué shows charisma on video.
2. Rabih Mroué
Prefix Institute, February 5 to April 23
Another artist who represents political conflict obliquely, Beirut-based Mroué, who's also an actor and playwright, drew on archival material and his own charismatic persona in videos and an installation tracking his coming of age during the Lebanese civil war and experiences of his family and community. At once comic, self-deprecating and deeply affecting, Mroué's eloquent voice came to us at the beginning of the Arab Spring thanks to the prescience of Prefix curator Scott McLeod. We look forward to hearing more from Mroué and other artists from the region as events unfold.
Oakville Galleries, November 27 to February 20
Curator Matthew Hyland used Freud's concept of "unheimlich" (literally "un-home-ly," usually translated as "uncanny") to program international feminist art that twists ideas of domesticity, in works dating from the 70s to the present - from Martha Rosler and Pipilotti Rist to Paulette Phillips and Jin-me Yoon. Hyland not only made excellent art choices, but demonstrated how to mount an effective video group show, avoiding the crowded-multiplex feel and overwhelming run time of many such shows by selecting videos of varying lengths, different methods of presentation and a handful of complementary works in other media.
Mark Rothko's No. 5/No. 22 rocked the AGO's show of abstract expressionism.
4. Abstract Expressionist New York
Art Gallery of Ontario, May 28 to September 4
As high-minded as the painters it covered, this endlessly fascinating exhibit took us into the New York School in a way that not only justified their vital place in the modernist canon but shed new light on their investigation into painting. From the 30s through the 70s, abstract expressionist painters did everything they could to radically distill what it means to put paint on a surface. This show made us grateful they did.
5. Fellini: Spectacular Obsessions
TIFF Bell Lightbox, June 30 to September 18
This exhibit was as over the top as the man himself, with its attempt to recreate the Via Veneto and the excitement of Rome's early 60s paparazzi culture. It also hit the right tone of surreal whimsy, blending artifacts with video footage and eerie sound montage, so viewing the show was like being immersed in a Federico Fellini film. Especially intriguing were the collections of the artist's illustrated dream journals. It turns out he dreamed as ravenously as he created.
6. Julie Moon
Narwhal Art Projects, August 11 to September 4
Moon's porcelain sculptures mixed amorphous, vaguely prurient shapes with frou-frou and lacy kitsch, creating a witty marriage of opposites too odd and arresting to ignore. This type of ungainly beauty draws from several contemporary sources while remaining archly independent. Moon's objects seem familiar and confounding in equal measure.
7. Melanie Gilligan
InterAccess, April 1 to May 7
A young Torontonian based in the UK, Gilligan has developed increasing skill in applying the narrative conventions of episodic TV to strange and gripping video tales of economic life under late capitalism. Part of the Images Festival, Self-Capital, a 2009 work in which an ailing woman, Global Economy, undergoes psychotherapy, offered an apt metaphor for the financial meltdown. Digital technology is enabling artists like Gilligan to create polished, convincing videos that rival movie and television drama while having as an added bonus the freedom of gallery installations, where images can interact in multi-channel projections.
8. Laura Letinsky
Stephen Bulger, April 7 to 30
Letinsky's photographic still lifes are masterful studies of the metaphysical still life tradition. Her images are most compelling in the way they reframe everyday things as objects of intense contemplation. In this show, Letinsky managed to break through the neutral rigour that informs so much of current contemporary photographic still life. Instead, she's created something passionate and present.
9. Jannick Deslauriers
Show & Tell Gallery, October 21 to November 20
You had to see it in person to get the full impact of Deslauriers's fantastic life-sized Tank, sitting alone in the front gallery at Show & Tell (now renamed Cooper Cole) - sewn out of bits of white crinoline net precariously suspended from the ceiling on hundreds of strands of fishing line, its black thread making a 3-D drawing. The Montreal soft sculptor used feminine technology and materials to make a war machine into a light-as-air confection. If we're going to hammer swords into plowshares, why not transform a tank into a floaty, semi-transparent apparition?
10. Crossing Natures
Paul Petro, October 14 to November 12
Evocative painting by Group of Seven disciple Yvonne Housser, a slashed and collaged abstract canvas by feminist Joyce Wieland, vibrant swirling landscapes by Melanie Rocan and quirky textile installations by Janet Morton came together in a show that traced several generations of Canadian women's approach to the natural world. Selecting works that spoke to each other about domesticity and wilderness, colour and ornament, Paul Petro showed how a small, well-chosen exhibit can provide a deep experience. Its rich topic deserves to be expanded upon.