2003 came in like a lion and went out like a lamb in the Toronto art scene. The first months of the year brought us a mittful of excellent exhibitions. Then the slow, SARS-burdened summer extended into a fall slump, with far fewer shows of note. So many galleries are moving, renovating, opening or closing, the scene has been in flux, but once the dust settles we should be left with a more coherent and vibrant 2004.
Gaudí (Eric Arthur
Gallery, March 4 to 15) This show, brief as
it was, wasn’t brief enough. Gaudí was a
master architect who deserves a thorough, innovative –
or at least interesting – exhibition. Instead,
we were treated to what may as well have been pages
from a book mounted on a wall. If you liked this
show I have some lousy, rain-soaked snapshots of
some famous Gaudí projects in Barcelona
Barbara Astman Corkin/Shopland,
May 10 to June 28) Astman has established
herself as a poet in the photographic medium,
creating bountiful, beautiful images. But her
Che series was more hyper kid at Disney World.
She captured herself in various poses while dancing
in a Che
Guevara T-shirt. And? And while I actually saw people
I was only disappointed.
Stacey Lancaster (AGO, October 11 to January 11, 2004) The
AGO’s In Light series has been an incredibly successful
survey of international and domestic video art.
Unfortunately, among the diamonds there’s a piece
of coal, and it’s
Lancaster’s dive into a body of water to grapple
with clothing that’s been fixed to the bottom.
And the bottom is where the work remains.
1Gustavo Artigas (A Space, April 10 to 26) Two groups of children take to an indoor gym floor, one to play basketball, the other soccer. At first they collide in confusion, but after a few minutes the two games evolve to work with each other, and soon it’s a well-choreographed spectacle where goals and baskets are scored in unison. Artigas’s simple, beautiful video demonstrates everything that art, and life, can be. And he enriched the lives of some young Torontonians when he visited, bringing his special game rules to Jarvis Collegiate. A good person and a great artist.
2 Kathe Kollwitz (AGO,
March 1 to May 25) Sadness
and strength make a potent combination and perfectly
describe the work of Kollwitz, one of the earliest
scrappers for the rights of women, workers and children.
In every dark piece, there’s both an acknowledgement
that the world is a harsh place and a steadfast resolve
to change it. This was the most emotionally powerful
show of the year.
3 Prefabricated Postproduction (Virus Arts, June 26 to July 16) This
was the most uncommercial commercial show. Mixing
Toronto, Vancouver and international artists who
like to play with ideas and keep their work sparse
and clean, this exhibit hung like a beautifully tailored
suit. If you missed it, slap your hand, because you’re
not likely to see another one like it in a long time.
4 Shary Boyle (Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects, March 20 to April 13) Boyle
was back from Winnipeg with a suitcase full of amazing
work. She supercharged her surreal images of girls
and boats and spooky settings with fluorescent paints
and clear acetate layering to separate line work
from colour. Creating illusions by utilizing the
darkness on one side of the gallery and the light
on the other, this show was magic, pure magic.
5 Max Streicher (401 Richmond West, Suite #124, January 11 to February 1) Big
bloomin’ babies. Streicher’s show was striking, a
group of humongous blow-up babies filling an entire
room, heaving and sighing and struggling to get up
like so many overturned turtles. The show delighted
adults and children, who attempted to weave among
the large hot-air balloons that always seemed ready
to roll over and smother you.
6 Mike Parsons (Virus Arts, March 21 to April 1) Parsons
uses black like nobody’s business. His super-dark
works, thick black ink on paper, covered the gallery
walls. The chaotic, almost apocalyptic images were
seared into your brain. This show marked the prolific
debut of a very large talent housed in a skinny young
7 Elizabeth McIntosh/Jennifer Murphy/Marcel Kerkoff/Jay Wilson/Kineko Ivic (Greener Pastures, April 21 to May 30) There
was a sense of newness and optimism in this show.
McIntosh’s lush abstract work presaged her great
solo show later in the year, while Kerkoff’s sweet
representational images tugged at the heartstrings.
Murphy’s delicate collage work played nicely against
Wilson’s structured sculptural work and the pure
chaos of Ivic’s texture, colour and sparkle. Greener
8 Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay and Pascal Grandmaison (Interaccess Electronic Media Art Centre, October 22 to November 15) This
was as good a one-two punch of video art as you’re
likely to see. Nemerofsky Ramsay played all four
roles in a boy band that sings a love song about
death and endless misery with total sincerity. No
less well produced were the portraits of music soloists
shot by Grandmaison. Subtle details and movements
built upon each other to reveal deeper insights into
the musician as a whole.
9 Yana Movchan (YYZ Artists Outlet, April 9 to May 24) This
show was the most remarkably honest, lacking any
sort of concept or conceit. Movchan, lovingly and
with tremendous skill, painted small creatures meandering
through still life stuff. There is no way that any
self-respecting loft dweller would ever hang these
paintings above their Italian-styled sofa. YYZ really
did itself a favour by plugging these furry and feathered
cuties into its programming.
10 Paul de Guzman (Robert Birch Gallery, February 26 to March 22, 2003) West
Coast book-carver De Guzman’s minimal show was stunning –
as is his modus operandi. He cuts sections out of
art and architecture books to create intricate architectural
structures. The works were mounted beside the stacked
guts of the book that had to be excavated to create
the spaces. Finally, there’s a better use for an
art book acting as a big coaster.