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 for you.
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 Dancing With 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 scoffing, 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 man.
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 Pastures indeed.
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.