Sometimes it was what they saw, sometimes what they heard or even touched. NOW's art writers celebrate what got them going at the galleries this year.
1 The Atlas Group and Walid Raad at AGYU (September 15 to November 14) and Prefix ICA (September 16 to November 27)
It's one thing to call bullshit on official and allegedly objective versions of history, but offering a meaningful alternative in the truly intuitive experience of living through civil war in the guise of a fictitious institution is totally original. Raad does both superbly.
2 FORTY-PART MOTET Janet Cardiff at the Power plant (June 19 to September 6)
Multimedia artist Janet Cardiff gave new meaning to the idea of surround sound with her multi-speaker piece. The installation powerfully recreated a choral work and at the same time raised questions about the authenticity of live performance, the tangible space created by sound and the ways history can reach us. Everyone who sat through it left with something.
3 Global Networks Mark Lombardi at the Art Gallery of Ontario (September 8 to December 5)
The desire to make art comes from lots of different places, some boring. But if you're drawing out of a desperate need to organize mountains of information you've compiled that might just shed light on why the world is so fucked up, the results will be fascinating. Before he died, Lombardi not only connected the dots of corrupt global power structures, but he also demonstrated unmistakably that organizing and expressing information often ignored by the media is a crucial task for artists and anyone else who cares.
4 Cloaca Wim Delvoye at the Power Plant (March 27 to May 23)
All shit jokes aside, designing and building a giant sleek-looking machine that eats real food at one end and churns out poo on a little conveyer belt at the other is so useless it's breathtaking. Take little breaths, though, because it stinks. The entire human digestive tract is imitated, enzymes and all, leaving you wondering what life really is. Are we any different from this machine? I'd recommend everyone get one of these, except that everyone is one of these.
5 True Love Will Find You in the End 640 480 Video Collective at Zsa Zsa (May 21 to June 13)
This work ingeniously deals with the failure of video as a medium of artistic expression, converting a one-minute video of a dead person being pecked at and eaten by vultures and jackals into embroidery, frame by frame. As an industrial stitching machine toiled away in the gallery like a robot performance artist, each of the 1,800 frames became a singular physical manifestation of the image, defying by its tactile, textile existence the mass reproducibility that negates the value of video.
6 Within and Beyond the wall at Harbourfront (May 1 to June 20)
This retrospective of nine Berlin photographers at Harbourfront Centre was one of the most woefully neglected shows of the year. The result of meticulous curating, it presented some of the finest German photography of the last 20 years and opened windows on life on both sides of the Berlin Wall. Too bad you missed it.
7 Unofficial Languages at Shift Gallery (November 11 to 21)
Kudos to Shift for putting boundaries on street art where there are none, and commenting on art that's commonly silenced. The result was an open dialogue about street art and its place in the art world through the work of some of Toronto's best street artists.
8 Darby and the Angels Margaux Williamson at Katharine Mulherin Art Projects (March 12 to 28)
These beautiful paintings of eerie creatures from Williamson's imagination, along with a video based on a story by Ryan Kamstra, lingered in memory for months after little more than a glance. Rarely do paintings of imaginary beings - or real ones, for that matter - involve such depth of expression.
9 Turner Whistler Monet at the AGO (June 12 to September 12)
An endlessly compelling comparison of three landscape masters. Turner's watercolours alone were worth three return trips, while those unfamiliar with Whistler's landscapes learned that he was in Monet's league. The curators added documents that put the evolution of Impressionism in a new historical context. Flat out the year's most significant historical retrospective.
10 DARK CLOTH Catherine Heard, Barb Hunt, Marcel Marois and Carl Stewart at the Textile Museum (May 5 to October 3)
It isn't necessarily excitement or intrigue that comes to mind when you think of the Textile Museum of Canada. But, after seeing Dark Cloth, my assumptions changed. This show went beyond theme-based exhibits to delve into cloth as a tactile, disturbing creation with chich we all have relationships.
In art, the only thing worse than work you hate is the crap you feel nothing for. Since there's no point in recalling the forgettable dreck, here are two events from the past year and a Ghost of Art Future worth avoiding.
The casuistry protest Jesse Power's 2001 cat torture extravaganza still evokes ire. But if killing a pet is naturally repulsive, a movie that openly explores why someone would do this in the name of art merits a positive reception. The placard-waving fools who protested the screening of Linda Feesey 's Casuistry: The Art Of Killing A Cat at the Toronto International Film Festival in September really missed the point. Nothing is more offensive than the easily offended.
ADVERTISEMENTS FOR MYSELF With all the SuperDanish hype this fall, it was easy to miss how odd Too Perfect: Seven New Denmarks at the Power Plant was. Bruce Mau 's alleged collaboration with some Danish designers was big, bold and full of ideas, but its status as art was severely undermined by the unshakable feeling that it was just an advertisement for the Bruce Mau-chine. The Power Plant ought to be above that.
CANADA COUNCIL'S CORPORATE PUSH Proposed changes at the Canada Council for the Arts visual arts funding system reek of a one-dimensional return-on-investment mentality. Some good could come of the amendment, but ultimately, funding artists through sanctioned galleries instead of artist peer assessment will starve those outside the gallery system. It's like having our very own art-world IMF.