The best of 2009
Looking back on a year rife with controversy – Reena Katz versus the Koffler, John Greyson versus TIFF – we’ve created a top 10 list of shows characterized by ingenuity and a political edge.
October 22 to 31
Curators Janine Marchessault and Michael Prokopow, joining others throughout North America in an effort to put art in empty real estate, offered local artists a block of bungalows slated for demolition near Yonge and Sheppard. Community-minded videos and installations in and around the properties by Richard Fung, John Greyson, Oliver Husain, Ryan Livingstone, An Te Liu and others vividly evoked the postwar suburban experience.
Power Plant, September 19 to November 29
With her music vid rejigs and movie-star mimicry, international artist Candice Breitz has always been pop-cult clever. But for a special Power Plant/Partners in Art commission, she hit a vein of personal story gold her films of real-life Canuck twins, titled Factum, balanced savvy and sentiment to tremendous effect.
Red Bull 381 Projects, September 10 to October 10
Emerging BCer Cedric Bomford gained fame for crafting massive structures out of scrap. Here, he took that game to the next level, building a treehouse-like tower that let viewers peek into VIP offices. Melding childlike fun, surveillance-society paranoia and class critique, this show wowed newbies and veterans alike.
Justina M. Barnicke, February 12 to March 23
Curators Luis Jacob and Pan Wendt celebrated the “funk system of thought” in a trippy retrospective of late-20th-century glittery, rhythmic outsider culture anchored by Afro-naut spaceman Sun-Ra’s videos and album covers. Leigh Bowery’s extreme clubwear and Adrian Piper’s video Funk Lessons were at the party, too.
Doris McCarthy, September 15 to October 25
The BC sculptor’s unsettling Storage Facilities installation combined cigarette butts, candy wrappers and other evidence of human weakness with dead animals, all cast from polymerized gypsum, into a dreamlike display that stuck in the mind, raising questions about escape and desire.
OCAD Professional, October 4, 2008, to January 25
This inspiring touring show from New York’s Cooper-Hewitt Museum took design out of boutiques and into the world of ingenious innovations that empower have-nots and subsistence farmers by enabling affordable access to irrigation, water purification, computers, housing and health care solutions.
Justina M. Barnicke, May 28 to August 23
Shary Boyle and Shuvinai Ashoona, artists known for creating windows into dreamlike and downright grotesque imaginary worlds, compared mythologies in this intriguing collaboration curated by Nancy Campbell. Ashoona’s mythical renderings of daily life in her native Cape Dorset and Boyle’s delicately wrought evocations of psychosexual nightmares sparked a curious and utterly original dialogue between two magical realist visions.
Paul Petro Contemporary Art, April 24 to May 23
Hinterland Who’s Who met Art School Confidential at Maura Doyle’s spring solo show – and to surprisingly pleasing effect. Copying beaver-built structures as documented in scientific studies, Doyle’s sculptures looked on-trend with the art world’s “unmonumental” obsession while sneakily undermining art’s (and humanity’s) sense of self-importance. Irreverent, funny and strangely resonant.
Drake Hotel, April 20 to June 1
Mia Nielsen and Catherine Dean’s subtle curatorial choices highlighted varied photographic approaches to time. Chinese contemporary art duo the Gao Brothers’ wall-sized The Forever Unfinished Building wielded conceptual digital photography to create a dreamlike social-political manifesto. Elaine Sotcki’s photos of strangers pretending intimacy were equally intriguing, as was Anne Arden McDonald’s painterly use of photographic paper. The show proved that the Drake’s keeping its edge.
Nuit Blanchers had a chance to test Brion Gysin’s flickering sculptural invention, the Dream Machine, at Geoffrey Farmer’s The Blinking Eyes Of Everything. Viewers experienced the calming and visionary properties of four machines made out of simple cylinders with cutouts spinning on turntables and illuminated with hanging bulbs. Farmer’s organ composition, building minimal clusters of sound, further transformed the space into a meditative oasis of vibration and light.