Sound and light were major themes in many of the best shows of 2013. But political passion was the driving force behind the year’s top exhibition.
1. AI WEIWEI
Art Gallery of Ontario, August 17 to October 27
This compact retrospective of the world’s pre-eminent contemporary artist didn’t disappoint. Monumental works in wood and steel spoke to Ai’s mighty political conscience. Pieces addressing the Sichuan earthquake, where 5,335 young students died in shoddily constructed government buildings, formed the show’s unshakable moral core. The sculptural installation Straight, several tons of rebar from the quake’s wreckage, married conceptual and political art in an unprecedented, powerful statement.
2. JANET CARDIFF AND GEORGE BURES MILLER
Art Gallery of Ontario, April 6 to August 18
Lost In The Memory Palace offered a rare chance to experience seven of the Canadian duo’s dramatic, mind-bending installations (usually shown alone), ranging from their first eccentric collaboration to settings for various dark personae and a thunderstorm in a shack. Their inventive use of spatially oriented sound and animatronics is unlike anything else in the art world.
3. HUMAN RIGHTS, HUMAN WRONGS
Ryerson Image Centre, January 23 to April 14
For one of RIC’s most thought-provoking and moving Black Star Collection exhibits, UK curator Mark Sealy turned a critical eye on this gold mine of 20th-century photojournalism, exposing biased modes of media representation in photos of post-World War II liberation struggles and the U.S. civil rights movement.
4. Micah Lexier
Power Plant, September 21 to January 5
Lexier expresses vexing existential dilemmas in a coolly understated way, condensing reams of printed philosophical paradoxes into compact visual statements that are no less profound for being succinct. The vast curiosity and restless intelligence behind them are felt at every turn. The enormous curatorial project running alongside his solo show brings 101 local artists and collectives together in the city’s greatest collaborative art project in decades.
5. David Cronenberg
TIFF Bell Lightbox, November 1 to January 19
From the indescribable Sex Blob and the Mugwump cozying up to the bar to models of the original Brundlefly and some truly terrifying gynecological instruments, the hefty Evolution retrospective shows how much mind-bending, paradigm-shifting cinema has come from Canada’s outstanding auteur. Cronenberg has forever mutated the direction and language of cinema. Long live the new flesh.
6. SARA ANGELUCCI
Art Gallery of York University, April 10 to June 16
Toronto artist Angelucci combined her interest in photography as memory with research into endangered species for Provenance Unknown, a haunting multimedia show of Victorian portraits whose subjects have morphed into bird-human hybrids, along with a video animating a 19th-century group photo, a choral work and one of the ROM’s antique animal specimen vitrines.
7. JAMES NIZAM
Birch Contemporary, June 13 to July 20
Nizam’s sculptures addressed an age-old paradox put forth in Plato’s Republic: while light makes all things visible, it remains invisible in and of itself. Nizam used smoke, refraction and a light source to create ideal geometric forms that he photographed in all of their temporary perfection. His Pyramid, set up in the Allen Lambert Galleria for Contact, was a miracle of light made visible.
8. LOUISE BOURGEOIS
MOCCA, June 22 to August 11
This fine overview of the iconic sculptor’s work included her early Personages, fragile wooden staff-shaped uprights, and her final work, 2008’s The Last Climb, a cage-like room from which a spiral staircase offers escape. Despite friendships with artists in France and New York and recognition that only came late in life, Bourgeois pursued her own creative path, an inspiration to us all.
9. LAND|SLIDE: POSSIBLE FUTURES
Markham Museum, September 21 to October 14
Janine Marchessault curated this ambitious project that brought 30 artistic interventions to the suburban heritage village. A heady mix of community arts, installations, video projections and performances livened up the old-time environment with innovative ideas about past, present and future. Let’s see more artists animating historic sites and museum period rooms.
10. JULIE JENKINSON
Verso Gallery, August 15 to October 11
Just behind mid-century modern shop INabstracto, Jenkinson inaugurated tiny yet bold new gallery space Verso with 36 hours In Uruguay, her photographic explorations of urban surfaces. Rigorously framed but teetering toward ambiguity, her images hover vertiginously between the abstract and the gritty, creating beautiful visual tension.