When December rolls around, the art exhibition circuit changes: markets, fairs, and flash sales open up throughout the month, giving attendees ample opportunities to purchase original artworks and artisanal crafts for themselves and their loved ones. And this is fantastic. After all, we love a good artisan fair. However, with this month’s guide, we want to keep the focus on the exhibits, on art that you can’t necessarily buy or touch, but that you can see, experience, and remember.
UNCERTAIN LANDSCAPES (NOVEMBER 3RD — JANUARY 5TH)
A good place to start this month is Montreal-based artist JG’s solo exhibition at Xpace Cultural Centre. Uncertain Landscapes delves into queerness: its appearance, fluidity, and inability to conform. JG combines imagery from drag culture and science fiction into their illustrations, demonstrating how aesthetics can empower and validate those who are perceived to be outside of the social norm.
Deanna Pizzitelli’s solo exhibition at the Stephen Bulger Gallery is a series of photographs from the artist’s travels over a period of three years. The photographs are intimate, revealing, and represent a wide emotional landscape that defines the human experience: from lust, to loss, to longing. Despite the photographs being of different people in different places, they weave a narrative of loneliness and hopefulness, of our eternal searches for meaning and connection.
Usually, our focus is on smaller, more independent galleries. The ROM gets enough publicity as it is, but special circumstances rise from time to time. And Christian Dior is definitely a special circumstance. Until March next year, some of Dior’s finest creations will be on display. The exhibition mainly features fashions from the first ten years of Dior’s house, following the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the “new look.”
MATERIAL MATTERS: INVESTIGATIONS INTO PLACE AND PLACEMENT (DECEMBER 1ST — JANUARY 27TH)
Jen Aitken and Margaret Priest are different artists: in their experiences, mediums, messages and theses. But in Georgia Scherman Projects’s joint exhibition, their combined works play off of one another in an examination of place and perspective. Priest’s drawings question and critique the physicality and ideology of modern architecture, while Aitken’s sculptures are a more abstract approach to the interaction of space and design.
SMALL SCULPTURES BY GREAT ARTISTS & ANTLER, BONE, STONE (DECEMBER 2ND — JANUARY 27TH)
Feheley’s newest exhibition is proof that great things come in small sculptures. The detail, the craftsmanship, the amount of love present in every etch and divot; this is what can be found at the two exhibitions this month. As is usual for the gallery, works by Inuit artist will feature in the shows, with Antler, Bone, Stone showing works specific to Igloolik. Little information is available on the specific artists, but Feheley Fine Arts already has a reputation for putting on wonderful exhibits — this will be no different.
The Scotia Bank Contact festival is Canada’s largest photography festival, with over 1500 participating artists and 200 exhibitions taking place through the month of May. It sprawls throughout the entirety of the Greater Toronto Area. This year, the festival focuses on Canada and recognizes the 150th anniversary of the confederation; explores both documentary style pieces that capture an ever-changing Canadian landscape and images that challenge our notions of the medium.
Novella had the privilege to speak with renowned artist and 2016 Scotiabank Photography Award winner, Suzy Lake.
Lake is a veteran photographer, video maker and performance artist. Her works deal with body image, ageism, beauty, as well as gender and identity construction. She explores the effects of social convention and power dynamics: “About forty to fifty years ago I started working with issues of identity and realized that, as one is trying to find one’s voice, one becomes aware of what the resistance is and so that continued as my visual journey until now.” Although her work is highly politicicized, Lake isn’t interested in preaching, “the thing is, I create work where I’m asking a question and raising discussion. It’s not agitprop. I’m not trying to convert someone.”
Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1947, Lake grew up in a politically tumultuous era where racial tensions ran high. She became politically active in her young adulthood. She studied painting at Wayne State University, but felt the medium did not help her reconcile what was happening around her. She began experimenting with photography and performance art on her own accord. Witnessing the Detroit Race Riots first hand, she and her husband were forced to leave her hometown, and ended up in Montreal, Quebec.
Lake quickly realized that Canada, too, was fertile ground for the exploration of identity and power dynamics. For example, when she moved to Quebec, she discovered that she was technically her husband’s property under the Quebec Civil Code. The FLQ, a political party who violently advocated Quebec’s separation from Canada, was also active in Montreal at the time of Lake’s arrival. She sought progression through her artwork. Lake cofounded a forward-thinking, artist-run space in Montreal called Véhicule Art Inc, in 1972. Many consider it to have been at the helm of contemporary art.
Lake’s interest in the dynamics of power flourished. As she described it, there were: “Identity issues that were being addressed and they were politicized and there was resistance to them and I was very interested in that because it was very much similar to the civil rights work that I was doing in Detroit. So really, power dynamics are power dynamics. The story might be different, but the dynamic is the same.”
Lake moved to Toronto in the late 1970s. She began to create work concerning both identity and landscapes, these were a testament to how she felt about deeply Canadian issues. Her installations, “Desire and the Landscape” and “Authority is an Attribute, Part I and Part II” explored Canada’s convoluted relationship with landownership. In “Desire and and Landscape” she juxtaposed the pride of a community in a rural, industrial paper mill town in northern Ontario, with the fallacious expectations of cosmopolitan tourists.
“Everyone really identifies with their surroundings if they have been in a place for a long period of time. Living in Montreal for ten years — that was a length of time where I learned about its history the nuances of personality so and so forth. We have a pride in that comfort of where we are and what it looks like. It becomes part of who we are,” she said. “If you’re a tourist, you kind of idealize what that is and it’s not necessarily on the same terms as the caretakers of that land.” For the piece, Lake created wall drawings with colored graphite pencil and intermittently hung photographs of tourists.
Canada’s historical power dynamics, clearly fraught with injustice, were incorporated into her work, she explained, “The Temagami land claim was living on a tremendous amount of Ontario, they’re hunters and at the same time desire of all the cottagers of the Temagami area had desire over the beautiful vacationing landscape and the soft wood lumber industry Goulard assumed desire and ownership over the pine forest and hydro and so you know there is a different kind of investment by others than those who are really the caretakers of the land.”
Her piece “Authority is an Attribute Part I and II” further explored the relationships between First Nations people, the provincial government, and the logging and tourist industries. In Part I, we met the figures of desire and issues of appropriation, each colonial figure had a set of binoculars because their gaze holds the power of decision-making. For Part II, the Teme-Augama Anishnabai Band Council asked Lake if she could create an exhibition on Bay Street that non-Indigenous people in Toronto could see. The Council wanted the exhibition on Bay Street (Toronto’s equivalent of the infamous Wall Street in New York), “because that’s where important decisions are made.” Lake said, “They wanted their side of the story told so every decision, every visualization that I did, I would go up to Teme-Augama and present it to and have it approved by Band Council so it really was a collaboration, but I visualized it.” The photos consist of triptychs of the Teme-Augama Anishnabai Band members smiling on their rightful land and home. She also included photos of the previously identified authority figures with binoculars from Part I as well as in cut out installations to really accentuate their taking of space. There is also a small series of silver gelatin prints entitled “Game Players” of businessmen in suits playing chess on the Augama Anishnabai land. The businessmen also represent aspects of neo-colonialism.
Whether Lake is dealing with beauty ideas, ageism, or other societal constructions, her work sparks conversation. Her work is a visual manifestation of how we may feel about social injustice.
CONTACT is celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday—yet many see little reason to celebrate our colonial foundations and the ongoing disempowerment of indigenous groups. Lake’s Attribute I and II function as an important reminder of the many injustices that Canada has perpetrated over those 150 years.
You can see Suzy Lake’s exhibition is on from April 29-August 13 at the Ryerson Image Centre.
Martin Harrison in his introduction to Seeing Fashion, an Arena Editions’s collected works of Melvin Sokolsky’s photographs from the ’60s, tells the story of the photographer’s encounter with Edgar de Evie’s Jell-O ad early in his career: Mr. Sokolsky, from the Lower East Side, young, and hungry, was greatly impressed at the $4000 advertising photographer received for the photo.
Speaking at length — befitting the rhythm of our long conversation, which flowed from photography to politics, writing, and our contemporary cultural issues — on the subject of honesty, Mr. Sokolsky pointed out that Harrison’s version, though with factual information, is not true: “He is saying, in other words, that Melvin was interested in the money and not the idea.” The truth: “That was not what it was about. I told [Harrison] about Edgar getting $4000 for Jell-O and that [Edgar] was insulted when I told him that I would’ve liked the picture better if the pouring Jell-O looked blurred.”
Mr. Sokolsky does not like inaccuracies. Naturally, he’s not so keen on superlatives either: “They’re embarrassing.” Which is another way of saying that to speak with Mr. Sokolsky and his works without a thorough knowledge, let alone a rudimentary understanding of photography, was a dangerous feat. No inaccuracies, either factual or essential. No gratuitous praises. As such, I talked little and listened. Dressed entirely in black, he led me around the gallery and talked about the various ways in which his works were conceived, produced, and received, and what they may or may not mean in the era of selfies and Instagram (the platform on which Mr. Sokolsky posted a picture from the Bubble Series and received meagre 50 likes).
Sokolsky was born in New York in 1933 and at the age of twenty-one joined Harper’s Bazaar’s distinguished staff, which included, among others, Nancy White, Diana Vreeland, and Richard Avedon. In 1962, Sokolsky photographed the entire editorial content of McCall’s. Within the decade, he began his career as a commercial director/cameraman, for which he has won twenty-five Clio Awards. He has been actively involved with the physical and technological natures of his craft, applying self-developed techniques to his works well beyond the spectrum of contemporary usage or even of Photoshop. With over half a century’s work, to say he is prolific is an understatement. The exclusive retrospective at Izzy Gallery (1255 Bay.) is a chance to view his iconic works, especially those from his time at Bazaar, including the famed Bubble and Fly series.
The glamour and drama attached to working in Harper’s Bazaar, however, was not the subject at the edges of our revolving conversation. Underlying it was a sense of urgency regarding the need to reclaim and reaffirm the values and definitions of creative endeavors. “Somebody told me — I forget who — something very early in the game that I still remember. ‘It is most important that you write everything accurately and vet it and back it up. Sadly, 90% of people who pick up the book will not read a word of it. Only the publisher, the people involved, care that much.’ But I’m doing it because, on this planet, there’s a history. Doing an honorable job is important because otherwise history is going to get distorted.” There are moral implications for the artist in doing things right. He was, also, pointedly telling me to ‘do an honorable job’ regarding this article. And with that in mind, let us revisit.
The Bubble Series, seen anew, carries a depth beyond the sensuality, joy, and vibrancy of the immediate image. Outside the pages of Harper’s Bazaar and the appraising gaze of its audience — who could spend at the time, as Mr. Sokolsky pointed out, enough money to buy a car on a Chanel dress —, the photographs can be viewed in an entirely different context — not as a icon but as a living work of art. The photographs on view, like the best of portraits, evoke narratives; the atmosphere of Parisian streets; the passersby who take respite from daily life and who, with their presence, reflect a viewer’s curiosity and awe.
An even earlier work showing Simone D’Aillencourt in a Nina Ricci dress standing in a hovel atop a bed of old newspapers is perhaps even more to the point. The incongruity between the subject and her surroundings evokes much more than musings on Ms. D’Aillencourt’s beauty or the dress:
‘When you write something — would you admit this to me? — you have to have some kind of point of view that makes it special. […] I took that picture [of Simone] for Harper’s Bazaar, an upper class fashion magazine for wealthy women. Melvin Sokolsky came from New York’s Lower East Side and had no idea about wealthy women or fashion. He just liked taking pictures that were interesting. So I found this loft, a hovel, with walls falling apart and old newspapers. [The dress] was one of the most important New York collection dresses. When I put them together and photographed them, it was immediately rejected. It was accepted by the art director and the head of fashion but the editor-in-chief said, ‘Are you people out of your mind? The readers of Bazaar would not be able to identify with that place.’ But then Mrs. [Diana] Vreeland said, ‘That’s precisely the point. Juxtaposition — it’s a painting.’ […] So [the editor-in-chief] acquiesced — because of the deadline, not because she wanted to; there’s always a reason. Then letters came in asking, Who is this Sokolsky guy? I was twenty-one years old in 1960 and suddenly I got myself a reputation for ideas.’
The conceive a photograph as a template for an idea rather than a product with a function is the point of view. That with retrospect one can easily see how the colorful dress stands out in juxtaposition to the surroundings and thereby attracts even more attention to itself is only a testimony to the photographer’s vision. The magic of the image lies in creating a narrative through the incongruity of the subject and its surroundings. To see pictures from Mr. Sokolsky’s wide-ranging career is to see numerous changes in his style, experiments with contemporary photographic technologies and emulsions, and conceptual focus. His signature is less of a particular style or a palette but is rather his approach to photography itself.
This can be easily seen by opening a random page in Mr. Sokolsky’s self-published Archive. From fashion photography that reflects his fascination with surrealist art to reportage and portraits, they showcase his indelible style and continual innovation.
A conversation with Mr. Sokolsky is a variegated lesson; on photography; on the nature of working in the fashion industry; on creativity and craftsmanship. At one point in our meeting, he said, “What I’ve discovered is that most people are aesthetically blind.” But it was not a condemnation as much as a pedagogic reprimand. Reprimand so that we should see better. And in seeing better, do better even if it’s for that hypothetical 10% who do pick up the book and read or see a photograph and truly see.
Melvin Sokolsky’s Retrospective runs through February 11th at Izzy Gallery. ‘Archive’ is available for purchase at sokolsky.com.
Izzy Gallery (1255 Bay Street) represents works of acclaimed photographers — Douglas Kirkland, DeanaNastic, and Lillian Bassman, among others. Each piece in the gallery is hand selected from the artists’ archives, which makes an opportunity to visit in and of itself a unique experience.
February is a month of storms. There are certainly the literal kinds; the snow squalls and ice storms and blackouts that always seem to find Canada in the months where spring is but a touch of warmth in the back of our minds. But there are other storms we find ourselves in, both political and personal. To fight these destructive forces, there are organized protests, raised awareness, and education given wherever it can be found.
This month, we invite you to consider awareness and perspective through art. The list we’ve compiled of our choices of exhibitions this month are tied together by an idea: It’s time to hear histories that challenge the dominant canon and time to look at our culture from a different perspective.
NASTY (JANUARY 21ST-MARCH 4TH)
With major events unfolding in the United States, this exhibition at the Daniel Faria Gallery is more relevant than ever. This all-female exhibition takes that now infamous phrase “nasty woman” (of course referring to Hillary Clinton, the woman who wanted to run a country) and expands upon it until the sheer ridiculousness of the phrase cannot be ignored.
This is a time when “nasty women” are everywhere: threatening to men in positions of power, unapologetic in their outrage, and unafraid to be depicted as ugly. Nadia Belerique, Valerie Blass, Shannon Bool, Aleesa Cohene, Kara Hamilton, Kristine Moran, Jennifer Murphy and Elizabeth Zvonar use their respective disciplines to play with images of women and gender at a time when every new step forward for gender equality is met with belittling rebuttals.
Gallery 555’s current exhibition is another show with female creators with works tied by one of the art’s most prevalent themes: transformation and new beginnings. With an all-star lineup featuring award-winning artists Amy Bowles, Rebecca Chaperon, Anna Pantcheva, Kate Puxley, and Stacey Sproule, this show promises a visual feast of gorgeous contemporary art, but it will also ask questions and make the viewer consider their own transformative experiences as well as the possibility of new, untouched spaces within the mind.
Highly recommended to anyone feeling a little existential lately.
When we consider jobs, we consider the uniform. Every position has one, whether we are conscious of it or not. Some jobs have an easily recognizable uniform that is in and of itself an icon — consider firefighters, doctors, and garbage collectors. Some have more conceptual uniforms, but when you put a group of people with that job in a room, the patterns become clear — consider teachers, government workers, and fashion retailers who reflect the brand aesthetic.)
As part of their winter exhibitions, the Harbourfront Centre has gathered the work of 39 designers to present workwear in our modern world. They explore uniforms’ inherent ties to power and position by creating uniforms for invented, hypothetical jobs for a new, hypothetical society.
(If you’re like me and have a habit of examining the wardrobe choices in Black Mirror a little too closely, I have a feeling this will be the show for you.)
SHAME AND PREJUDICE: A STORY OF RESILIENCE (JANUARY 26TH-MARCH 4TH)
For a long time, Canada has worn the “nice guy” label with such national pride. We put ourselves above the United States and Europe with our supposed peaceful history. Really, our history is just as wrought with people and government continually doing wrong towards Indigenous peoples as any other country. This is not a new concept, but it is still not being acknowledged enough.
Kent Monkman’s show at the University of Toronto Art Museum is a bold acknowledgment of the elephant in every room, the airing out of Canada’s dirty secrets. Monkman’s incredible solo project uses paintings, sculptures, and historical artifacts to tell the story of Canada’s history from pre-confederation to the present, all through the eyes of the Indigenous people.
A Space Gallery’s multidisciplinary exhibition has Canadian artists telling stories of the violence and control of imperialist forces in colonial states. The exhibition includes works by Kahdija Baker, Livia Daza-Paris, Michael Greyeyes, John Halaka, Siamak Haseli, and Gita Hashemi. The works span across media and continents but are all representations of the experiences of the colonized. The works are meant to be representations of “revolutionary grieving,” according to the exhibition’s webpage. Based on that description alone, I imagine this will be an exhibition that will not only be emotionally harrowing but an education for every person who attends.
B[art]er calls for all local artists to gather together and exchange their works at the Northern Contemporary Gallery.
B[art]er started out as house parties. A gallery associate Chantal Hassard created B[art]er to invite her friends and classmates from University of Toronto’s art program to her house to trade their art.
“The idea of someone actually wanting my work in their space inspires me to make better work,” Hassard said. “I thought B[art]er would be a good way to inspire others in the same way.”
The owners of Northern Contemporary liked Hassard’s idea and let her host the event at their gallery.
Now everyone can participate in the event — no artistic experience required!
Hassard said she came up with the idea when she travelled to Israel as an exchange student at Tel Aviv University.
“While I was over there, I met some people setting up the Middle Eastern regional Burning Man event called MidBurn,” she said. “Because of their radically inclusive community model, they welcomed me whole heartedly into their homes all over the country. Before and after the event, I shared many meals with burners and really identified with their values. All my art now is a feedback loop that tries to replicate their community ethos to bring countercultural activity like pARTicipation and immediacy into the mainstream.”
Many times Hassard gathered Toronto-based artists and their friends at her house to celebrate art. They brought prints, photos, and oil paintings. However, there was no theme.
While the recent B[art]er allows works of all mediums, they have to reflect Toronto.
“I feel like there’s institutional need to define our city and its fine artists. And that is a nice opportunity,” said Hassard.
For those who need inspiration, they would do well to check AGO Tributes and Tributaries or the free Form Follows Fiction exhibit at U of T.
Hassard said she already has some ideas for the next B[art]er that will also take place at the gallery in February. It might be political art or the art of one colour.
All events will be accompanied by music, with snacks and drinks.
B[art]er starts at 7 p.m. on Dec. 19, at the Northern Contemporary Gallery, 1266 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario.