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.
In times of crisis, art becomes more necessary than ever. It can be a direct response, a backlash, a coping mechanism, or an escape. In a time when it seems as though most news is bad news, we invite you to engage in some of the finest art exhibitions the city has to offer this month. Here, you will find works that will make you laugh, make you think, or take you somewhere else. Consider this not a break from the world’s problems, but a reminder of other things that come with being human.
hahahahuh (AUGUST 31ST — SEPTEMBER 23RD)
Tessar Lo’s artwork fits perfectly into the current cultural brain: a little strange, a little funny, and with a lot hidden underneath the surface. Lo employs images of mundane objects — a toy, a piece of fruit, etc. — and renders them with potential to become metaphoric symbols of life in the modern age. The Indonesian-born artist’s paintings exist in the space between humorous and mysterious, between utter bewilderment and the urge to make a joke. This is the same dichotomy that exists on our own mediums for expression, most clearly demonstrated on Twitter, where the first reactions to bad news or shocking events are shock, rage, and dark humour. Look to Project Gallery to see Lo’s work for yourself this month.
The newest exhibition at the McMichael Canadian art Collection is a feature on the work of award-winning Inuk artist Annie Pootookgook and her influence on her peers. The exhibition will feature a number of Pootoogook’s drawings as well as works by Shuvinai Ashoona, Jutai Toonoo, Ohotaq Mikkigak, Siassie Kenneally, and Itee Pootoogook. This examination of contemporary Inuk art recognizes Annie Pootoogook as the catalyst in opening up new conversations for Inuk artists and new streams of expression. While the McMichael Collection is all the way up in Kleinburg, the drive is worth it to see Pootoogook’s wistful and wonderful works, and an in-depth look into contemporary Inuk artists.
SKATE GIRLS OF KABUL (SEPTEMBER 5TH — OCTOBER 8TH)
For the first time in North America, photographs will be shown from Jessica Fulford-Dobson’s time spent with the young participants of Sakeistan, an NGO founded in 2009 to provide kids with a safe place to skateboard and access to education in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa. The result is a series of photographs showing girls skateboarding that is simple in construction, but is also entirely moving, uplifting, and empowering. It’s a celebration of girls not only being able to undermine gender stereotypes, but also enjoy being children. The photographs will be up in a free exhibition at Aga Kahn Park for the month, and in a time when chaos is the norm, I highly recommend taking in something like this that is just inherently positive.
Phil Irish’s upcoming exhibition at the Lonsdale Gallery will feature dynamic paintings of mountain peaks and breaking sunlight over aluminum structures built by the artist. The clear conflict between natural wonder and industrial development exemplifies Irish’s time spent in Western Canada, trying to reconcile the overwhelming presence of the Rocky Mountains with the existence of the Athabasca Oil Sands. In the place where the natural and unnatural meet, Irish created these beautiful and unusual works as a way for viewers to examine how we have caused these two very different forces to coexist in our world.
Renowned Italian photographer and artist Paolo Ventura will have his first solo Canadian exhibition at the Nicholas Metivier Gallery this month. Ventura’s gorgeous photographers are a fascinating mix between the real and the surreal, hiring actors to fill his shots and hand-painting the photographs to either add to the sets or superimpose onto the human figures. Ventura employs elements from both Italian surrealism and 20th-Century Neorealism. The effect is otherworldly and transportive. An hour spent with Ventura’s photographs is an hour spent in a different universe.
At the height of summer, during the longest and hottest days, we need some stimuli for the eyes and the mind — something to take you away from the melting streets and into other worlds, those of minimalism and absurdism, of different identities and migration. All of this and more can be found in our art picks for the month of August.
MINIMAL(IST) EFFORTS (JULY 15TH—AUGUST 26TH)
Minimalism is an art form that is something that is both endlessly pleasing and frustrating.
Minimalism endlessly pleases and frustrates. It’s difficult for some to see minimalism as art — to see it as a response to outlandishness and as something complex in its simplicity. There should be no question as to why this is a movement that stuck around from the 1960s. The Angell Gallery aims to put a contemporary Canadian lens on the subject — their summer show features works by Simon Belleau, Neil Harrison, Jean-Francois Lauda and Robert Taite.
TAU LEWIS & CURTIS SANTIAGO (JULY 20TH—AUGUST 26TH)
Toronto-born artists Tau Lewis and Curtis Santiago’s joint show at the Cooper Cole this month is titled Through the People We Are Looking at Ourselves. The phrase is intriguing, and the exhibition it describes is even more so. The combination of Lewis’s incredible sculptures and Santiago’s evocative paintings is staggering, and with themes of identity and diaspora woven into the exhibition, it can be nothing less than a memorable and enriching experience.
The last installation in Roadside Attractions’s front window before the shop relocates to the east coast is a piece by Dan Nuttall that responds to the controversy facing the new proposed sex education curriculum in Ontario. Nuttall’s “Stilled Live With Curriculum” is a little disturbing, a little ridiculous, and very interesting. Since the installation will be in the front window, there’s no excuse not to pop by Roadside Attractions to check out Nuttall’s piece.
SEAN WAINSTEIM & LEJB PILANSKI (AUGUST 2ND—AUGUST 5TH)
Lejb Pilanski, a 97-year-old Jewish refugee, assembled a variety of objects he has repurposed as art pieces. Pilanski’s grandson Sean Wainsteim has curated his grandfather’s pieces to be placed alongside documents recounting Pilanski’s journey from Eastern Europe to Canada. Showing at the Red Head Gallery, ZEI GEZUNT // KEEP WELL is an exhibition filled with unique objects and artwork, but it also speaks to a greater experience of ingenuity and discovery shared by immigrants across time.
James Michael Yeboah’s When Black Boys Cry is an honest and open examination of stereotypes, toxic ideals of hyper masculinity and stoicism imposed on black men. Yeboah’s show at Magic Pony is meant “for black folx to come together and be unapolegetically vulnerable and, of course unapologetically black” in. Though the show has a focused audience in mind, the beauty and overall impact of the painting is something that can be appreciated by all.
It’s difficult to be anywhere in the country in July without echoes of Canada 150 ringing in your ears. This summer’s celebration is, after all, a big one. Instead of going against the grain of festivities for our monthly art guide, we’re working with Canada, in a way, by noting exhibitions this month that are solo exhibitions of or include work by incredible Indigenous artists.
ANISHINAABEG: ART & POWER (JUNE 17TH — NOVEMBER 19TH)
In the past, the Royal Ontario Museum would classify Indigenous art as cultural artefact, separate from what would be considered by fine or classical art. In this exhibition, which opened mid-June, that division is gone. Anishinaabeg artwork is displayed with detailed beadwork charting the artistic movements of the Anishinaabeg from 19th-cnetury friendship bags to the Woodlands School art movement. Co-curator and North Caribou Lake First Nations artist Saul Williams wrote descriptive labels for the artwork and recorded video discussing their symbolic and spiritual meanings.
UNSETTLING: BASIL AIZERI, LORI BLONDEAU, DUORAMA, TERRANCE HOULE, LISA MYERS (JUNE 22ND — JULY 22ND)
Unsettling sets out to do exactly what you would expect it do: disturb, upset, destabilize. Through the works of five different artists and artistic groups, the exhibition aims not only to unsettle its audience, but to unsettle the land it is on and the neighbourhood it is in, which would be Scarborough, at the Doris McCarthy Gallery. Within the context of Canada 150, the artists then aim to go bigger and disrupt the clean and pretty congratulatory narratives found throughout the mainstream anniversary media. The artists will do this all through painting, photography and sculpture.
Canadian jeweller and sculptor Mary Anne Barkhouse is known for her animal imagery-heavy artwork that highlights ongoing environmental and Indigenous struggles. Her current exhibition with the Koffler Gallery, titled Le Rêve aux Loups, is her first solo exhibition in Toronto. The exhibitor is comprised of sculptures and photo collages, using the realistic and the absurd to highlight themes of adaptation and persistence, regeneration and resistance.
JEFF THOMAS AND NAFISEH EMADMOSTOFI (JUNE 29TH — AUGUST 27TH)
At the Art Gallery of Mississauga this month, there are two solo exhibitions: one by Jeff Thomas, titled A Necessary Fiction: My Conversation with George Hunter and Edward S. Curtis, and the other by Nafiseh Emadmostofi, titled Burning Desire. Thomas’ exhibit is an examination of archival work by photographers who used Indigenous people in their work. Thomas deconstructs the images, changes the narrative and questions the place of such pictures in a time of self-determination and independent voices. Emadmostofi, selected from a call for graduation students from the University of Toronto, Mississauga and Sheridan College, is an award-winning Iranian artist. Her work in this exhibition is allegorical, drawing on images of the swan and burning books to touch on topical issues to spark protest but also to envision a better world.
The Art Gallery of Ontario can be, in a word, traditional. And usually, just like with the ROM, I never post their exhibitions on here because they get enough press and funding as it is. However, both of these institutions have showings this month that are worth note. The AGO’s is an exploration of what it means to be Canadian right now. Artists showing include Gu Xiong, Yu Gu, Robert Houle, Meryl McMaster, Seth, Esmaa Mohamoud, Ed Pien & Shuvinai Ashoona. The exhibition looks at where Canada is from, more than 150 years ago, where it is now and where it could go, using a multitude of artists and perspectives to attempt to answer these questions.
Since childhood, Daniel Barrow has found comfort in drawing. It has allowed him to export his internal visions while getting a handle of the world around him. Born in Winnipeg and based in Montreal, he works in projection, performance, animation, printmaking sculpture, and painting. All of his pieces, including sculpture and performance, revolve around his practice of drawing. Barrow is best known for his manual comic book and cinematic narratives, which are performance pieces given by overhead projectors. With these projected animations, he works through themes of fantasy, spirituality, empathy, isolation, and queerness. His installation was featured at this year’s Power Ball XIX: Stereo Vision.
Tatyana Wolfman: Comic books and films are some of your biggest influences. Which have had the biggest impact on your work?
DB: Daniel Clowes is without rival my favorite comic-book artist and the greatest comic book story-teller of our generation. I actually worry about the impact of his narratives on my own work, and try consistently to expand my reading list.
My tolerance for bad film is much greater than my tolerance for bad comic books, so I cast a broader net of influences and inspirations in film. Ronald Neame, Fellini and De Palma are some of my all-time favorite directors. My favorite movie of 2016 was Manchester by the Sea, and the best movie, for my money, of 2017, so far, is Get Out.
Music and literature also have had a huge impact on my work, along with art historical figures like Jean Antoine Watteau.
T: Your work mixes everything from rococo, surrealism, Greek iconography and contemporary culture. How do you choose the periods you reference and what do you hope to achieve with these combinations?
DB: I don’t at all map out how my references come together in my work. Nor do I have an artistic aim apart from following the freedom of my own imagination and making my work “better” in a very general sense. The piece I presented at Power Ball was specifically referencing Magic Lantern “slipping slides,” Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” and the clichéd cinematic ways of representing an erotic dream.
T: While big movie studios push to get animation to look as real as possible, you use obsolete projectors to create comic book narratives. Why choose these antiquated technologies to tell your stories?
DB: A lot has been made of the fact that I consistently use “obsolete” technologies , and while I am in many respects a nostalgic person, I’m far more drawn to technologies because they are simple (many of which happen to be antiquated) and I am always searching for ways to expedite my process. I prefer working with a few people as possible – ideally alone. I consider my work cinematically ambitious, but my methods are more similar to that of a puppeteer. I love the idea of perfecting an animated gesture, but I prefer to focus my energies on pictorial depictions and story, and fast-track an animated drawing by manually moving it through a gesture and moderating everything as a live performer. The overhead projector allows me to do all of this very quickly.
T: Is having transparent/demystified mode of storytelling important to you?
DB: Being present in the room to moderate the telling of a story to an audience is important to me. I love the energy of a live audience and the relationship that can develop in real time between a performer and audience.
T: Can you tell us about the two pieces, “House on Fire” and “Learning to Breathe Underwater,” you installed for Powerball?
DB: Learning to Breathe Underwater is a composited, and projected image of a prince having sex with a mermaid on a canopy bed. It is made using three video projections and five overhead projections. The drapery of the canopy bed is projected through dishes of water animated by fans. The viewer uses an aluminum “slipping slide” (based on pre-cinematic magic lantern technology) fastened to an overhead projector to activate the act of intercourse, hence implicating themselves in the obscene gesture.
House on Fire uses 3 overhead projectors to create the image of a large box of tissue. A large mechanized pinwheel suspended over one of the projectors provides a never-ending billow of Baroque tissue rising from the box. There are 10 cardboard-mounted slides piled next to another projector. Each features a 2-frame, “lenticular” animation of a pattern, which is animated only when the viewer drags it across the surface of the projector. The animations were almost all created by taking “compare and contrast” images from books on the history of pattern. Textbooks feature the image of a pattern of a 15th century Roman altar cloth, and contrast it with the image of a similar pattern found in Turkey a hundred years later. I used these textbook illustrations to create simple two-frame animations which then move in the template of the Kleenex box.
T: Buddhism and spiritual transformation finds its way into a lot of your work. How does it play out in your piece Learning to “Breathe Underwater,” which is a re-imagination of Han Christian Andersen’s Little mermaid story?
DB: That’s true. Buddhism has had a huge impact on my life and imagination though I can’t think of a neat link to this particular installation.
T: The tissue box is a recurring motif throughout your work. I immediately thought of cum and tears. What does this object mean to you?
DB: I’m always attracted to images or objects have the potential of many psychological and cultural associations. Recently, I’ve been using images of toilet paper as a template for meaning. The manufacturers of toilet tissue, like Kleenex, seem to want to create an aesthetic that will defend against the function of the product – usually by conjuring notions of quilted comfort and feminine innocence. It’s invariably printed with lacy floral patterns and in Europe it can be difficult to find tissue that is not perfumed. Kleenex is something a viewer could variously associate with any number of distasteful body fluids, crying, illness, comfort and sex. I’m also drawn to the simple contradiction of forms – the unraveling patterned cube with a baroque flourish rising from the top.
T: In the pieces, viewers can choose the pattern of the tissue box and are the driving force for the prince to penetrate the mermaid. Why have the audience get involved?
DB: I think I’m trying to lend my position as a performer to the viewer, while still controlling the gesture. I am always also trying to create a more intimate experience of story and one of the ways I do that is to implicate an audience in a story gesture. The only way for the viewer to see the act of intercourse is to animate it herself – presumably with a live audience watching.
T: Anything exciting planned for the summer or new projects coming up?
DB: I’m currently working on four different stories for projection performances. I have an exhibition at Open Studio in Toronto in the fall which will also launch a new silk screen. I am in the final stages of an animated short and I am also working on a number of new sculptural pieces. I anticipate having a lot of new work to exhibit in 2018. I only wish I could clone myself to get it all done!