Executive Editor's Letter: Summer in the City

Summer lovin’… had me a blast. Summer lovin’… it happens so fast! Which is why this issue’s letter contains a few brief ruminations on art-related things that romanced and entranced me over this particularly lazy, hazy and crazy Toronto summer.

Daniel Borins and Jennifer Marman: Set Re-Set, installation view, 2010: Courtesy the artists and Georgia Scherman Art Projects.Daniel Borins and Jennifer Marman: Set Re-Set, installation view, 2010: Courtesy the artists and Georgia Scherman Art Projects.May/June: Set Re-Set by Daniel Borins & Jennifer Marman at Georgia Scherman Art Projects, Toronto.

I readily admit that, until this exhibition, I didn’t know what to make of Borins and Marman’s work. While there are individual works of theirs that I liked (the Hairy Rockers and Hairy Minimalist prints always make me smile), their installations, including the baffling Gallery TPW show in 2008, left me exhausted, unfulfilled and peevish. I’m not saying that viewers shouldn’t have to work to uncover art’s meaning, but it sometimes felt like the artists didn’t want to provide me with a way in. However, immediately upon walking into this show, I could see that something had changed from a curatorial perspective. It was well organized. I didn’t need a mind-numbing multi-page essay to figure out which pieces related to each other. It was colourful, playful, well produced and tons of fun to look at, yet it still tied into the artists’ on-going interest in Modernist aesthetics and histories. I don’t know what brought about this change and I don’t really care, but more shows like this one, please!

Paulette Phillips: Touché, 2008: From History appears twice…the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.  Courtesy Diaz Contemporary, Toronto, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Montreal. Photo: Davey Moor.Paulette Phillips: Touché, 2008: From History appears twice…the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Courtesy Diaz Contemporary, Toronto, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Montreal. Photo: Davey Moor.June: Paulette Phillips in the Yesterday’s Tomorrows exhibition at Montreal’s Museum of Contemporary Art (on view until Sept. 6, 2010).

A few years ago, when Mercer Union, an artist-run centre in Toronto, was moving locations, its Board and committees needed places to meet. A few times, Toronto artist Paulette Phillips offered us her home. (I was on Mercer’s Board at this time.) After one meeting, Phillips showed us rough footage she had shot at the abandoned home of Irish architect and furniture designer Eileen Gray in the south of France. The film was to become part of a larger installation, ‘History appears twice, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce’. So, it was terrific to see the installation in its entirety at the MACM. The installation also includes two first-rate sculptures. The first is based on a mirror designed by Gray, with an armature attached and affixed with a second, shaving-sized mirror. A motion sensor causes the armature to move whenever the viewer tries to see their own reflection in the mirror. It is wryly titled The Egoist/The Lover. The other sculpture consists of two books – one about Gray’s work and the other about Le Corbusier’s. It seems the Swiss-French architect was, to use a modern term, a ‘frenemy’ of Gray’s. The two books contain magnets that repel the volumes away from each other, but they can’t part completely because they are encased in a modernist chrome structure. I don’t have room to explain how these sculptures, the film, and the other elements of Phillips’ installation come together but, suffice to say, if you have the opportunity to see this work, don’t pass it up!

June: Re-reading the Refus Global.

After seeing the excellent Automatiste Revolution exhibition at the Varley Art Museum in Markham last February, I made a note to re-read the Refus Global. This series of short essays was published in 1948 by a group of artists called the Automatistes, which included the painters Paul-Emile Borduas and Fernand Leduc, as well as the dancer/painter Francoise Sullivan. Together, they revolutionized the arts in Quebec. I was about halfway through it when the G20 came to Toronto at the end of June. The timing seemed perfect. It had been some time since I’d first read it, so I’d forgotten that this document was about more than railing against a moribund visual arts scene. In Borduas’ incendiary essay that gives the document its name, he takes aim at an entire cultural and political system in thrall to conservative religious leaders who wanted to keep the population ignorant of progressive social trends. Hmmm… sounds like certain elements within the Harper government, doesn’t it? The Refus Global is a stirring read, reminding us that Canada once had a vibrant avant-garde, and that making art was, for a brief time, a risky political act in this country.

Sol Lewitt: Artist book display at Mercer Union, 2010: Photo: Magenta Publishing for the Arts.Sol LeWitt: Artist book display at Mercer Union, 2010: Photo: Magenta Publishing for the Arts.July/August: Sol LeWitt’s artist books at Mercer Union

It was very exciting to have a wall drawing by the iconic American artist Sol LeWitt on view in Toronto this summer; hats off to Mercer’s staff, Board and volunteers for making it happen. (Read more about it in the features section of this issue.) But, I have to admit that, at the preview party, I headed straight to the back gallery to see the display of LeWitt’s artist books. I’m a great fan of artist books, and LeWitt was a pioneer in the use of books as a way to disseminate his art and ideas. LeWitt’s books, whether they contain pages of drawn arcs, circles, grids or lines are elegantly and thoughtfully designed. This isn’t surprising given the nature of his large-scale wall works. The books on display ranged from 1969 to the early 80s, which is when the main gallery’s wall drawing was first created for Mercer Union. Several were printed in limited editions by LeWitt’s galleries, while others were mass-produced by larger imprints; all are now rather scarce. I had to apologize to gallery staff for drooling on the vitrines containing them.

Scott Waters: Totem: Barnes, 2010: Courtesy the artist and LE Gallery, Toronto.Scott Waters: Totem: Barnes, 2010: Courtesy the artist and LE Gallery, Toronto.August: Scott Waters at LE Gallery, Toronto

You never know who you’re going to end up standing beside in a gallery, looking at a piece of art. I had a terrific encounter with a woman who was here at the same time I was, looking at Toronto artist Scott Waters’ latest war-themed paintings. This show consisted mainly of finely detailed drawings of military-issue firearms, accompanied by quotes from Hollywood-blockbuster war films. This woman had a very strong reaction to them, which surprised me because it seemed they were intended to prompt us to think about our mediated experience of war, not to provoke strong emotional responses. She and I, and LE’s director Wil Kucey, engaged in a lengthy conversation about Waters’ work, and the history of war art in Canada. It eventually came out that my fellow gallery-goer, Shayla Howard, is the Research and Collections Officer at an organization called the Historica Dominion Institute, where she is working on a competition called the Art from Memory Challenge. The competition seeks to connect art students with WW II veterans to create a collaborative work of art. More information can be found on the Institute’s website.

 

Lastly, if you’re in Toronto from Oct. 6 to 10, join us at the Magenta Foundation’s first Flash Forward Festival. More information about this symposia on fine art photography and art book publishing can be found in the Editors’ Picks section of this issue.

I hope you enjoy reading Magenta’s fourth issue! Enjoy the final few weeks of summer, and we’ll see you again in the fall, when the art scene is once again in full swing.

 

Bill ClarkeBill Clarke
Executive Editor