Executive Editor's Letter: My Favourite Things

It might be a bit late to offer up a Favourite Things from 2011 list, but I’m going to do it anyway! So, in no particular order, here are some things that delighted me last year…

1. General Idea: Haute Culture at the Art Gallery of Ontario

My favourite exhibition of 2011 was full of artworks that I’d never heard of even though I’m a long-time General Idea fan. Haute Culture was a well-curated survey of this collective’s wide-ranging and influential output. Most of the work still felt fresh and relevant. I visited the Mondo Cane Kama Sutra (1984) canoodling poodles (or, the "three gay men fucking paintings", as a curator at the AGO told me one visitor kept calling them) several times. Pictured here is General Idea's AIDS sculpture (1989) as it looked in front of the gallery during the exhibition's run.

2. New York Art Book Fair at P.S. 1 MoMA, Queens, New York 

Last year’s NY Art Book Fair was supposedly scaled back, but it didn’t feel like it. It still took me more than two afternoons to get through the entire fair. There is something for everyone here, from handmade books by small presses to high-end rarities such as this tiny, limited edition Christian Boltanski book – along with the original shipping box addressed to General Idea! – going for $2,000 at Printed Matter’s booth.

3. “Pink Republic” by Flavio Trevisan

Toronto-based Trevisan creates wall-mounted sculptures based on city street maps. Whether intentional or not, his rendering of the city of Toronto in bubblegum pink hemmed in by a sea of black – used for a window display at Type Books last spring – reflected the mood of many 'pinko' downtowners following Rob Ford’s election as mayor. Ford, who some see as hostile towards arts, culture and diversity, got elected on a platform of now-meaningless catchphrases that appealed to suburban voters. Here’s hoping that Toronto somehow manages to emerge from the coming years with the same gleam as Trevisan’s work. (The recent revitalization of the Transit City plan gives one hope.)

Image courtesy the artist.

Trevisan’s exhibition Museum of the Represented City is at the Koffler Centre’s temporary space at 80 Spadina Ave. until April 8.

4. Toronto’s new art spaces

New spaces, including artists Hugh Scott-Douglas’s Tomorrow and Allyson Mitchell’s Feminist Art Gallery, pushed the envelope, while a new art destination is establishing itself in the Bloor/Lansdowne area with the opening of Daniel Faria Gallery (here, with images of Chris Curreri’s recent show on view) and Scrap Metal, opened by Toronto collectors Samara Walbohm and Joe Shlesinger to showcase their personal collection. Currently on view is a selection of text-based works by big-name international artists like Annette Messager alongside emerging Canadian artists like Derek Sullivan and Michael Dumontier.

5. “Small Log” by Jon Pylypchuk, produced by Paul and Wendy Projects

This melancholy little guy is a bronze sculpture, produced in an edition of 10, by former Royal Art Lodge member Jon Pylypchuk. Collecting limited editions is a good way to buy art when you don’t have tons of money. Toronto-based Paul and Wendy Projects has collaborated with a number of Canadian and international artists to produce affordable prints, objects and book works. An edition by text-based American artist Kay Rosen is listed on their website as “coming soon”.

6. The Day of the Peacock by Geoffrey Aquilana Ross, published by the Victoria & Albert Museum

A great gift for the male fashionista, this fun book pictures (mainly) British men’s fashion from 1963-73 from the V&A’s archives. Full of portraits of the designers, the Carnaby Street shops and the trend-setters (like actors Terence Stamp, James Fox and Lawrence Harvey, rock stars like Mick Jagger and artists such as David Hockney ) who set the tone of Swinging London, this book examines the period when young men shook off their fathers’ bland suits and bowler hats, grew their hair and embraced more flamboyant looks.

7. Insignificance, directed by Nicholas Roeg, released by the Criterion Collection

I’d been making do with a disintegrating VHS tape for years, so I was thrilled when Insignificance (1985) finally appeared on DVD. Like many of Roeg’s films, Insignificance is very much of its time, but the arresting visuals and performances save it from feeling stale. The scene  in which Theresa Russell’s actress (the character is based on Marilyn Monroe) explains the Theory of Relativity using flashlights and balloons to Michael Emil’s scientist (based on Albert Einstein) is classic.

8. “What Would Joni Mitchell Do?” posters by Cecilia Berkovic

This fun réposte to British artist Jeremy Deller’s “What Would Neil Young Do?” posters appeared in Toronto’s West End last summer. (A few weather-beaten examples, such as this one at the corner of College St. and Ossington Ave., can still be spotted here and there.) They made me chuckle. Toronto-based Cecilia Berkovic's practice addresses ideas of romance and identity. So, what would Joni Mitchell, as opposed to Neil Young, do? Young, I imagine, would keep on rockin’ in the free world no matter what. But, Mitchell, being more sentimental, would probably find a river she could skate away on.

9. Apocalypse by Bill Callahan, on Drag City

In a voice that sounds more world-weary than one would expect of someone in their mid-40s, Bill Callahan (formerly of the band Smog) surveys the American landscape and wonders what will become of it all. Mostly built around simple, echoing guitar chords, the songs on Apocalypse find Callahan “standing in a field of questions,” for which there are no easy answers. “America!” and “Universal Applicant” are standouts, but the entire album feels timeless.

10. The Art Prophets by Richard Polsky, published by Other World Press

Over 10 chapters, Polsky, the author of I Bought Andy Warhol, tells the stories of “visionary” art dealers such as Ivan Karp and Virginia Dwan who had the money and/or the gumption to foster new art movements such as Pop, Earth and Street Art. It’s not a perfect book, but it is ideal beach reading for those escaping to warmer climes this winter. My favourite chapter is about Chet Helms and Bill Graham elevating rock concert posters into works of art.

11. Brendan Fernandes: Encomium at Diaz Contemporary

A quietly urgent show. Using abstract elements such as Morse code and neon signage, Fernandes, who has been on a roll with six solo shows across Canada in 2011 alone, plus a solo show in India slated for 2012, addressed deeply human and topical themes. During the show’s opening and closing, the gallery space was activated by a pair of male dancers whose movements made me think that love and compassion are like muscles. If these feelings aren’t exercised regularly, they atrophy.

12. The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius

I want to live in a quiet, beautifully lit black and white world outfitted with art deco furniture; a place where everyone has perfect smiles and cute dogs and can tap dance their way out of their doldrums. If this sounds like heaven to you, too, then I can’t recommend this movie highly enough.

13. Sol Lewitt: Structures in City Hall Park, New York

Seeing this outdoor exhibition of Lewitt’s iconic modular sculptures, which he preferred to call ‘structures’, felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The 27 works, brought together by New York’s Public Art Fund, ranged from 1965 to 2007. Surprisingly, Lewitt’s cubes and pyramids actually worked well in this setting, their upward thrust and spare forms echoing or contrasting with the tall, ornate buildings of Lower Manhattan surrounding them. At right: Three x Four x Three (1984).

14. Dil Hildebrand: Back to the Drawing Board at YYZ Artists Outlet

Hard to believe, but this was Montreal-based Hildebrand’s first solo show in Toronto. Long overdue! Here, Hildebrand moved away from the skewed architecturally based paintings with which he made his name (and won the RBC painting competition in 2006) towards more overtly abstract work suggestive of Malevich, including Cranking (2011) pictured here.  He also made layers of varying shades of green paint appealing, which is hard to do! 

Image courtesy YYZ Artists Outlet, Toronto.

15. Meat-stuffed pancakes at the Thompson Hotel’s Counter diner

Two massive pancakes stuffed with sausage and bacon and covered with syrup is enough to fortify anyone for an afternoon of gallery-going.

About this issue

Although much progress has been made, it seems that women still have a harder time than men do gaining traction and achieving full recognition in the art world. Even important figures like Joan Mitchell, Hanne Darboven, Helen Frankenthaler and Judy Chicago are still often discussed only in relation to their male contemporaries. We hope this issue of Magenta, in some small way, helps rectify this situation by focusing on the work of three up-and-coming female artists whose interesting work in a wide range of media – from painting to performance –  deserves wider attention.

In addition, Magenta Magazine Online will start appearing three, rather than four, times a year from now on. Look for the next issue towards the end of May.

Bill ClarkeAnd, please, if you’ve enjoyed reading something, support the magazine with a small donation. It’s as simple as clicking on the DONATE button at the right of your screen. Every little bit helps!

Thanks for reading and, on behalf of everyone at Magenta, have a terrific 2012.

Thoughts on this issue? Please share them with us at info@magentafoundation.org

Bill Clarke

Executive Editor, Magenta Magazine Online