All the Artists Are Here

Today is opening night of Art Toronto.

One of the more interesting news stories to cross my desk this morning is the news story from Canadian Art magazine relating to Art Toronto.  Canadian Art will be providing daily updates as is their custom for the next few days.

The story today talks about the large installation created by Tom Sokoloski and Jeff Lei that is placed just inside the main entrance to Art Toronto entitled All the Artists Are Here.  In this installation we see approximately 1000 photos of artists that are included in the Art Fair.

I am unable to provide any commentary to this work due to lack of time today.  However, this story is very interesting to me and provides a platform for further dialogue.  It also speaks to the changing dynamic in the art world that we have witnessed during the past 20 years.  This has only been accentuated by technology and social media, amongst other societal and economic dynamics.

The news story referenced can be read here –

Harold Town at Wallace Galleries

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I don’t often talk about commercial galleries.  In fact, for whatever odd reason commercial galleries as a general rule don’t get much talking about in the Calgary press.  This is the way it has been ever since Nancy Tousley retired from the Calgary Herald who would occasionally make periodic mention of an interesting show.

I want to talk about one such show that is in the midst of a two week long exhibition.

The artist – Harold Town.

I want to talk about it because it is a damn good show and someone should step up to the plate and draw attention to the show before it is over.

Harold Town was an interesting artist.  Born in 1924 in Toronto, he died in 1990 in Peterborough.  He was one of the early proponents of non-representational art in Canada doing work that was influenced by Pablo Picasso and Willem de Kooning making a big impact in the 1950s.

He was a member of the highly influential Toronto-based art group Painters 11 and also introduced a very important body of work during the 1960s called the single autographic prints which are monotypes.  These prints were highly collected and helped solidify his role as an innovator and a leading light in Canadian art.  He followed that by creating a series of paintings in the 1970s called the SNAP paintings.  These works without going into detail about how they are created which relates to the name, quite frankly are amazing.  By the 1980s he had started to fall out of favour and largely neglected even though he continued to do work.  The image used on the card dates from circa 1985 and brings his career full circle to where he first made a name for himself as an important abstractionist.  The neglect that his work fell into is now changing and there is an increased awareness of his important role in the Canadian art world.

I went at the very end of opening day and as a result did not have much chance to look at the art, as is often the case at openings.  I did however do a very quick pass at the entire show while getting caught up with someone whom I have not seen for quite some time.  Fortunately I was previously familiar with his art so did not take notes or have a camera with me and am depending entirely on memory, so could be corrected on one or two things.  As I recall there are at least three SNAP paintings; maybe five to ten single autographic prints a couple works from the 1960s and a small selection of works from other periods with maybe 30 pieces overall.  It is quite the achievement to accumulate that many in one place and have them available for sale.  For that I must congratulate the staff at the gallery.

It is a strong show overall.  It is so rare to see this many works together by such an important artist from this vintage.  It is well worth visiting the gallery to check them out before the show comes down on October 9th.

Wallace Galleries is located at 500 – 5 Avenue SW (on the main floor of Chevron Tower) in the heart of downtown.  They are open Monday to Saturday from 10:00am-5:30pm.

Phantom Wing vs. Land|Slide

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Much has been written about Phantom Wing this past week or two.  This is entirely understandable given that it was a five day exhibition which ended a couple days ago.  It is a building (or at least the Phantom Wing portion of it) which is scheduled to be demolished at some point, in the next few months and eventually redeveloped as an arts incubator.

In that context it is interesting to compare this project with another that is happening simultaneously at the other side of the country, just outside of Toronto, in Markham entitled Land|Slide: Possible Futures.

Like Phantom Wing, Land|Slide is a large-scale, temporary public art exhibition with a short duration (five days, September 24-29 as compared to three weeks, September 21 – October 14).  The similarities continue where both events:

  • Started within days of each other
  • involve(d) over 30 artists
  • incorporated built infrastructure connected to the public arts and culture sector (the open-air Markham Museum and cSpace’s planned arts incubator at King Edward School)
  • a large number of temporary site-specific works that often utilized resources available on site was exhibited
  • artists from various stages of their careers were involved
  • free busing to the event was offered from arts institutions (MOCCA in Toronto and ACAD in Calgary)
  • have a lineage that ties back to The Leona Drive Project which took place in Toronto during 2009.

On the surface both would appear to be doing similar things in their respective local areas – one in the Greater Toronto Area and the other in Calgary.  As a result it is worth talking about both projects in context with each other.

We have seen the similarities, now what about the dissimilarities:

  • Facilities used in Markham will remain; whereas in Calgary they will be demolished
  • Financial support from all levels of government and private industry was indicated and community partnerships were listed in Markham; whereas the only stated support was received from the building owner and developer in Calgary
  • There was one curator in Markham; whereas there were five artist-curators in Calgary
  • The artists selected in Markham on average tended to be more established, with broader exhibition experience than was the case in Calgary, which tended to be more locally focused and by extension presumably less-established.
  • The artists work with a museum collection in Markham with a long history limits options (or alternatively expands the options); whereas in Calgary those limitations were not present.
  • The work selected in Markham tended to be more socially or politically-engaged; whereas in Calgary there was little evidence of this.

The main difference can be clearly stated by what the curators held up as their intent for each event as stated in the introduction to each project in each website.

Phantom Wing ( described its objective this way:

  • PHANTOM WING proposes the creation of an architectural phantom limb – an event designed to resonate long after the building is severed from its adjoining sandstone counterpart.

Land|Slide: Possible Futures ( describes the event this way:

  • (Land|Slide is a) backdrop for artists to explore some of the most pressing issues facing Canadians today: how to balance ecology and economy, farming and development, history and diversity. . . in a unique community engagement initiative that pays homage to the past and imagines possible futures.

Both events allude to the place of suburban (and urban) development in cities that are rapidly expanding.

It is my wish that I was able to make it Markham before this event ends so that I could make a proper post-partum which would open the door to further dialogue surrounding both events and the issues relating to development and cultural infrastructure, which both cities must deal with.

Challenging conventional wisdom

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It is usually a good thing when one figures that conventional wisdom must be true – and then in an unexpected moment this conventional wisdom is proven wrong.  It reminds us to always question one’s assumptions and that the search for knowledge should never end.

Today was one of those days.

The conventional wisdom.  Barbara Kwasny and Elaine Peake published a book in 1992 entitled A Second Look at Calgary’s Public Art.  In this book which contains 165 pieces of public art, there is little mention of any public art east of Centre Street north of the Bow River, or east of the Elbow River between the Bow and continues south along Macleod Trail from where they both meet near the Stampede Grounds.

There are three exceptions listed (which qualify as the term “little mention” as indicated above) – two of the three barely count if you know the area. They are:

  • two large sculptures and a small sculpture located at Deerfoot Mall,
  • The large Dinny the Dinosaur located on the zoo grounds, and;
  • a large installation dating from 1988 by Rick Silas entitled Out West located in Inglewood that has subsequently been removed from the location and it is believed was subsequently destroyed.

First a caveat.  Kwasny and Peake’s book focused on three-dimensional sculptural work, usually of a traditional material (i.e. bronze, wood or stone).   In the book, there was no mention of murals or two-dimensional work even if situated in a public place.  There were also gaps in terms of what they included and what they did not include.  In their defense, there will always be gaps no matter how thorough one tries to be in this type of endeavor.

I am also aware that the City as part of their 1% for public art program on large capital projects has subsequently situated new public art in this area during the past five to ten years.  As a result certain things have been added to the public art inventory since the book was published.

My big surprise.  I had a meeting to attend in the northeast earlier today.  I stopped in briefly to Sunridge Mall to pick up something I required for the meeting on the way.

I look up and what do I see?

A flock of geese (or maybe just birds that remind me of geese) suspended from the roof.

My mind immediately traveled to Eaton Centre, Toronto and the three-dimensional photographic flock of geese which occupy the Atrium.  They were created by the very influential Canadian artist, Michael Snow entitled Flight Stop, 1979 and are a major tourist attraction in their own right.  As I gazed upon the birds flying inside Sunridge Mall I could see the wind in the mall moving them slightly which was obviously the artist’s intent.

Now I was curious about who made these flying birds as there was no signage visible.  I made my way to the administration office to find out more.  I met with two lovely women – the receptionist and another woman called in from one of the offices nearby.

The outcome of our conversation.  There have been a number of management and ownership changes over the years since the mall was built in 1984 (for comparison Eaton Centre was built in 1978/79).  The receptionist was able to tell us that she remembers them from when she first worked at the mall.  She could place that time, to when she was pregnant approximately 20 years ago.  As a result, the two women came to a decision that they most likely have been there since the mall opened.  Based on that conversation, I would also tend to agree with them.  Although I still know nothing more about these birds than I did yesterday.

The mystery still remains.  Who created these works?  What are they called?  When were they made?  How did they end up there?

My request for help.  My hope is that some architect, builder, artist, contractor or person with information to share will help me figure out the answer to these questions above.  If you know, please send me a message.  I would very much like to talk to you.