Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Brad Copping: Prairie Portage Primer

A very nice interview and video tour of Brad Copping's exhibition, "Prairie Portage Primer", on view at Moose Jaw Museum and Art Gallery through September 2, 2012. I was honoured to have been asked by curator Heather Smith to write the catalogue essay.

Monday, June 4, 2012

VSVSVS: Graffiti Removal Removal

VSVSVS is a collective of young artists based in an industrial space in the Port Lands on Toronto's eastern waterfront. Current members include Stephen McLeod, Wallis Cheung, Miles Stemp, Laura Kreviazuk, Ryan Clayton, Anthony Cooper, Jemma Egan, Laura Simon, and James Gardner.

"Graffiti Removal Removal" is a public art project which VSVSVS has recently done as part of Art of the Danforth 2012 . This festival  is a welcome newcomer in the Toronto free-art, community-engagement scene. Bracketed roughly by the Greenwood and Woodbine subway stops, "Art of the Danforth" celebrates a stretch of the Danforth that has yet to see much in the way of gentrification. The festival runs from May 20 through June 10 this year, but "Graffiti Removal Removal" should be around for some time to come, or at least until someone removes the removal removals.

Graffiti Removal is what you get when city workers, or private property owners, attempt to erase graffiti by painting over it. You see these erasures everywhere, as floating and layered blocks of colour which almost, but not quite, match the tones of the underlying surfaces on the original buildings or fences. The resulting forms can be pretty interesting, if unintentionally so.

I have not asked the members of VSVSVS, but their project seems to be the logical extension of ideas introduced in the wry mocumentary short film "The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal" (2001, director: Matt McCormick, narrator: Miranda July,  based on an original idea of artist Avalon Kalin).

"Graffiti Removal has become one of the more intriguing and important art movements of the early 21st century. With roots in abstract expressionism, minimalism and Russian constructivism, Graffiti Removal is both a progressive continuation of these movements and an important step in the future of modern art. What makes graffiti removal particularly intriguing, though, is that the artists creating it are unconscious of their artistic achievements."

Here is a clip:

And so, we have "Graffiti Removal Removal". Works of "removal art" are unintentionally made by city workers and property owners who have the conscious intention of erasing that which they do not sanction as art. With the addition of carefully chosen colour and occasional sculptural elements, VSVSVS consciously and deliberately "removes" the graffiti removals in such a way as to elevate the erasures. The graffiti removals now become validated and sanctioned works of ART as we more commonly define it: that is, work created purposefully and thoughtfully by professional artists. As is always a trademark of VSVSVS at their most successful, this project manages to be tongue-in-cheek and utterly serious at the same time. Unsanctioned artists make graffiti, which the city and the property owners do not consider to be art. The city and property owners make erasures, which they do not intend to be art, but which are now defined as such as a result of the intervention of professional artists. Next up?

Three of my favourite works in this series can be seen in the laneway which runs from Greenwood to Linnsmore Crescent, behind the stores on the north side of the Danforth. (Shot with my iPhone, and not the best. Go see for yourself, if you are in Toronto.)

The door, the post and the stairs have been painted in the same colour as the removal removals.
Sculptural elements are sometimes included in the removal removals: note the addition of spray-foam insulation on the right of the door. Note, too, the dash of aqua at shoulder height to the left of the door, nicely enhancing the divot which a truck has taken out of the corner of the building...
...and a pink-painted padlock installed on the pole.
The colour of the removal removal on this fence was inspired by the weathered siding on the adjacent garage.

The property owner attempted a white-wash removal of an entire wall of graffiti, but could not paint around the permanently parked van. VSVSVS helpfully added the text, reading "WHITE PAINT" (vinyl lettering, thus itself easily removable).

Monday, May 14, 2012

MuMo: a mobile museum for children

What a wonderful project this is! Conceived by Ingrid Brochard, entrepreneur, art collector and philanthropist, MuMo is a traveling contemporary art museum especially for children aged 6 through 12. The project is the first major undertaking of her non-profit foundation, L'Art à l'Enfance.

Designed by New Jersey-based architect Adam Kalkin, the museum consists of a shipping container engineered to magically unfold and pop up like a Transformer toy, topped off with a giant inflatable pink bunny sculpture, courtesy of Paul McCarthy.

Kalkin's preliminary sketch for MuMo.

MuMo at a schoolyard in Cameroon

The museum was assembled in Liverpool in the spring of  2011, and from there was shipped across the channel to France. It began its journey to schoolyards throughout France last fall, and is now traveling to elementary schools in Cameroon and Côte d'Ivoire. It will return to France in the fall of this year, with a fully-booked tour schedule through the spring of 2013.

There are 15 internationally recognized artists featured in the museum, including Lawrence Weiner, Nari Ward, Paul McCarthy, Ghada Amer and Maurizio Cattelan. 

Children enter the museum in small groups of parents or teachers allowed! They are, however, accompanied by a child psychologist, who travels with the exhibition, and trains additional local adult mediators to assist.  In a recent interview with ArtInfo,  Brochard stated that at first she had wanted the children to explore the museum with no adults whatsoever. "But I was afraid that they would miss certain things or that they wouldn't take their time. The idea of guidance is important, as long as the child can speak freely and be listened to. It came down to shedding the academic habits and structure that teachers enforce. I didn't choose (psychologist) Donatella Caprioglio because she's a therapist but because she knows how to listen to children, because she respects their freedom," Brochard said. "I want to avoid at all costs having any authoritarian aspect to the visit."

After the visit, children make their own artwork, and Caprioglio and the mediators conduct a "café" to discuss the experience with the undoubtedly disappointed and frustrated parents and teachers, who are able only to experience the museum vicariously through their children's eyes and ears.  I love how this project turns the traditional pedagogical hierarchy upside down, and allows children space for creative exploration and critical thinking, on their own terms. In the artists selected for the exhibition, the curators avoid any dumbing-down or pandering to adult notions of what children are capable of appreciating, understanding or enjoying. Also on MuMo's website is some charming documentary footage of children's reactions the art they've just seen: one small boy in Cameroon is positively giddy about the experience, declaring Ghada Amer's work, his favourite in the exhibition, to be "Magnifique!...I've never seen anything like that before!".  What he has never seen before is a depiction of two people kissing, highlighting the cross-cultural exploration of similarity and difference that is at the core of this project.  I hope a full-length documentary about MuMo is in the works.

From MuMo's website, here is a short video clip about how the project started, with some interesting commentary from a few of the artists involved. Even if you don't speak French, you'll get the idea...and of course, the American architect and artists speak English.  Lawrence Weiner's comments about the importance of art the psychological development of children are spot-on.

The following excerpts from an interview with Ingrid Brochard (conducted by Françoise Claire Prodhon, via l'Art à l'Enfance) give a fuller sense of Brochard's philosophy and guiding principles:

Why do you wish to set up this project?
Ingrid Brochard : This project is part of a very personal thought process. In my eyes, art, or rather "the arts" in their widest sense: they have the power to open eyes on the world and the realm of emotions, they help us to get through life and its hardships. This is probably the observation that led me to think of a project that would help underprivileged children, or at least those who do not have access to art.

It's a charity with a humanitarian vocation. How do you plan to carry it out ?
This project is designed for the children of Europe, Africa, Asia, South America… It can be implemented with orphanages, hospitals and schools. It will take on the form of a travelling museum that will get to the children in places that are sometimes very remote. The idea is to provide them with a special moment during which they'll have to confront the creative process. But it will also create opportunities to share with the artists during workshops and performances.

What are the guiding principles of the project and how does it work?

The interventions can take on various forms. One of its aspects is the Mobile

Museum, but there are artists who design a project with a specific target that doesn't require them to go on location. For example, Florence Doléac, the designer, designed the blanket-transitional object project for us, which targets small children at an orphanage who don't really have any toys of their own. Another example: Lawrence Weiner is currently setting up the project of a book designed by artists for the children, which will be handed out to the children with the help of Libraries Without Borders.
I talked about L'Art à L'Enfance with many artists, and they all tend to appreciate that type of experience that's outside of the usual framework of contemporary creation, and in which there are no commercial stakes.

What do you mean by that?
I have first-hand experience with the world of contemporary art and its market, the strategic and economic stakes that pervade it. I'm not criticizing, but that's not what I'm looking for… Art is a tool of the mind, and by balancing our emotions, it transforms our outlook on the world, and that's what I wish for these children.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Welcome Back

It's been a very long time since my last stint as Director/Curator at KWT contemporary was all-consuming! It has been a rewarding couple of years: building a terrific roster of artists, overseeing the development of a new corporate identity and website, managing, curating and installing up to three interlinked solo exhibitions a month, participating in three international art fairs, hosting a number of galas, lectures and events for not-for-profit-arts organizations... With 2500 square feet, the space was large by downtown Toronto standards, and had great street presence with abundant natural light in the front, segueing back to a darker, more intimate space at the rear (perfect for video and time-based installations). Given our location in an area undergoing rapid development, it is not surprising that the landlord saw the potential for "better opportunities". Our lease was up, and the gallery's owner and financial backer decided she would not meet the demand for a large rent increase. So, sadly, the doors at 624 Richmand St West are closed, and a new chapter begins. I'll be resuming my consultancy and art advisory service, A.K. Collings Fine Art, making time for more writing (and blogging!) and working on some curatorial projects.

Please  explore the gallery website for images and more detailed information about the gallery artists. Go to the gallery blog to see installation shots, and for news about our roster artists' activities, publications and accolades.

Here is a brief look at KWT contemporary over the past two years:

Our Booth at Papier 12, Montreal,  April 2012, featuring work by Liz Parkinson, Sean Martindale, Lauren Nurse, and Daryl Vocat.

Our booth at Art Toronto (Toronto International Art Fair) in October, 2011: looking through Jay Wilson's 12ft tall  toothpick "stalagmite", with paintings by Paul Dignan and Kieran Brent in the background.

And here is a sampling of some of the exhibitions, installations and events at KWT contemporary,  roughly in reverse chronological order. It will give you a sense of the wonderful space I had to work with.

 Jay Wilson's exhibition in January 2012

 Dinner party at the gallery for the artists.

Heather Nicol's "Salon" installation, Dec 2011

 Kieran Brent with "Will" and the real Will.

Alex D'Arcy

Rachael Wongs's installation (latex paint, blown glass elements)

Paola Savasta, winner of the 2011 William Huffman Award

Yvonne Singer. neon and plexi sculpture

 Svava Thordis Juliusson's installation, February 2011

 Paul Dignan

 Caroline De Mooy (oil on canvas) and John Paul Robinson (blown glass) November,  2010)

Many, many thanks to all the artists with whom I have had the privilege to work, and to gallery administrator Jessica Vallentin, interns Ebony Jansen, Emily Mahon, Victoria Lum, and our gallery owner and financial backer, Kristyn Wong-Tam, for an intensely rewarding, although far too brief, experience.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mira Godard: 1932 to 2010

Sad news from the Art Dealers Association of Canada:

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Mira Godard.

Born in Bucharest, Romania, Mira Godard studied Art History at the Ecole du Louvre and Physics and Math at the Sorbonne University. She continued her studies in Canada, acquiring a B.Sc. from Concordia University in 1954 and an M.B.A. from McGill University in 1960. In 1959 she purchased the Agnes Lefort Gallery, which at the time, was the gallery of standing for avant-garde artists, such as Paul-Emile Borduas. In 1962 she opened the Mira Godard Gallery and paved the way for Yorkville to be the hub for Canada’s most respected commercial art galleries. She yet again opened a gallery in Calgary in the late 1980s, which played an important role in bringing contemporary art to the West.

Her contribution to creating an art scene and art market in Canada cannot be understated. The Mira Godard Gallery has shown some of Canada’s most important artists - Alex Colville, Christopher and Mary Pratt, David Milne, the Estate of Lawren Harris, Jean-Paul Riopelle and Joe Fafard, to name a few. She brought groundbreaking International exhibitions, including an important show of late Picasso paintings, and her brief relationship with the famed Marlborough Galleries made great Modern art available to Canadian collectors. She leaves behind a legacy that will be continued under the direction of Gisella Giacalone.

Among her many pioneering contributions was the creation of the Art Dealers Association of Canada. A founding member of PADAC, she was the Association’s first President in 1967. This year she finally agreed to accept the Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, having refused to accept it before, feeling her life’s work was not done. The Art Dealers Association of Canada will proceed with the award at the Annual General Meeting in November with great regret and sadness. We honour her memory and contribution, which is incalculable in the development of Canada’s contemporary art market.

Born on January 31, 1932, she died on Monday, September 20, 2010 in Toronto.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Lead Type

Connecticut carpenter Dalton Ghetti sculpts pencil leads in his spare time.

(Thanks, Nigel!)