Mirana Zuger, Vrtlar at the McClure Gallery


[Edit, July 31, 2012: I received an email from Maskull Lasserre, about some of the things I wrote, and have added it to the article.]

I’m certain that James D. Campbell is a nice person, loved by many and appreciated by even more. However, I got a couple of bones to pick with him. The reason I’m doing it here is because he has written one of the essays in the catalogue for Mirana Zuger‘s exhibit Vrtlar (Serbo-Croatian for gardener). Actually 33 bones to pick with him. Thirty for his use of the following fancy-ass words (some even made up) in his essay in the catalogue that do nothing to make Ms. Zuger’s paintings understandable. Semiotic, immanent, coeval, chroma, pictographic, gnomic, tactuality (the adverb of tactual is actually tactually) excrescences, mien, amuletic, Voudoum (I don’t think this exists as a word as Google only gives about 79 results), traceries, palimpsests, irremediably, performative, anfractuous, coagula, coruscating, concatenation, gravid, praxis, balletics, fixity, cicatrices, auratic (I’m not sure this one exists either as it only shows up on wikitionary), processual, diasporae (the plural of diaspora is in fact diasporas), lingua adamica, primogenitary and vitrification. Then another bone because he gets the title of the film he cites in the essay wrong, as you can see by watching the film.

The film is called: Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, not The Voodoo Gods of Haiti (and after reading a little about Maya Deren, it looks like it could be a very interesting film). He then proceeds to spell David Michael Levin‘s name wrong, and finally he obviously hasn’t spent all that much time around street artists, because graffiti is anything but spontaneous. When was the last time you “just happened” to be carrying some cans of spray paint around “in case” you suddenly had the urge to be artistic in public?

But despite all the excess baggage and nonsense that he adds to the show, Ms. Zugler’s work is up to the task and came through with shining colors. (The show itself was on exhibit at the McClure Gallery from June 1 to 23, this year). If you ‘d like to see some of her work, she is currently exhibiting at the Eleanor London Côte Saint-Luc Public Library.

Installation view of Vrtlar by Mirana Zuger at the McClure Gallery, showing Fooling and Hibou.
Installation view of Vrtlar by Mirana Zuger at the McClure Gallery, showing Fooling and Hibou.

Her name blipped on my radar when I was doing some research on Coriolis by Maskull Lasserre. She took some of the pictures to document the making of Coriolis, and something clicked when I saw her name come up as exhibiting at the McClure. Thankfully I was able to get over there slightly more than a week before the show closed. It consisted of ten paintings of various sizes and one small sculpture, the pieces had titles like Beet Root, Betty, and Hibou, or in simpler language, not exactly the most helpful in trying to decipher her paintings. There was one called The Tough Guy and the Texan which at least gave me a leg up on trying to figure out something.

The idea that Mr. Campbell would then go as far as to add another thick and very opaque layer between a viewer and the paintings just made me see something that resembled Zelena. I much preferred the piece written by Françoise Sullivan at the back of the catalogue. Simple, direct and to the point. It made it clear that Ms. Zuger is an abstract painter in the grand old tradition of the Automatistes. While she does guidelines and a framework for painting what she paints, it is at the opposite end of the scale when compared to someone like say, a Guido Molinari or a Claude Tousignant. Not quite spilling and brushing the paint any which way but loose, but close.

Precipitation by Mirana Zuger
Precipitation by Mirana Zuger

There are some of her paintings that kind of remind me of something that Mark Rothko could have made, others remind me a little bit of the work of Leopold Plotek. There was one painting done on paper and another small bronze sculpture, Baseline and Wish respectively. Had I been asked, I would have suggested that they be left out of the exhibit in place of two other paintings. Back when I had Zeke’s Gallery, I would try to keep the shows as focused as possible. I would mention to the artists that when they were 80 years-old, it would be fine and dandy to have a retrospective that incorporated painting, sculpture, drawing, video any gosh darn thing that they pleased. But at the beginning of a career it is extremely helpful to present a fairly uniform body of work. I imagine it is part of the reason Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello did not compose classical music until they had already established themselves. Why Elvis Presley did not record Gospel music until his name (and voice) had been firmly established.

Baseline and Wish make it obvious that Ms. Zuger can and does work using lots of different materials, I can’t help but think that being able to see two other paintings would have helped enormously in furthering the understanding and comprehension of her work. And besides when you’re dealing with abstract paintings that large, things can get pretty hairy and fairly powerful – when they’re done up right, it kind of feels like how I would imagine being in the eye of a hurricane would feel. By exhibiting the sculpture and paper, it brings down the intensity to something more akin to a really strong thunderstorm.

Installation view of Vrtlar by Mirana Zuger at the McClure Gallery, showing Zelena and Baseline
Installation view of Vrtlar by Mirana Zuger at the McClure Gallery, showing Zelena and Baseline

One other nit picky point, some of the paintings are labelled as being on “rabbit skin sized canvas.” Being the hardheaded blowhard and duffer that I am, I was initially going to call her on what I thought was a large bluff. Not even if I skinned Harvey would I be able to get a canvas that was five feet by six feet. Besides while bunnies are delicious, I can’t quite believe that leather made from their skin would make for a great object to paint on. But thankfully I went to her website, and things became clearer. She uses something called “Rabbit Skin Glue” to do something similar to priming her canvases. Sizing being something you do to protect and glaze a piece of paper or textile.

Installation view of Vrtlar by Mirana Zuger at the McClure Gallery
Installation view of Vrtlar by Mirana Zuger at the McClure Gallery

I can only guess at why Ms. Zuger decided to call the show Gardener (in Serbo-Croat). There is obviously some sort of connection to her culture (if I remember correctly, her grandfather came to Canada from Yugoslavia, back when it was still called Yugoslavia) but whether she thinks that the painting Vrtlar was the best one in the exhibit and therefore worthy of naming the whole show, or it has something to do with the bright colors reminding Ms. Zuger of flowers, or the care and work she took in making the various paintings was similar to that which she would have done in creating a garden, or something completely different I have no idea. Nor does it really matter, because as Ms. Sullivan so eloquently writes Ms. Zuger’s “brushwork, her vigorous form and colour come with a sense of renewal, a feeling that it is right.”

RE: I’m-hungry-let’s-go-for-lunch-no-I-don’t-care-where-I-just-want-a-sandwich
maskull lasserre Sun, Jul 29, 2012 at 9:40 PM
To: zeke@zeke.com

Dear Chris,

I must admit that I am seldom moved to respond to the types of postings that appear on your blog, but when someone teeters, publicly, so perilously between being misinformed and ignorant, I can’t help but try to right the balance in the public interest, and in so doing give you the benefit of the doubt.
I came upon your piece about Coriolis when I was forwarded your post on Vrtlar, at the McClure Gallery, earlier this summer. I will not be as exhaustive in my redaction (and I apologize for the “fancy-ass” words, but you can look them up here and here) as you were of Mr. Campbell’s text – although you should really have a look to see that he was correct in his reference to the Divine Horsemen: The Voodoo Gods of Haiti, Chelsea House / Delta, 1970. I will, however, suggest the following links to, albeit after the fact, inform you that:
1) Coriolis is in a private collection, and does not belong to Quebecor,
2) the Coriolis effect does register on every falling mass, though measurable more easily on a planetary scale, and
3) that poetic or artistic license, visual literacy – and, while we’re at it, basic literacy – never mind “semiotic” and “performative“, are all terms with which a self professed “culture guy” should be comfortable.
Although these posts are probably more embarrassing to their author than they are to the people they exploit for their petty picking of criticism’s low-hanging fruit and the disingenuous slights that border on adolescent slander, maybe you should stick to writing about sandwiches.
Maskull Lasserre

The comments about Coriolis are in response to an article I wrote about a month before this one on a piece of art that M. Lasserre made.