Category Archives: Books

Canadian Whisky by Davin de Kergommeaux

Howdy!

A couple of weeks ago the fine folk at McClelland & Stewart were kind enough to send me a copy of Canadian Whisky by Davin de Kergommeaux. It’s a nice book, a quick and easy read, but I would take exception with it’s subtitle, “The Portable Expert.” To me it’s more of conveniently sized omnibus introduction to contemporary Canadian whisky.

It seems that ever 20 years or so someone comes out with a book on Canadian liquor. Back in the mid 70s, William Rannie wrote Canadian Whisky: The Product and the Industry. In the mid 90s it was Lorraine Brown’s The Story of Canadian Whisky. And now in the teens it’s Mr. de Kergommeaux’s turn. His book is separated into five sections, The substance of Canadian whisky, How Canadian whisky is made, The pleasures of Canadian whisky, A concise history of Canadian whisky and The nine distillers of Canadian whisky. On the surface it all looks fine and dandy, and for the most part it is. But I couldn’t help but having the sensation of wanting more after I was done.

He starts in section one by explaining what makes whisky and how it is made. Even though his description of the grains, water and wood that make whisky is only 29 pages of the 300 in the book, he gets bogged down unnecessarily writing about things like recycling and energy efficiency in contemporary distilleries. While things like that are all fine and dandy, I think I would have preferred to have read more and in more detail about the differences in the ingredients and how they were manifested in the various whiskies.

The book then moves on to describe the processes used to make whisky, what happens in the mash, distillation and blending. I can only think of one book on whiskey that I’ve read that did not include a section on distillation, and it was written a while ago. I don’t know if this is because contemporary writers believe that no one knows their chemistry anymore or that someone somewhere passed a law insisting on it. I’m not all together sure that it needed to be there because again, it gets bogged down in details that aren’t entirely necessary because they are more generic to all whiskeys and not specifically Canadian or specific Canadian whiskies.

Back when I was growing up, I thought that Rye was Canadian whisky. I was wrong. While Rye can be Canadian whisky it can also be American whiskey, and for that matter if it was made in Ireland, Japan or someplace else it could be Irish whisky or Japanese whisky as well. Rye is just a specific way of making whisky that can be made anywhere. Then as I got older I thought that what made Canadian whisky different was that each grain was aged separately and they were only blended after aging and before bottling. I was wrong again. That was kind of how it was done when Seagram’s was a force in the industry (more to the point, Seagram’s would make what was called base whiskies and flavouring whiskies, which I believe were each made from a variety of grains, age those separately, before blending and bottling). I don’t know if any of the brands that used to be made by Seagram’s are still made this way.

Now I understand that the only thing that makes Canadian whisky, Canadian is that is is mashed, distilled and aged on this side of the border. If you are interested the law is here. In a nutshell, the salient fact beyond geography is aged for three years in wood. But it doesn’t specify what kind of wood, or if anything should be done to the wood. Then on top of that it can “contain caramel and flavouring” and after the three years, the distiller is allowed to continue aging it “other containers.” So basically, there really isn’t any unifying style or regulation to Canadian whisky like there is with American Bourbon.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good, in that there is a humongous, if not infinite number of differences between different Canadian whiskies. Bad, in that comparing them is like comparing apples to oranges. Mr. de Kergommeaux never really got that distinction across to me as I was reading his book. I inferred that there were more commonalities than just three years, wood and location. This might be in part due to how the book is structured, focusing on the ingredients and process first (which for the most part are similar) and then only later writing about the companies and the people who ran them.

The meat of the book is in section four. Where he gives chapters to the history of the Molson distillery, Gooderham and Worts, Corby’s, Seagram’s, Hiram Walker and Wiser’s. Unfortunately, each chapter is only about 15 pages long, so there really isn’t too much detail and and things are presented in a very one-two-three manner. Which meant that I frequently had to go back and re-read parts to make sense of it all, since there wasn’t any type of glue connecting things. Instead of threading all the interwoven stories together and presenting it in a vaguely chronological manner, he ends up going over a lot of the same things (Canadian prohibition, laws, etc) many different times in each individual chapter. I was ready to throttle his editor by the time I read for something like the fourth time that the Canadian government has made it law that whisky had to be aged two years in 1890.

Then in the final section he devotes a chapter to nine distilleries in Canada (I’m not entirely certain why he chose not to give chapters to Shelter Point, Still Waters, Myriad View, and Victoria Spirits – actually I’m being disingenuous, he didn’t write about them, because their whisky isn’t the requisite three years-old, and isn’t available yet. But instead of giving each a sentence or two scattered in chapters about other distilleries, it would have been nice to perhaps do something like a chapter on “new” distilleries).

Personally, if I had been his editor, I would have insisted that he radically re-organize the book. While I know there is a humongous amount of history with regards to Canadian whisky, it really doesn’t come through in Mr. de Kergommeaux’s text. The way he has it organized it is almost like viewing slide samples from some biology class without having any larger knowledge of what animal they come from. Or if you prefer, a bunch of snapshots that to the viewer are only related because they were taken by the same photographer.

He has done an amazing amount of research, and I’d love to be able to sit down and talk with him (or even better still go through his notes) so as to truly and completely get a comprehensive understanding of Canadian whisky. The way the book is, it ends up serving as a very nice introduction to Canadian whisky. However it is offered up as the definitive word, and once I started scratching just a little bit below the surface I was able to discover that there are many more levels, nuances and stories that for whatever reason weren’t included in the book.

If I were to use an analogy, it’s like being offered a smell of Crown Royal Reserve but being told that you’re actually drinking and seeing it as well. And then, as long as I’m being grumpy, I’m sorely disappointed that he wasn’t able to explain what happened to the purple Crown Royal felt bag. I’ve heard rumors that involve Claude Brochu, but nothing definitive.

Then finally, dispersed throughout the book are “tasting notes” on 100 Canadian whiskies. Mr. de Kergommeaux needs a thesaurus. After reading half a dozen, they all end up reading exactly like each other. To give you examples;

Alberta Premium, …searing white pepper…
Black Velvet Three Year Old, …spirity hot white pepper…
Black Velvet Deluxe, …glowing hot pepper…
Bush Pilot’s Private Reserve, …and hot white pepper.
Canada Gold, Seductive peppery heat.
Canada House, …mildly peppery finish.
Canadian Club 20 Year Old, …hot pepper…
Canadian Club 30 Year Old, …zippy pepper…
Canadian Club Classic 12 Year Old, …warming gingery pepper…
Canadian Club Sherry Cask 8 Year Old, …searing hot pepper.
Canadian Hunter, …sizzling pepper burn.
Canadian LTD, …peppery warmth.
Canadian Peak, …and hot pepper.
Canadian Supreme, …advancing peppery glow.
Cape Breton Silver, …pepper…

You get the picture.

And I lied, I still have a little more currently the SAQ is carrying 22 different Canadian whiskies, if anyone would like to do a little tasting, let me know which ones you’d like to compare and contrast and we can see if we can get something organized. For the record, these are them:
Crown Royal Extra Rare, Glen Breton Single Malt, BLAT 11 Year Old, Canadian Club 20 Year Old, Crown Royal Reserve, Crown Royal, Canadian Club, STRT 101 10 Year Old, Wiser’s Legacy, Seagram’s Five Star, Seagram’s 83, White Owl, Canadian Club Sherry Cask, Crown Royal Limited Edition, Seagram’s V.O., Golden Wedding, Wiser’s Small Batch, Schenley OFC, Gibson’s Finest 12 Year Old, Canadian Club Classic 12 Year Old, Spicebox Spiced whisky and Wiser’s de Luxe.

The Triennale québécoise 2011 Le travail qui nous attend / The Work Ahead of Us – 2

Howdy!

[Part One is here]

If you want to see the flip side to Lynne Marsh‘s Philharmonie Project (Bruckner: Symphonie No. 5 Movements 1 & 4) it’s relatively simple

Click on “play.” To back up slightly for those of you who might not know what I am talking about. As part of the The Québec Triennial the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal decided to spread its wings and exhibit art outside of the museum. One of the pieces chosen for the extra-muro treatment is Lynne Marsh‘s Philharmonie Project (Bruckner: Symphonie No. 5 Movements 1 & 4). It is a four channel video projected on one screen in a small dark room off of the Espace Culturel Georges-Émile-Lapalme at Place des arts that has three sets of bleachers installed campfire style around the screen.

As is written in the press release Ms. Marsh “turned her camera [sic] on the crews shooting a concert by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra as it plays a piece by Anton Bruckner.” That piece is his fifth symphony conducted by Bernard Haitink on March 12, 2011. If you have an extra €9.90, you can watch the entire concert here. (It’s the only performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 that has been filmed by the Berliner Philharmoniker prior to the Triennial).

Or more explicitly, there are four cameras trained on a bunch of different people in the broadcast booth, each of whom has a different responsibility during the broadcast. (And what is it with red and blue checks in the control room? The two main characters wear them; one on his shirt, the other on his scarf.)

Similar to Harun Farocki‘s Deep Play and NASCAR‘s Race View. There are also some antecedents from the film Woodstock and the picture-in-picture feature of contemporary television sets.

You get the idea.

I’m not certain why Ms. Marsh chose to only use the first and the fourth movements. I can only guess that it was either due to technical glitches while recording the second and third movements. Or perhaps a rights issue, and the Berliner Philharmoniker preferred not give her a complete recording. I don’t know enough about German Copyright law to venture an idea based on that, so I’ll stick to “something screwed up with the cameras, and there was this deadline, and, and, and…” But to remind you, I have been wrong in the past, and I will be wrong again in the future, so there is no guarantee that I am right, now.

When I went to see it, there was this homeless guy hanging out on the bleachers watching it. I guess I kind of like the idea that Ms. Marsh makes art that is for everyone. But at the same time, it was cold outside, the room was dark and I’m not certain if we woke him up or not. So I’m not 100% certain if he was there because he enjoyed it and was interested in seeing it, or if he was there for other reasons. Anyhows, he was the only one there besides us, and for that I’d have to blame the museum and Place des arts. A small dark room off of the Espace Culturel Georges-Émile-Lapalme (aka the hallway in between Salle Wilfred Pelletier and Theatre Maisonneuve) is not exactly screaming out “look at me!” to all the passers by. And with the amount of flashing, flashy and bright videos all over the place in Place des arts, it’s quite easy to not even notice the room, let alone get the nerve up to hangout with the homeless while watching the technical side to parts of a symphony by Bruckner.

Given that Ms. Marsh’s Philharmonie Project (Neilsen: Symphony No. 5) Dry Run (see below) was done in close collaboration with Johanna Meyer-Grohbrügge and Sam Chermayeff of June14 I’m very surprised that the seating and its placement are so common and utilitarian.

While I can understand in theory why the museum tried to spread its wings for the Triennial, in practice placing anything that is even potentially art-like in Espace Culturel Georges-Émile-Lapalme is going to end up as a train wreck. The recent renovations have ruined Pierre Granche’s sculpture Comme si le temps… de la rue and as evidenced by the crowds lack of people watching Lynne Marsh‘s Philharmonie Project (Bruckner: Symphonie No. 5 Movements 1 & 4) I can only shake my head.

Unlike Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Architecture relationnelle 18. Intersection articulée Ms. Marsh’s piece was installed so as to be crowd unfriendly. As you enter into the dark room with the homeless man, you are first confronted by the backs of the bleachers that are at least five feet high, effectively creating a third barrier between you and the piece (the first being entering into a dark room in public, the second being entering into a room with someone who is homeless already there). Then as with most “Art” video installations, this is on an endless loop, which to me means that whomever is responsible for exhibiting the video has completely and thoroughly abdicated all responsibility towards making the artwork understandable. [Ed Note: To their credit, there is a 9:12 second gap at the end in order to make the entire loop 60 minutes. But there is no signage anywhere explaining when things start, and when I was there it started at 10 after the hour - I guess someone hit play a little late that morning]

OK, in some cases there actually are videos on a loop that do not have a beginning, a middle and an end, but as Ms. Marsh’s piece is based completely on a piece of music that does have a beginning, a middle and an end, to force the viewer to enter during the middle of the performance watch the end and then wait another 9 minutes for the beginning is just plain ridiculous. And that’s not even taking into consideration the fact that Ms. Marsh has truncated the performance itself by lopping off two movements.

As I mentioned earlier, multi-channel videos focusing on what happens behind the scenes of some insanely large public spectacle is not exactly an original idea. Which then leads me to ponder Ms. Marsh’s use of the first and last movements from Bruckner’s 5th symphony. (If you’d like to hear them, click on these: Movement 1: Introduction (Adagio) — Allegro. Movement 4: Finale (Adagio) — Allegro moderato).

I’m not exactly the best musicologist, but with a little bit of Google-Fu it’s possible to discover all sorts of things about Bruckner’s fifth symphony. According to Gabriel Engel [pdf alert] Bruckner “saw the Fifth as the deeply personal expression of a genius doomed to utter loneliness by the scorn and neglect of
a misunderstanding world. He caught in the Adagio the true spiritual keynote of the work. Its brooding main theme was the despairing utterance of abandoned genius.
” It would have been nice if some of that personal expression had seeped through into Ms. Marsh’s video. Engel continues, “Far more than any of his other symphonies it is a polyphonic work, the composer’s proud description, ‘my contrapuntal masterpiece,’ testifying to the extraordinary care with which he had fashioned its many-voiced strains.

Given the multichannel nature of Ms. Marsh’s video it would have been fairly simple to have used the video to, if not copy or follow the counterpoint, to create her own, but sadly she chose not to. Two of the cameras are entirely static and the other two for the most part do slow pans across a very limited field of vision.

If you’re interested in reading the score, click on this.

Lynne Marsh, Philharmonie Project (Neilsen: Symphony No. 5) Dry Run (picture taken from the catalogue to the Quebec Triennal 2011)
Lynne Marsh, Philharmonie Project (Neilsen: Symphony No. 5) Dry Run (picture taken from the catalogue to the Quebec Triennal 2011)

Interestingly enough in the catalogue to the Triennal, the pages committed to Ms. Marsh’s work also show images from something called Philharmonie Project (Neilsen: Symphony No. 5) Dry Run and in Marie Fraser’s essay that makes mention of Ms. Marsh she alludes to there having filmed the technicians during a performance of something by Mahler as well. Unfortunately Ms. Marsh’s website is not up to date so there is no information about it there. However, concurrently with the Triennal, she is exhibiting something called Philharmonie Project (Neilsen: Symphony No. 5) at Program in Berlin. According to the notes “the Philharmonie Project is a study on the staging of power systems, the cultural expression of mass consumption and the support structures that enable it to happen.” Which somehow gets translated for Quebec in the pages dedicated to Ms. Marsh in the catalogue of the Triennal as Ms. Marsh’s “practice is fuelled by a reflection on how these social spaces and their ideological orientation can be reconfigured through the camera lens.” I’m not so certain that I agree with either one. Earlier in the catalogue to the Triennal, Marie Fraser quotes Ms. Marsh as likening “the filming to a choreography, a dance where the rhythm and intensity of the music are translated by the action of the cameramen. Each image is precisely rendered: this is the camera as performer.

If this was the case, then someone would be selling tickets to watch the cameras and not selling tickets to hear the music (or watch the soccer game, stock car race, etc.) What Ms. Marsh is doing is shedding light on what goes on behind the scenes, which while interesting to some, ultimately can’t compare to the the original cultural event or performance. In the same way many more people will see Hamlet than will ever see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

And then as long as I am questioning things, given that the Triennal is a highly political exhibit, I’m not quite certain what to make of the fact that Ms. Marsh has been in both. Especially since she is no longer considered a “young” artist, and she’s got a gig as a senior lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire.

I haven’t quite come up with any specific theory or idea on or about the Triennal. But I also haven’t written anything about any of the art actually in the museum yet, either. I’m certain it’ll come, I just hope it’ll come sooner rather than later, because if I end up writing something like this for each of the artists involved, I’ll never get it done by the end of the week.

The Triennale québécoise 2011 Le travail qui nous attend / The Work Ahead of Us – 1

Howdy!

The Work Ahead of Us, indeed! I’ve heard some people mention that I haven’t been writing too too much about art recently, sorry. And now I’m about to make up for it. Since I have broached the multi-part review, I figure I can do it again, and again, and, well you get the picture. Last week I was able to go see The Québec Triennial 2011 and given that there are something like 50 different artists involved along with a 500 page catalogue, there should be a lot of work involved in reviewing it. If this works out, I figure it’ll take me at least five parts to wrest everything I think about the show out of my system. Apologies in advance if you like things short and sweet.

But since the show itself is a large sprawling show, I figure a large sprawling review is appropriate. I can only hope that my worst paragraphs aren’t as bad as the worst parts of the Triennial, but somehow I have this sinking suspicion that in fact they will be worse. More apologies in advance.

As far as I could tell, there was no real structure to the show. The first piece from it that I saw was Rafael Lozano-Hemmer‘s Architecture relationnelle 18. Intersection articulée.

I had gone to a friend’s house which just so happens to be about a block away from Place des Festivals and while I wasn’t able to make a special trip down there to go see it, once I was there, it seemed pretty darn foolish to ignore it.

So I played with the joysticks for about five minutes, looking up at the giant light sabres in the sky kind of trying to figure out how the whole thing worked. Somewhere I had heard that Mr. Lozano-Hemmer was using the very same spotlights that were used by the US government on the Mexican border, and that there was some kind of political statement being made by virtue of the fact that “the public” could in fact manipulate the search lights, in opposition to how they were normally controlled, which is by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Guards.

I’m not convinced that it works as such. The documentation was kind of sketchy, and having a political piece about the U.S. – Mexican border in downtown Montreal seems a little far-fetched. Almost like being a fan of the Canadiens in Mexico City.

However as a pretty spectacle temporarily juxtaposed against the Place Ville Marie searchlights on the Montreal skyline it worked very well. The chaotic nature of the 18 spotlights, all for the most part aimed vertically, versus the regularity and horizontal nature of the lights on Place Ville Marie make for a very nice couple.

One of the more interesting things about going to see it, was how self-referential it was. When someone would play with the joystick, they were pretty much always looking at the light that they controlled. If you weren’t controlling a joystick you were most likely taking a picture or a video of your friend who was controlling a joystick.

Viewing it from afar, it would crop up in your field of view, and compete for your attention depending on where you were in town, but very rarely would it be able to keep your (read “my”) attention for more than a couple of seconds.

Architecture relationnelle 18. Intersection articulée also works as a proxy for the entire Triennale québécoise 2011 in that it is self-referential, attracts attention briefly and like all the artwork that pops up on Place des Festivals disappears without leaving a trace.

I could also write about how Architecture relationnelle 18. Intersection articulée also was designed for people with short attention spans, wasn’t too too deep and the similarity to those searchlights that are rented by event planners for the opening of a new car dealership or a discotheque in order to attract more attention. But instead of doing that, I’ll leave it up to you to make those connections and any others that you can think of. Otherwise this review could end up as long as the catalogue.

And speaking of length of reviews, I got a stick up my ass about the current state of affairs. This “review” in La Presse is 1,441 words, or about the equivalent of about 29 words for each artist. This “review” in Canadian Art magazine is 2.007 words, or about 40 words per artist. This “review” in Le Devoir is 1,162 words, or about 23 words per artist. This “review” in View on Canadian Art is 1,063 words, or about 21 words per artist. This “review” in The Montreal Gazette is 764 words, or about 15 words per artist. And lastly, this “review” in Voir is 797 words, or about 16 words per artist. (In case you were interested, the press release is 2,125 words long, or the equivalent of about 42½ words per artist, and the list of artists is 111 words long.)

How the heck is anyone going to get any sort of understanding or deeper comprehension on an exhibit that professes to be the definitive statement on art in Quebec in 2011 if the people who are paid to explain it to the general population, don’t even give it more than lip service. And what’s probably even worse is that I imagine the fine folk at the museum who are charged with things like tracking reviews are all quite chuffed about the reviews the show has received.

For the record, this is at 926 words and I’ve only mentioned one piece of art, in passing. In for a penny, in for a pound.

As long as we are on this tangent, I might as well apologize for the lack of pictures and videos, I asked the museum if I could go and take videos and was politely rebuffed, and after the issues the last two times I went to take still pictures, I decided to take my doctor’s advice and keep my blood pressure down, so we’re stuck with whatever I can find on YouTube, Flickr and the lousy reproductions I take myself from the catalogue (cf. paragraph 29 of the Canadian Copyright Act).

So how can I get this review back on track? Well, let’s start with perception, for those of you who have been under a rock for the last little while (and to be honest, I don’t blame you) or those of you from out-of-town and who don’t obsess over the microscopic Quebecois art world happenings, this is the second Triennial (website for the first is here). There is also a Biennial (more properly known here in town as The Biennale) and then just down the river there’s the Manif d’art (aka The Manifestation Internationale D’Art de Quebec). Or in other words there is a large overview of art made in Quebec, funded by the government every year (the Manif and the Biennale alternate years) and sometimes (like this year) there are two.

[As an aside, if you're interested in hearing and seeing what I thought of this past year's Biennale watch these.]

Given that any organization that gets money from the government and is successful in bringing in tourists, shouts about it from not only the tallest rooftops, but every darn rooftop in town; one, two, etc) I can only presume that since I haven’t heard about how many tourist dollars these art exhibits are responsible for, that they aren’t responsible for any. Which translates into they are all only playing for the locals. Which when you come to think about it, could be one major reason why art from Quebec isn’t appreciated much beyond the borders.

It’s that “definitive statement on art in Quebec in 2011″ that kind of sticks in my craw. Looking back at the press release, they use sentences like “arriving at a comprehensive sense of Québec artistic practice in these early years of the twenty-first century.” and “a reference work on contemporary art in Québec” and while it’s very easy to think that something so large is definitive and comprehensive; from my perspective there are whacks and whacks (or if you prefer scads and scads) of artists who have been left out and ignored.

And that’s one place where I have some difficulties with The Triennale québécoise 2011 Le travail qui nous attend / The Work Ahead of Us. Like Rafael Lozano-Hemmer‘s Architecture relationnelle 18. Intersection articulée which can also be seen as just a bunch of light beams moving spastically across the sky, kind of like an ephemeral game of pick up sticks, there is something to be said about the spaces between the sticks that allow you to pick up the sticks without dislodging the others. The Triennial can also be likened to a random collection of similar objects that need to be organized, but once you recognize that the spaces in between the objects is as important as the objects themselves then it becomes easier to glom on to and get a grip on the show.

Initially, I thought I would reference my notes, the catalogue and what I could find on the internet to write about a paragraph or so on each artist involved in The Triennale québécoise 2011 Le travail qui nous attend / The Work Ahead of Us, but now I’m not so sure. I’m still going to reference my notes, the catalogue and what I can find on the internet to talk about the show, I’m just not so certain that a) It’s going to be a paragraph for each artist, and b) I hope that tomorrow I can discuss more than one work.

La Grande Dégustation de Montréal & Bourbon Whiskey, Our Native Spirit by Bernie Lubbers

Howdy!

Yesterday I went to the La Grande Dégustation de Montréal. Unlike the 99% I was looking for bourbon. And of all the different things to taste, there was exactly one (1) bourbon. Woodford Reserve which was right next to the Jack Daniels stand, which makes sense as both are brands that are owned by Brown-Forman, unfortunately they decided not to bring Early Times or Early Times 354. The Woodford Reserve was as expected, extremely tasty.

However, we were able to think quickly on our feet, and sampled from very fine scotches. Our first stop was at the Edrington Group/Beam Global booths. While Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, Knob Creek, Basil Hayden’s and Booker’s are all available from the SAQ, they weren’t at La Grande Dégustation de Montréal. I spent some time talking with the folk at the booth about making Baker’s, Old Grand-Dad and Old Crow available in Quebec.

They did have Highland Park and The Macallan both of which were extremely tasty in a bunch of different variations. If I remember correctly, we sampled Macallan 15 year-old and 18 year-old along with the 18 year-old Highland Park. Video to follow as soon as I have time to edit things down.

I was also able to taste a couple of varieties of Bowmore and Auchentoshan both of which were delicious.

All of which is a long winded way to get around to talking about Bourbon Whiskey, Our Native Spirit by Bernie Lubbers. Pretty much the first time in a long time I’ve picked up what I would call a textbook. If you didn’t realize, me and textbooks are not a terribly good mix, most of the time.

This time however, I’m probably going to go back and read it a second time. Voluntarily. While it just scratches the surface, it is a very nice entry into the world that is bourbon, and by extension whiskies and other distilled beverages.

Recently I’ve been doing some tastings of different types of bourbons (sadly, only ten) and for the most part end up concentrating on color, smell and taste. After reading Mr. Lubber’s book I was informed of a bunch of things about bourbon (and by extension American and Canadian whiskies) that enabled me to look like a superstar at La Grande Dégustation de Montréal.

Things like asking about how barrels were racked. Or the effects of different types of barrels on whiskies (because unlike bourbon which must be stored for at least four years in new oak barrels that have been charred, other types of whiskies don’t have such restrictions). I brought a checklist with me to the tasting in order to remember to discuss the recipe used, the number of distillations, how the grain is milled, the racking, the yeast and the barrels. All of which will affect the final product.

I only was able to think to ask those kind of questions, thanks to Mr. Lubber’s book, which goes into some detail about how those things affect bourbon.

The one fault I would point out with the book – which might not be a fault for you – is that there is a large chapter on places to visit in Kentucky when on the Bourbon Trail. And while Mr. Lubber is very good at explaining the various nuances about bourbon, he isn’t quite as compelling when writing about bars, restaurants and hotels in Kentucky. But that’s a minor point, given that he devotes two chapters to the history of bourbon, and another to various bourbon recipes.

I’m going to have to track down some more books on bourbon if I expect to become a better informed bourbon drinker.

La Grande Dégustation de Montréal continues today and tomorrow at the Palais de congres, and you can order Mr. Lubber’s book here.

The Adventures of a Free Lunch Junkie by Earl Bronsteen

Howdy!

I’ve been a big fan of Earl Bronsteen’s since August of 2005 when I first discovered his first art book, How to be a Famous Contemporary Artist. If you haven’t already you should go buy it now.

Then in 2009, I interviewed him with Sabrina Santucci and Liz Pieries about his second book, “Contemporary Art Appreciation 101:
How to Understand What’s Contemporary Art and What’s Snot / Everything You Always Wanted to Ask About Contemporary Art But Were Afraid to Know

Well now he’s back with a third book. “The Adventures Of A Free Lunch Junkie.” For a variety of reasons I’m late to the party with this review. I’m sorry and I promise it won’t happen again.

Clocking in at a robust 278 pages, in short, it’s a very nice read. If you prefer the longer version, continue scrolling down.

In case you’ve been under a rock for a while, there’s been a serious pandemic of greed that has been going around the United States for the past decade or so. One of the more particularly egregious forms of it was (is, it still happens to this day, as far as I know) when some slick Gordon Gekko type invites a bunch of golden-agers to have a lunch on his dime while he puts on a very impressive presentation based mostly on smoke and mirrors about how the golden-agers can become fabulously wealthy if they just invest their money with the Gordon Gekko wannabe.

The unfortunate truth is that the golden-agers don’t become fabulously wealthy, but the Gordon Gekko clone does.

Mr. Bronsteen launched himself freely and of his own volition into this morass for a variety of reasons in between May 2010 and February 2011 in order to partake in 50 of these bonanza buffets. The result will not leave you with that overstuffed feeling, and is perfect for most diets. (C’mon! I couldn’t resist, once I had typed the words “bonanza buffets” the rest was a foregone conclusion, thanks for understanding).

Reading between the lines, I got a sense that he might have become bored (or disenchanted) with the art world, and was looking around for something else. But as I have stated previously, I’ve been wrong before, and am likely to be wrong again – or if you prefer in the spirit of the book “Past Performance is No Guarantee of Future Results.”

First off, as he is octogenarian, I would have presumed he knew that a fork always goes on the left side. But there he is bold as life on the front cover of his book with a big steak knife in his left hand and the fork in his right. I’d chalk this up as a mere reversal of the original photo, but in the book he does mention how he parts his hair on the right side, which is where the part in his hair is in this picture. But then again blame might be assignable to one of the staff at the restaurant where the picture was taken, because while the glass of red wine is in its proper place on the right hand side of the setting, the cake fork and spoon for desert are not facing in opposite directions.

Although now that I mention it, the whole photo could be a large and elaborate ruse, and not an actual picture from one of the free lunches that Mr. Bronsteen ate. Some dastardly combo of Photoshop and Food Styling. Because as he also clearly states a couple of times in the book, he does not drink alcohol! Why would there be a picture of him with a full glass of red wine in front of him, unless it was the fabrication of some nameless Food Stylist who overcharges to take pictures of things people eat. Or perhaps it was taken at one of those tourist traps where they try to get you to pay $20 for a Polaroid picture in a paper frame so you never forget the memory. I have one of those from a dinner cruise that I took about 20 years ago, and believe you me I will never forget it, ever.

However, do not let this dissuade you in any way about the book. As I have said numerous times, you cannot judge a book by its cover.

But back to the book itself, for whatever reasons, and place settings aside, Mr. Bronsteen writes about the 50 meals he ate where someone else was buying the food and then pitching him on something. I discovered that these free lunches aren’t only for investments. They can also be given by retirement homes, doctors and funeral homes among others. Just about anyplace where someone thinks that they might be able to separate the checkbook from the checkbook writer.

Mr. Bronsteen’s descriptions of the meals are sometimes sparse, but I imagine that the food itself wasn’t anything to write home about, and if it’s not worth writing home about, it sure as shooting isn’t worth writing in a book about. However as he labels the book satire, the descriptions of the hows, whats, whys and whens of the free lunch circuit are very frequently hilarious.

I was surprised to find out that an awful lot of the lunches not only happen at breakfast and dinner, but also in the same restaurants and in certain cases the pitchmen/women are in fact the same. Mr. Bronsteen describes a couple of times where he almost has to put on a disguise in order to eat – and the other ‘incident’ that I’ll remember for a while is when he gets carded and then told he can’t have the free lunch because he is too old.

I’m not certain that I would have been able to go back to Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris all that often. Although at some point I gotta get me to a Morton’s and a Ruth’s Chris (or get a Morton’s and a Ruth’s Chris to me) because my grandmother was named Ruth, and I am fairly confident that at sometime in my formative years someone called me “Ruth’s Chris” when my mom wasn’t around. And on the other side of the family my grandfather’s name was Morton. Go figure, I guess that’s why I like steak.

I also know that free lunch seminars designed to separate you from your money (no matter how old or young you are) are illegal here in Canada. One of many significant differences between the United States and Canada. As a consequence even if I was able to get a Morton’s and a Ruth’s Chris to me I wouldn’t be able to write a similar book.

Actually, given what I know of Mr. Bronsteen’s life, I can only hope and wish that I am as capable, interesting and entertaining as he is when I am his age. I am fortunate to share birthdays with him (only 37 years apart) and if I squint hard enough I can see some other similarities as well. But it is still a stretch, heck, actually just getting to 80 would be great, everything else would be gravy.

In speaking with him, he has not divulged what his next project is going to be, but if it is half as good as The Adventures Of A Free Lunch Junkie I can’t wait.

Roadsworth by Roadsworth and Bethany Gibson with a foreword by Scott Burnham

Howdy!

A book review. Click here for details on the book.

I’ve read the Roadsworth book twice now. This is also the second time I’m writing a review. My first one was crap – take my word for it. I’m kind of torn about the book, which is quite possibly the reason why my first try at a review wasn’t good. On one hand I want to like it very much, on the other it could have been so much better. Neither animal, vegetable or mineral, it falls somewhere in between a catalogue of Peter Gibson’s work, a biography about Peter Gibson, and a pretty book of pictures taken by Peter Gibson. But let me back up a little bit.

A bunch of years ago (late 2004 to be exact) I met Peter Gibson. He (like me) has a second name, his is Roadsworth. When I was running Zeke’s Gallery I came across some of his work, took pictures of it and published them on the Zeke’s Gallery blog. Each time I came across another one, it was kind of a big deal. At the time there were some folk working with me, and when they would find another one of his pieces we’d all kind of jump up and down with glee and then I’d ask them to take a picture of it so as to try and compile some sort of online portfolio or something.

Anyhows, after publishing a bunch of pictures, Peter introduced himself to me, and me being the inquisitive person that I am, I asked him if I could interview him; for the record, on the blog. Much to my pleasure, he said “yes.” If you’d like to read it (all 17,000+ words…) it’s still kicking around (Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four). I’ve tried on a number of occasions to re-read it, but something always ends up dragging me into the present. I figure at some point I might get my act in gear and try to use them for something off-line, at which point I will probably be forced to re-read them (along with other things from my past) but until then, I think it far better to concentrate on the here and now.

All of which is a long-winded way of getting to the fact that after he got busted I decided that I wasn’t too fond of the idea of the city of Montreal attempting to put Peter in jail. So I did what I could to help to prevent it. About halfway through the book (unfortunately it does not have page numbers) he explains my involvement. Also, I should probably mention that this is about as far from an “objective” review as you can get as I am also thanked on the penultimate page of the book.

I’m not certain what it was exactly that first attracted me to his work. Knowing that my memory is crap, I can try to use hindsight to make some connections, but your guess is as good as mine if it is in fact “The Truth,” or just something that happens to make sense to me at this moment… I do know that I have always had an interest in what was on, and how the actual street/sidewalk was made. From playing skully and hopscotch as a young child, to carving my name in freshly poured concrete as a teenager and young adult, to duct taping “Zeke’s Gallery” on the sidewalk as an ersatz sign as a full-fledged adult, to critiquing sidewalk aesthetics as a middle aged man (soon come, promise) I’ve always paid attention to what was below my feet – heck, I don’t think I have stepped in dogshit in over 30 years. I also have a sneaking suspicion that my bicycle riding might have some bearing on it (after all, when riding a road bike an awful lot of your time is spent looking at the road.

While I’m fairly certain that Peter was not the first artist in the world to use the street/sidewalk/road as his canvas, he quite likely was the first one in Montreal. As such he definitely stood out from the crowd. Off the top of my head, other than the straight green line painted down Sainte-Catherine street to mark the route of the Saint Patrick’s day parade, I can’t think of any other official or unofficial redesign of Montreal streets prior to Peter’s interventions. The very nature of being “first,” enables an awful lot. Whether it is winning a race or garnering outsized attention, being first always helps.

The book itself reads kind of like an oversized business card or perhaps an embellished CV. Which in itself is made even more obvious by the inclusion of an artsy embellished CV at the end of the book, conveniently labeled “chronology.” While the book doesn’t quite go from birth to the present, it also reads somewhat like a biography. Peter was born in Toronto, moved to Montreal to go to school, starts stenciling illegally, gets busted, becomes famous, ends up stenciling legally, rides off into the sunset with his girlfriend, roll credits (ok, I made those last two bits up, but you get the picture).

As I was reading it, I wrote down some of the more interesting passages, such as: “There is an experiential harmony in the process of understanding Roadsworth’s work – a harmony between learning his language and reconsidering our own understanding and behavior within the city.” Perfect grant application vocabulary that doesn’t really say or add anything about the work.

For the most part, the most effective pieces done by Peter are those that are 2D visual puns. They are short, sweet and to the point. Adding to existing signage or features of the urban landscape he tweaks things. Similar to Henny Youngman or Don Rickles in that his best work is effectively a one-liner that makes you laugh. Trying to imbue it with a deeper meaning or more significance just really doesn’t work.

Another interesting passage; he “creates brief moments where the imbalance of presence among the elements sharing the streets is redressed.” Or “a rare element of poetic discovery of the potential stored within the normally anonymous pavements.” Or “Roadsworth awakens and reveals a dormant energy contained within the street and the urban ephemera.” I could go on, but you get the point. Thankfully there are pictures, lots and lots of pictures. And to be fair, the whole book isn’t written in grant-speak.

One surprising thing for me to discover was that when he ‘really’ got busted by the cops, it wasn’t completely out of the blue. They had picked him up once and given him a warning, caught him a second time and given him a ticket before The Bust in November 2004. That was one of the things that had always bugged me about Peter’s getting busted. It seemed to me to be way too hard and heavy for a first time.

In 2001 I was exhibiting art by Maclean, which included, ostensibly the ‘first’ Art/Arrret sign he did. Before you get completely lost and your eyes glaze over, let me back up slightly. In Montreal, for those who don’t know, Stop signs say “Arret.” Maclean had decided that he was going to use red duct tape to cover up the first R and the E of the word “Arret.” In effect telling cars to stop for art. It was extremely simple, very catchy, effective and garnered a fair bit of attention.

As a consequence of him putting duct tape on stop signs, Maclean was invited to “chat” with the cops. After his “chat” he decided to stop putting duct tape on stop signs. I had previously thought for some reason or another that wasn’t the case with Peter. Call me naïve, simpleminded or just plain silly. I’ll definitely cop a guilty plea to that.

The middle of the book goes into some detail about some of his larger pieces locally (at the Darling Foundry, Place D’Armes metro and the Canadian Centre for Architecture). Mostly about the process and circumstances. It does veer off into some territory that could be called theoretical and preachy. Then towards the end it loses all sense of narrative and becomes more of a picture book.

Which brings me to my main point, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone write of or about, nor heard anyone speak of or about specific works by Peter. It always seems to be gross generalizations. With writers, some books are better than others. With actors some performances are better than others. With artists some paintings are better than others. With Peter I haven’t heard a peep about his zippers versus his owl versus his bike paths versus his flocks of birds, etc.

It’s all the more surprising since Scott Burnham, the guy who was supposed to co-curate the 2009 Montreal Biennale but bailed at the last minute, writes the foreward to the book. It would have been a perfect place to do a serious critique of Peter’s work. But instead he decided to use an awful lot of extra syllables to say not a whole heck of a lot. (Most of the quotes I took were from the foreward). I’m already on record as to what I think of Peter’s most recent work, someone else should go back over his earlier work and try to explain how it all fits together.

It would have been nice to know when and where all the pictures were taken, instead of just presenting them as stand-alone objects. Which makes me think, that despite all the preaching about integrating Peter’s work with the environment and how context is king, that in fact instead of being a “street” artist, he really would like to have the photographs of the work he has done considered as art.

Given Peter’s inherent ambivalence, I shouldn’t be surprised that the book is like New Shimmer (It’s a floor wax! No, it’s a desert topping!) but because it tries so hard to be so many things, it ends up leaving me kind of empty.