Category Archives: Humorous Verse

Edward Burtynsky : OIL at the McCord Museum

Howdy!

Once again I’m late to the party. The exhibit was up from October 6, 2011 to January 8, 2012. I’m just realizing now, how backlogged those rhymes about the Triennale Québécoise and other things made me. Like Marie Chouinard’s The Golden Mean (Live) I saw it at the end of November, 2011. Jeez! It’s a good thing that there is a history of reviewing shows that you can no longer see, otherwise y’all would think that I am one of the most irresponsible people in the known universe. But before I go find a whip so I can flagellate myself, we gotta get to the verse:

Ed Burtynsky takes really big photographs.
For the most part I don’t think he does anything by halfs.
Big political statements
I hear they cost many many cents.

Mostly on concerns about the environment
Places with natural resources and the changes they underwent.
I really liked the images of the refineries,
Sometimes you gotta think duodecimally and not in binaries.

His pictures of highways were also very impressive,
The Golden State Freeway, like La Joconde is something I won’t outlive.
But condemning Talladega and Sturgis
Is where, from my beliefs, he diverges.

They’re images designed to make you pause and reflect,
I think it is the earth that he wants you to protect.
But it is possible to be too politically correct.

Yes, big photographs are good. I still get weak in the knees thinking about the Andreas Gursky show I saw back in 2002 in Chicago. Big (for the most part) is synonymous with good, especially when talking about photographs.

But this one raised more questions than it answered. The first one being, that it was sponsored by Scotiabank. The very same Scotiabank that has a mutual fund of $170 million dollars invested in “equity securities of Canadian resource based companies, including companies that operate in the oil and gas, gold and precious metals, metals and minerals, and forest products industries.” – The One Sheet (pdf). Does this mean that Mr. Burtynsky is allowing himself to be used for greenwashing purposes? Or is he just willing to take money from whomever without thinking about their ethics? Or something else? I dunno, as I said his show raises more questions than it answers.

The second question that came to my mind as I was looking at it, was how much oil did Mr. Burtynsky use in order to get his pictures? There are shots that could have only been taken from a helicopter. There are other ones where he went to rather obscure places (Sturgis, South Dakota, Walcott, Iowa, Baku, Azerbaijan, Chittagong, Bangladesh) which would have either required some serious long distance driving or flying. And while I’m fairly certain that in order to take his pictures he doesn’t travel alone, I gotta think that he has a rather large carbon footprint.

The reason I ask questions like these, is because according to the press release the images in the show “deliver a social and environmental message that is both disturbing and thought-provoking.” So I can’t be accused of being the only person linking the concern for the environment and the images. What’s that line about glass houses and stones?

But enough about the theoretical questions, what are the pictures like? ‘Cuz isn’t it possible to appreciate them aesthetically without giving one good gosh darn hoot about any political message that Mr. Burtynsky is trying to make? Short answer: For the most part they are very good. As I mentioned up above “Big (for the most part) is synonymous with good, especially when talking about photographs.

The longer, nuanced and more detailed answer is as follows: Spread over two floors, it presents something like four or five dozen images that vary in size from 68″ x 78″ to 29½” x 36½”, with most of them being 51″ x 63″. Organized thematically, they span three of the four sections that he lists on his website; Extraction & Refinement, Transportation & Motor Culture and The End Of Oil (somehow Detroit Motor City section didn’t make the cut at the McCord, I can’t understand why).

Now while I don’t know too much about photography, there was the aforementioned Gursky show I saw in Chicago and if my memory serves his teachers at art school were Bernd and Hilla Becher. Don’t quote me on this, but if they weren’t the first people to take large pictures of industrial things, they definitely were the folks who made it hip. Mr. Burtynsky definitely owes them something. What I’m not sure. Because he doesn’t copy them (at least as far as I can tell) but at least as far as recognizing that he is mining a field that they were instrumental in making.

Mr. Burtynsky, does them one better, his are larger and in color. Have I mentioned that big is good, when it comes to photographs?

For the most part his images are very formally set up. If I were to make a gross generalization about Mr. Burtynsky’s landscape photographs, I’d say that the picture would be taken from a high vantage point, if not a helicopter, some sort of scaffolding was used, there would be an immense foreground, taking up something like ¾ of the image. There would be mountains in the background, or something mountain-like taking up the other ¼ of the image. The sky (and this is where my knowledge of photography is woefully lacking) is completely washed out, to the extent that I would make a pinky bet that Mr. Burtynsky’s skies are very familiar with Photoshop (or Gimp).

AMARC #3 Tucson, Arizona, USA, 2006 Courtesy edwardburtynsky.com
AMARC #3 Tucson, Arizona, USA, 2006 Courtesy edwardburtynsky.com

The foreground is some kind of large collection of something industrial. Endless repetition of form with minor variations since each object is distinct. And since they are so large and there are so many objects in the picture it’s quite easy to literally get lost in it. On one side that’s the fun part. On the other, once you realize that there is a formula it kind of makes me think that while Mr. Burtynsky is making some sort of commentary on 20th century industrialization, he is at the same time being very mechanical in how he makes his pictures.

Oil Fields #10 McKittrick, California, USA, 2002 Courtesy edwardburtynsky.com
Oil Fields #10 McKittrick, California, USA, 2002 Courtesy edwardburtynsky.com

You get the picture.

One other thought that occurred to me as I was looking at the pictures. Not a single one was signed, and there was no information on how many prints had been made. Not that that would detract from the image itself, but it’s just that if I want to buy into the concept that the images Mr. Burtynsky makes are art and not just some mass produced industrial object that happens to look pretty, it would be nice to have his John Hancock on it and know that there were only XXX copies made. But I would guess I’m in the minority here. Or maybe he signed and numbered them on the back.

As I wrote in my notes, there really is no movement in the pictures. There was also a distinct lack of people in the pictures. While I didn’t keep count, there couldn’t have been more than half-a-dozen people. I wonder if Mr. Burtynsky has ever done portraits, and if he has, I’d love to see them. I’d guess that he would ask his subjects to dress in tuxedos. (ba-da-boom!) His images are that formal.

I always find it a tad awkward when I come across an exhibit that has an agenda, like this one does. Even if it is an agenda that I agree with. I find that trying to force an idea on someone by using an art exhibit extremely difficult. In order to do so, the the exhibit, for the most part, has to be incredibly simplistic. It tends to be repetitive as well, and I find that in order to make their point they end up being dumbed down to the point where the idea that they are trying to promote becomes more suitable for five year-olds than adults. As you might have guessed, I’m not five years-old.

But enough of that, and lets concentrate on the pictures. As I mentioned in the ditty, his pictures of highway interchanges are quite cool.

Highway #5 Los Angeles, California, USA, 2009 courtesy edwardburtynsky.com
Highway #5 Los Angeles, California, USA, 2009 courtesy edwardburtynsky.com

I think part of the allure comes from the fact that he is using something like a helicopter to take the pictures. The pictures he gets are not the type of pictures that are available to M. & Mme. Tout le monde. And that I think is something incredibly significant. That sense of discovery, seeing something for the first time, is a sensation that shouldn’t be ignored. If he took similar pictures, as formal in their composition but from the perspective of a driver, they would not be one tenth as powerful.

Beyond that, if you are in London, England, I think that’s where the show is now, and it is probably going to continue touring and making more people aware of Mr. Burtynsky’s name. The catalogue for the show won some kind of award, but I’m not clear on how it is awarded, so I guess I should assume that it is legit, and not something where you toss the organizers some cash and you get a medal.

Being aware of Ed’s name is a good thing. It makes people aware of Canadian art just a little bit more. I just hope wish that he would push the envelope a little more, instead of playing it safe. He knows how to handle a camera, I’d like to see some images from him that prove that.

Big Bang at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Howdy!

Like everyone, a museum gets the winter doldrums
Organizing an exhibit is better than twiddling one’s thumbs.
I can hear them now, “we’ve got two and a half months to fill.”
“Something local and cross-disciplinary would fit the bill!”

Let’s get some local vedettes, get them to choose something from our collection
Have them respond in kind with their art, kind of like making a connection.”
In theory and on paper the idea looked good if not great,
The sad truth of the matter, unfortunately was a bunch of art that was second rate.

The first pairing was Rodin with Michel Rabagliati
The cartoon and the sculpture were fine, but the incessant noise drove me batty.

Pierre Soulages and Roland Poulin
Brush strokes on canvas, brushed metal, sounds like a plan.

Jean Verville and Pierre Lapointe used Patrick Join’s C2 chair
Stacked plastic chairs and a ditty on a piano was what we were supposed to compare.
There was no info on the song, and I bet their stock came from Home Depot.
I can’t quite decide if they mailed it in, or if they just had a budget that was cheap-o.

Adad Hannah and Denys Arcand wanted to use Archizoom’s Safari Sofa
So they made a multi-channel video about a bunch of cocaine snorting loafers.
The sound track should have been disco but was more world beat
And there were other details that, for me, made it incomplete.

Renata Morales likes George Segal’s Woman Sitting on a Bed
She made something to represent everything in the woman’s head.
Birds and dolls made from cloth, a tad simplistic,
But from a clothing designer quite artistic.

Jennifer Alleyn and Nancy Huston used some drawings from Jennifer’s dad.
The technology failed and as a consequence this installation was both sad and bad.

Gilles Saucier used Composition 11 by Borduas
One shiny white wall, one shiny black wall, kind of blah.

Riopelle’s The Circus was used by Jeannot Painchaud
She took it kind of literally and her videos of circus performers fairly glowed.
Next time, I’d suggest instead of the title that she focus on the content
Making something that combines with the original, to augment.

Marie Chouinard was the most egregious
The pictures of her dancers were atrocious.
Looking at them, you couldn’t see the piece from the museum
Perfect definition of the word hokum.

Melissa Auf de Maur liked Hodler’s Halberdier,
Taking pictures of herself naked with old army gear.
How a panoramic camera becomes a weapon
I something that I can’t reckon.

En Masse used Penck’s Start of the Lion Hunt
As an excuse to paint a large room, left, right, back and front
Completely with cartoon like drawings in white and black
Their work is not a tough nut to crack.

Wadji Mouwad used a photograph by Catherine Opie
As a means to talk about childhood very aggressively.
But beyond the quote, I think all the art was made by Raymond Marius Boucher
He gets credit for “Art Direction” and probably can better make what Wadji wanted to convey.

Genvieve Cadieux compared her work to Tom Thomson’s Northern Lights
Marfa, Texas is not Northern Ontario, unless it’s history she rewrites.

Claude Cormier used a piece of 12th century religious art
And a wall of stuffed animals, probably thought he was being smart.

Jean Derome wasn’t content with just one.
27 paintings, and 72 pieces of music is just a little overdone.
It would have been nicer if he hadn’t relied so much on chance.
And if there was more light, viewing the paintings would have been enhanced.

Rita redid a Lawren Harris painting as couches
Stéphane Halmaï-Voisard and Karine Corbeil are no slouches.
Nice to end the exhibit on a high note.
Leaving with a smile is always good; quote, unquote.

John Currin at the DHC/ART Foundation

Howdy!

Fourth Floor

Big Hands, 2010
Big Hands, Big Breasts,
Small Head, shirt knot on her chest.

Big Hands by John Currin
Big Hands by John Currin

Deauville, 2007 & Rotterdam, 2006
I‘m not sure what Deauville has to do with Rotterdam
If the pictures were taken in a brothel, do royalties get paid to the Madam?
As long as I am asking questions I wonder if either one uses a diaphragm?
Quite possibly, the easiest way to explain “wham bam thank you ma’am.

Malmö, 2006
Malmö’s another brothel scene
The couple pictured doesn’t look older than eighteen.

The Dane, 2006
The second act of Hamlet would be easier to explain
To high school males if it was illustrated with “The Dane.”

Big breasted naked women with mismatched body parts
Apparently one of them is his sweetheart
Despite the fact that his brushwork is never roughshod
There’s something that always seems odd.

Patch and Pearl, 2007
Patch and Pearl gazing out in the distance
A complete understanding gives some resistance.

Patch and Pearl by John Currin
Patch and Pearl by John Currin

Third Floor

Thanksgiving, 2003
Singing for her supper or taking a taste?
The action in this painting is not snail-paced.
Not at all traditional, kind of quirky,
Take a gander at the size of the turkey.

Thanksgiving by John Currin
Thanksgiving by John Currin

Rachel in Fur, 2002
Currin as Kusiemski?
Would you disagree?
Given his porn paintings
It’s hard to see them abstaining.

Bent Lady, 2003
A Bent Lady with a bunch of roses
Damien Hirst Knowses.

Anna, 2004
Anna smiles sweetly behind a banana and a three branched candelabrum
No matter how hard I try, this isn’t abstract expressionism.

Anna by John Currin
Anna by John Currin

The Christian, 2005
Some woman with a melon as a breast,
I would hate to see how he paints her fesses.
I don’t understand all the fruit in a bowl
Does eating grapes help your soul?

The Christian by John Currin
The Christian by John Currin

Second Floor

The Old Guy, 1994
I like the skinny dude’s sweater
He’s an old guy, I hope he gets better.
Hanging out in the bathroom
Is he talking? And if so to whom?

The Berliner, 1994
Did Mr. Currin live in Berlin?
The paint on this one is not thin.
There’s still something weird
It might be the hair, it might be the beard.

The Invalids, 1997
It took a while for me to notice the wheelchair
Smack dab in the middle of the painting is a mighty big pair.
Add to that hand coming out of her head
And you can understand how I was misled.

Sno-bo, 1999
Santa’s little helper
Diaphanous skirts as it were.
The two don’t quite meld.
While I was looking at it parts of my body swelled.

Sno-bo by John Currin
Sno-bo by John Currin

Stamford after brunch, 2000
I wonder what the etiquette
is in Stamford, Connecticut?
Smoking cigars and drinking martinis,
I’m surprised that they’re not wearing bikinis!

Stamford  after Brunch by John Currin
Stamford after Brunch by John Currin

Honeymoon Nude, 1998
I wonder if Ms. Feinstein sculpted John
Or is showing her off naked, for him a turn on?

First Floor

The Neverending Story, 1994
Atreyu? Bastian Bux?
Is he thinking, “I wonder if she fucks?”

The Neverending Story by John Currin
The Neverending Story by John Currin

Girl in bed, 1993
Whose hand? And why’s she looking away?
Is she lost in her thoughts and far away?
Or is it bedtime and she’s about to hit the hay?

Mrs. Omni, 1993
You can never be too thin or too rich.
Mrs. Omni is a fairly standard issue portrait about which
There isn’t much I can say.
I can’t figure out why he chose her to portray.

Bea Arthur Naked, 1991
I wonder if Mr. Currin watched Maude
When he was growing up? And was awed
As I was by the television show.
Although I have to admit I dreamt about Adrienne Barbeau.

Old Couple, 1993
Two people painted on a background that’s beige
Despite, or maybe because of, their clothes, they look their age.

Brown Lady, 1991
What’s the opposite of brown?
While she’s smiling, I frown.
There’s something off, not quite right
I think it has to do with the background being very bright.

The Wizard, 1994
A wizard, a thaumaturge, a necromancer
Those breasts definitely enhance her.
I’m not certain I want to know what type of spell he will cast
This was the first painting in the show and it mirrors the last.

Apologies, I only realized too late that I had failed to recite these last four lines. When it comes time to release the “Director’s Cut” version, I will re-record it completely.

Myriam Yates, Racetrack – Superstar – Ghost

Howdy!

Ms. Yates’ video is of Blue Bonnets being transformed
Before, during and after U2 performed
Long static shots
How do you connect if there are no dots?

Some interesting angles with some interesting views
Oddly compelling, I kept looking for clues.
It’s not the type of art I normally praise
But after looking at so much art, I might have been in a daze.

Ève K. Tremblay’s work in La Triennale Québécoise

Howdy!

Lots of pictures of people reading a book
Kinda interesting, thought provoking and worth a look.
Shoved in a corner
Now that Eve lives in New York, she’s a foreigner.

Slightly more than simple visual representation
There’s a theory that she uses as a foundation
For the basis of her works
If you scratch the surface you can see where it lurks

[The User], Quartet for Dot Matrix Printers

Howdy!

This one is a sham,
I guess there was a paper jam.
Speakers playing a recording
Is not very rewarding.

The real thing
Had some swing
Hearing and seeing the noises, squeaks and creaks
From four printers now considered antiques.

Justin Stephens, 14

Howdy!

Give me a break,
This one takes the cake
It must be a mistake.

Canvas scrap
On a pen cap
There’s an obvious rhyme here, but I’m not falling into that trap.

The catalogue has it prominently displayed
I think it is a big charade
Can I go back in time and have it unmade?