I freaking hate it, when I ask if I can take pictures at an exhibit, and some person who doesn’t know any better starts spouting about copyright and uses that as the excuse why they won’t let me take a snapshot. Listen people, the Canadian copyright act is right here. In it there’s a paragraph, number 29 to be exact, that talks about Fair Dealing. If I am writing a review of your show, I can use pictures that I took to illustrate the article and not impinge, infringe or otherwise step on your intellectual property. So folks, how about this? Next time I show up and ask to take pictures, understand I am being courteous and polite and be courteous and polite in return and say, “yes.”
I bring this up, because last weekend, I went to Galerie Mile End, and asked to take pictures. The woman who was there, didn’t know copyright from a hole in the wall, but insisted that was the reason why I couldn’t take pictures. She then proceeded to watch me for five minutes (there was no one else in the gallery except the two of us) until I realized that the only reason she was watching me was that I had not put my camera away (like I’m going to surreptitiously snap a picture and copy someone’s art and call it my own! Gimme a break!). So I put away the camera, she went back to making art, but then to make matters worse insisted on coming out once every five minutes for the next 15 minutes with some supposedly helpful suggestion (“the artists’ have their business cards over here, if you take them, you can call them and ask them if it is ok to take pictures,” “the artist who did these pieces is going to be here at 2:30, if you wait you can ask her if it is ok to take pictures of her work,” “if there was any of my work in the show, I’d let you take pictures of it”).
Suffice it to say, I was not in a good mood, and slowly got more and more annoyed at her as time progressed. Instead of snapping and throwing or shouting something. I gripped my pen and clipboard even tighter still, took a couple of deep breaths and did my best not to let my foul mood cloud my judgement or opinion of the work on the walls – but man, oh, man was it tough. All the way home I was contemplating some kind of savage ripost or 10,000 word screed. Or just spiking the whole darn thing. But when I got home, I put on Brahm’s Symphony #1, took a nap, and when I woke up, everything was much better. Thanks Johannes.
OK, now that I got that off my chest, some background. Galerie Mile End is an offshoot of the Park Avenue YMCA. It’s a kind of community centre/art studios/gallery/collective type of thing. You know, one of those places where people with day jobs that aren’t quite as fulfilling as they hoped, go after work to do creative things. Paint, Sculpt, Draw, etc. As a consequence a small supportive community arises out of and around them, and the people making the art don’t get driven crazy by their jobs/commute/relationships/kids, etc. Just in case yo9u thought I was being 100% literal, sorry, I over simplified things – it obviously isn’t that easy in real life, but you get the point. I’d like to say that I have followed the members of Galerie Mile End closely for the past 14 years and as a consequence can say with authority, that none of their members have ever gone on to make the jump from day job to full-time artist. But I haven’t, so I can’t and that’s just the last little bit of frustration leaking out of me, pay it never no mind. Things start looking up from here on it, I promise.
The reason I was interested in going to see the exhibit was because En Masse has kind of been taking over the city. It seems that everywhere I look, there is some very large black and white cartoon-like mural made by something like 70 dozen different local artists. It seems to me that Black and White is the new black – or maybe the new Friday, or something like that. Anyhows, I was curious to see if En Masse had had any influence on the fine folk at Galerie Mile End. In short no. While the exhibit at Galerie Mile End was a group show, it was not collaborative in the least. While there was something approaching thematic unity based on the title, I did see some greens, and a couple of other colors that were not black or white – and there was quite a lot of gray as well, which technically I figure is alright, but if I wanted to get all nit-picky about it, I could. But I think I have gotten rid of all the frustration I had over the weekend (I actually listened to the Brahms #1, something like four times…) so we’ll let it slide.
There were about three dozen different artists involved. Some of them showing multiple pieces (alright), some of them showing multiple pieces in very different media (not so hot). Anytime I look at any type of collection of art (or for that matter a collection of anything else) I try to make some sense out of it by looking for connections. When I am introduced to an artists’ work, it is extremely difficult to be able to grasp what they do, how they think, why they create or the thoughts behind their creations if their output goes from one extreme to another – especially with artists that I am unfamiliar with. It’s all fine and dandy for Picasso to sculpt, paint, and draw, he’s been dead for almost 40 years and his art is fairly well known in the Western world. He is not trying to impress anyone with his art anymore. However, some artist who isn’t quite as well known as Mr. Picasso ends up confusing the heck out of me if the first time I see some of their work there’s an abstract sculpture, a painting of some flowers and a cliched photograph with some kind of motivational text on it. I’m left wondering if the artist thinks that these particular objects are in fact their best work, or if in fact they think that absolutely everything they make is worthy of being exhibited? While I realize that people have many different facets to their personalities, trying to group the three pieces together into on e larger understanding of the motivation of the artist is not exactly easy. From where I sit, it would be better to have a show of just abstract sculptures, then another show of flower paintings a third of cliched motivational photography and only then have a show combining all three media. But that’s my personal preference, your may be different.
So as I can get it out of the way, and not have to try to remember to do it, these are the names of the artists participating in Blanc et Noir at Galerie Mile End: Anne Salomon, Bouthaina Bouzid, Celine Landry, Claude Lépine, Claudette Seguin-Beaulieu, Emily Wai Yee Leong, Esther Kanfi, Gaby Orbach, Henri Enfant, Josée Laurion, Laila Maestari, Louise Rousseau, Marcia Campillo, Michelle Bonneville, Monique Corbeil, Myles Johnston, Olga Maksimova, Paulette Dufresne, Pierre Foret, Rachel Dionne, Sandra Glenns, Thibauld Lelievre, and yves vaillancourt. By my count I think I liked four pieces (or at least that’s how many I starred in my notes). Not a good percentage in any way shape of form.
However (at some point I am going to have to either drop the use of the word “however” altogether, or start using it even more) that is not to say that the other works were not good, just that they weren’t up my alley. Using a different method of scoring, I would say that that about 90% of the works exhibited were technically good, proficient. That the artist making the work knew how to use their tools properly. That’s a much better percentage, don’t you think? But either way an exhibit is only as good as the worst piece in the show. And no matter how you cut it, there was some stuff in the exhibit that was weak both on a technical level and personally on an aesthetic level. If you’re going to use something as vague as “Black and White” as a unifying theme the quality of the art by definition needs to be of the highest caliber. I don’t know who was responsible for picking and choosing the art, but somehow I get the distinct impression that there was some kind of call made, and anyone and everyone who responded (including the people with art that included green) was accepted.
The show was hung, not so much with an eye to balancing the works. Nor did it seem to me as being hung in order to create (the dreaded) dialogue between pieces. The way that I saw it, the show was hung in an attempt to maximize the number of pieces that could be shown while for the most part trying to keep everything at eye level. As a consequence I either would hate to see the work that wasn’t accepted or I strongly suspect nothing was turned down.
Initially, in my outline this was where I was going to write about “The Good Stuff.” But now, I realize that really wouldn’t serve any purpose other than to piss people off – and given that I was pissed off over the weekend, passing it on doesn’t strike me as being particularly useful. As I said there are good pieces in the show, and there are even pieces in the show that I quite like, a lot. But the instant I make that division, someone is not going to be happy. Unfortunately, I really didn’t like the show itself. By now, that should be obvious. To me it was kind of like going to a restaurant where there was one dish that was amazing and wonderful, the rest of the meal was acceptable but the service was horrendous. An art exhibition is more than just slapping some art on the walls and serving some cheap wine at an opening. There needs to be something holding it together. There needs to be some focus and while there doesn’t need to be some theory behind it, it certainly doesn’t hurt. Then finally there should always be some threshold of what is acceptable to exhibit. It’s all fine and dandy to be polite and diplomatic in person and with people. Art (for the most part) is made up of inanimate objects that do not have feelings that would be hurt if they weren’t exhibited. Someone needs to take charge and draw that line when organizing an exhibition. That and let me take some pictures as well.
Blanc et Noir at Galerie Mile End, 5345 Park Ave. until June 17, 2012.