Me and Jana go way back, I wrote about how her work in the 2003 Venice Biennale might have been copied from the George W. Bush White House, and was kind of dismissive of her photograph Generic Man that was hung at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal for what seemed like decades, but she is none-the-less an Important Canadian Artist®™ duly recognized by the people who recognize things like that. And somewhere in the dark deepest recesses of my memory I seemed to remember that she had won a prize recently. So I figured it would be as good od a time as any to go see her exhibition at Laroche/Joncas (which is on view until June 9). I quite like what they are doing there and maybe it would be possible for the leopard to change its spots.
If you want the quick and easy version, I was pleasantly surprised to find a piece of art by Ms. Sterbak that I did like. However I must inform you, that there were nine other art objects in the show as well. So perhaps a sign of a benign melanoma that’s better removed than a complete changing of my spots.
But to get to the meat of the matter, the show kind of gave me the feeling it was more like a garage sale than a cohesive show. Of the ten pieces there was stuff that was made in the late 1970s all the way up to 2009. But since there were only ten of them it did not feel anything like an retrospective. More like, here is some stuff hanging around my studio gathering dust, if I were to stick it in a gallery maybe it might sell. As well the show itself is called Back Home, which lend a certain personal touch to the works exhibited, either through them not being here, but literally being back home. Or allowing you to infer that she has been away for a time and has now returned, and decided that she no longer needed to possess any of theses objects. Then there was a general hodge-podge nature to the show. The pieces that were multiples varied from 7/15 to an artist’s proof #1, to 13/14 to all five of the edition. The uniques were drawings and sculptures, I was at a distinct disadvantage when it came time to try and figure out why everything was there.
Personally I think the better way to do something like that is to invite people who have previously bought your work to do some kind of studio visit, get a bottle of wine (or two) and then proceed to tell stories about the art that you want to get rid of. Assuming you invited people with some excess cash, I’m certain it would be extremely effective. Because when I tried to figure out what was the deal with Spare Spine, a five foot gently bowed bronze stick (and while I’m at it, what’s with the insistence on using the Metric system when something was made in Imperial units? 152.4 cm, my eye!) leaning against the wall, I was completely and thoroughly incapable.
But if Ms. Sterbak had been there, regaling me with something along the lines of how it corresponded to the earth’s curvature and/or was buttressing up the entire building, and/or had been used to threaten viewers when she was wearing Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic and/or had been used by someone, somewhere doing something, it would have changed it from a five foot gently bowed bronze stick leaning against the wall into something much much more.
As it was, the piece of hers that I liked, was in fact something where I was capable of finding a story. Dissolution a series of eight small photos all in one frame of a chair with an ice seat and back smelting was pretty cool (yes, that will be the one and only pun I use today, promise). Initially, while viewing it, I figured that since it dated from 2001, that it was some sort of documentation of of some kind of performance or something. Now, after some reflection, I’m not as convinced, but while I was there, it definitely was enough of a story to keep me in front of it for longer than any of the other pieces.
As you might expect, it was very sparse in the gallery. Where normally, people with multiple PhDs in Art History like to go off about “how the art dialogues” and “conversations between pieces” when they are really just mean how two (or more) objects look near each other. In this case things were set up so far from each other that there wasn’t going to be any conversations happening unless one of the pieces suddenly had an urge to shout. Although there is a whole wall of works in the office that look positively cramped in comparison, and due to the placement of the desk, it’s not exactly the easiest thing in the world to get a good look at them.
I’m not quite certain what to make of the things that look like kids drawings, the Iron House or the miniaturized lead ball painted to look like a plastic beach ball. I guess something could be said that they are all riffing off of the idea of home. Either things you would find in a home or representations of home, but I’m more inclined to think that’s a stretch and best left to the guys with the multiple degrees. After all Ms. Sterbak is an Important Canadian Artist®™ and explanations like that are best left to the professionals.
Me, on the other hand, I’m glad to see that my antipathy towards Ms. Sterbak’s work has tempered over the years. She no longer makes art that causes large emotional reactions in me, it’s basically there, fine, it’s not bothering anyone, so let’s get on to the next thing.