I’m kind of (actually really really) pissed off at myself. Almost a full year ago Micheal Merrill had dueling shows at the McClure Gallery and the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal. I caught some bits of the show at the museum and not only saw the show at the McClure Gallery but also got a copy of the catalogue. Somehow I let things slide until now, and while to my mind reviews do not need to be timely, ten months after the fact is pushing the envelope slightly. But that’s not why I’m annoyed, as you might expect, it took me something like nine and half moths to read the catalogue and then upon reading it, I discovered that I seriously shot myself in the foot. While I am familiar with Mr. Merrill’s paintings of art storage spaces in galleries and museums, somehow I got really really dense and either wasn’t aware, didn’t care or completely spaced on the fact that the show at the McClure Gallery was twined with that at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal.
While I know it is possible to appreciate and enjoy one without the other, after reading the catalogue, I kind of slowly came to the realization that an opportunity had stared me right in the face and I blinked. Because I found out that there was not only a connection between the pieces of art by virtue of the fact that they were exhibited at the same time, but in fact were reflections of each other. My understanding is that while those at the museum were in full color and those at the McClure were in black and white the two sets were pretty much two versions of the same thing. Multiple views of scenes that you’re not normally allowed to see. And that’s why I’m pissed off at myself, it’s one thing to miss an opportunity, it’s a completely different thing to deliberately ignore something that stares you down.
I’m not quite 100% certain I know exactly what is involved in making an ink wash drawing, but on first blush it looks kind of simple. But then after looking at them a little closer, it becomes obvious that they aren’t as simple as all that. It’s not quite watercolor, and not quite straight pen and ink. The images themselves have a loose dreamlike feel to them, which is made somewhat spookier because of their dark nature. They are all images of the back rooms of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal and the construction of the Bougie Pavillion. Apparently Mr. Merrill was able to cut some kind of deal with them whereby he got special access where more normal people aren’t allowed to venture. They are in parallel with some much more realistic paintings done in color using something called gouache vinylique for which I am unable to get a satisfactory translation. The gouache ones were the ones that were displayed at the museum.
When viewing the gouache paintings, I am reminded that it is principally Mr. Merrill’s hand and eye that cause any sort of subjectivity in the paintings. For the most part they (I presume) represent things fairly realistically. But the ink wash drawings have a whole different aura around them. While again, it is only Mr. Merrill’s eyes and hands creating the drawings, there is a sense that other forces (gravity, the physical reaction of the water on the paper, etc) that aren’t as tightly controlled were at work as well.
Depending on where you let your mind drift to while looking at the drawings there are an awful lot of allusions that can be made. From ghostly representations of hidden places to an attempt to recreate some kind of blurry black and white photographs. I find that the looseness of his lines lends an eerie and/or mystical sense to a subject that would normally be much more clinical. What you want to read into that sense is entirely up to you. I just think that they are kind of cool and made even cooler when you get a gander at the list of folks who already own them in the back of the catalogue.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
maskull lasserre Sun, Jul 29, 2012 at 9:40 PM
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
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.
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.