Stéphane Aquin and Andres Duran talking about the retrospective exhibits of work by American Pop Artist Tom Wesselmann at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal and Galerie de Bellefeuille.
Stéphane Aquin and Andres Duran talking about the retrospective exhibits of work by American Pop Artist Tom Wesselmann at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal and Galerie de Bellefeuille.
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In season two, episode five of the EZ Montreal Art Podcast, Eloi Desjardins and Chris ‘Zeke’ Hand discuss The Plasticiens and Beyond. Montreal 1955-1970. An exhibit at The Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec along with the four exhibits at Art Mur; Renato Garza Cervera: Springbreaker Tsantsas, Bevan Ramsay: Soft Tissue, Sonny Assu : #NeverIdle, and Cooke-Sasseville: Built Heritage.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to answer the trivia question and win a prize!!
Continue reading EZ Montreal Art Podcast: Les Plasticiens & Art Mur
Last November I had the chance to interview Pierre Dorion about the exhibit he had at the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal and about his practice. I was finally able to finish editing it over the holidays. If you have a spare 37 minutes to watch, I
think hope you might like it.
or if you prefer YouTube to Archive.org
Either way I’d suggest watching it on a fullscreen as the native resolution is 1280 x 720, and it was filmed in HD.
In today’s episode Chris ‘Zeke’ Hand and Eloi Desjardins from Un Show de Mot’Arts discuss the Pierre Dorion, Barry Allikas and Sayeh Sarfaraz exhibits in Griffintown at Galerie Rene Blouin, Galerie Division and Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran. Along with exhibitions by Eve K. Tremblay at Galerie Hugues Charbonneau, Mathieu Levesque at Galerie Trois Points and Guy Boutin at Espace Robert Poulin, all in the Belgo Building.
Download: Ogg Vorbis 21MB, MP3 32MB, Flac 112MB, WAV 346MB.
Specifically (and beyond the artists and galleries) The Arsenal, the impending Galerie Rene Blouin move, Shirin Neshat, the War in the Middle East, Bourgeois exhibits vs. Political exhibits, Attendance Figures, Ray Bradbury (who is not Canadian), Saul Bellow, Frank Gehry, Thinking too much, Talking with Hugues Charbonneau, the Agac Awards, The next EZ Montreal Art Podcast, Gordon Matta Clark, Roger Bellemare, Pierre Trahan, the Collection Majudia, Designing a meal, the fact that Eloi doesn’t like cartooning, then Zeke tries to inquire as to the root of why Eloi doesn’t like Guy Boutin’s work, the Comix and Bande Dessine scene, Fabric art, the Sympathy for the Devil exhibit at MACM, Free tickets and the Trivia Question (remember if you email email@example.com the answer, you can win an amazing prize!)
If you would like to hear the previous episodes of The EZ Montreal Art Podcast click here: Episode 12, Episode 11, Episode 10, Episode 9, Episode 8, Episode 7, Episode 6, Episode 5, Episode 4, Episode 3, Episode 2, Episode 1.
In today’s episode Chris ‘Zeke’ Hand and Eloi Desjardins from Un Show de Mot’Arts discuss The Canadian Biennale 2012; The Builders/Les bâtisseurs.
Download: Ogg Vorbis 19MB, MP3 27MB, Flac 84MB, WAV 340MB.
Specifically Marc Mayer, Edward Burtynsky, Michael Snow, broken art exhibited in museums, Qavavau Manumie, Headbutting, how the Canadian Bienniale 2012 is a colaboration between three museums, the annoying title, Dil Hildebrand, the layout and set up of the exhibit, the price of admission, Lynne Cohen, Max Dean, David Altmejd, the prices for Canadian art, Terence Gower, Chairs, Video Art, Headphones, HG Wells, Buckminster Fuller, Scripts, Parliament/Funkadelic, Aznan France, Zeke’s adolescence, Lynne Marsh, the waitress makes an interruption and Zeke goes to pay the bill, Marcel Dzama, David Hoffos, Wayne Baerwaldt (and it was Scott Burnham who walked out on the Montreal Bienniale), Young & Giroux, Jim Breukelman, Jon Pylypchuk, Brian Jungen, Michel De Broin, the surprising amount of artists in the show who have not exhibited in Montreal, Mark Soo, Benoît Aquin, 1972 Baseball Cards, Sarah Anne Johnson, Michael Merrill, Zeke’s nephew’s drawings, Winnie the Pooh, Marcel Duchamp, Bruce Nauman, Fluxus, Dada, The Clock, the Montreal Biennale, Manif d’art, Mois de la photo, Via Rail ticket sale, a suggestion for Marc Mayer, and the trivia question.
If you would like to hear the previous episodes of The EZ Montreal Art Podcast click here: Episode 11, Episode 10, Episode 9, Episode 8, Episode 7, Episode 6, Episode 5, Episode 4, Episode 3, Episode 2, Episode 1.
Last month, Eloi Desjardins from Un Show de Mot’Arts and I got together to talk about Sylvain Bouthillette‘s 15 Hertz exhibit at Galerie Trois Points, L’Art du Style at Les Ailes de la Mode, The New Sculpture Garden at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Beyond Photorealism at Galerie de Bellefeuille.
Download: Ogg Vorbis 22MB, MP3 34MB, Flac 119MB, WAV 353MB.
Unfortunately I do not have any pictures from Beyond Photorealism at Galerie de Bellefeuille.
If you would like to hear the previous episodes of The EZ Montreal Art Podcast click here: Episode 7, Episode 6, Episode 5, Episode 4, Episode 3, Episode 2, Episode 1.
Mr. Hildebrand is a significant and important contemporary Canadian painter. It’s obvious because his most recent exhibit was reviewed in Canadian Art magazine (written by no less than the editor-in-chief!), Le Devoir and one of Louise Blouin’s magazines. The only things that could make him a more important and significant contemporary Canadian painter would be a review/write-up/preview in ArtForum, the New York Times/New Yorker/New York Review of Books, or some publication in London, Paris Berlin or Shanghai.
This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing mainly because he is a very accomplished artist, looking at his work, I get a very strong sense that not only does he know what he wants to do, but he know how to accomplish it as well. There’s nothing namby-pamby about his work. Adjectives like forthright, bold, strong and direct are the ones that I would think of using in order to describe his work. It’s a bad thing because he only gets reviewed in local media outlets and his paintings sell for a song (The work in this exhibit was selling in between $800 and $15,500 depending on size, and how much (or how little) color there was). Both of these are examples of (apologies for repeating myself here) how little respect Canadian/Quebecois/Montreal art gets in the rest of the world. Mr. Hildebrand has exhibited in Auckland, Beijing, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami, among other places, and will be exhibiting in London but there is nary a peep in anything other than the good old Canadian intelligentsia about his work. It’s frustrating. It’s getting to the point where I’m beginning to question if Canadian art really is truly good art. Or if what is being called good is merely a function of myopia. (As an aside, I think I should point out and say that it is a good thing that I wear glasses).
But enough about the politics (at least for the time being) and on to the art. In all the other reviews that I’ve read and in the artist statement that accompanies the show, a big deal is made out of the use of the color green. While I understand both the significance, historical antecedents and reasons Mr. Hildebrand states for using green (“the chalkboard, the cutting mat, or the green-screen”) given that almost 40% of the show were drawings in a sort of architectural bent. Simple gray lines on a cream colored paper, I’m not certain I’m drinking that Kool-aid. I’d much prefer to put my emphasis on the title and the works themselves.
I think I’ve always been a big fan of drawing. Maybe because I can’t do it to save my life, or perhaps because of the simplicity of the act, or maybe I’m just full of it, and in fact I never really liked drawing ever. But for purposes of this argument, let stick with the positive for whatever reasons. Mr. Hildebrand’s drawings are of some extraordinary objects that at first appear to be some kind of structure. Something like the plans for a house of cards, an aerial view of some maze or
now that I think about it the kite like structures from John Horton Conway’s mathematical Game of Life a representation of Pick-Up Sticks.
Viewed from a distance (and from my memory) the polytopes seem to form some sort of pattern. Not quite Penrose tiling but close. And I’m certain if I stared at them long enough I would be able to come up with some kind of mathematical formula to describe what they were doing.
By calling the show “Back to the Drawing Board,” Mr. Hildebrand is tacitly admitting that whatever was done prior didn’t quite work out the way he intended. I can’t help but think that the repetition of forms helped in finally getting the finished product the way he wanted. It’s almost as if you can see the process taking place even though the drawing in front of you is complete. Despite the simplicity of the drawings they are extremely powerful and even a full month after seeing the show I can still imagine them in my mind as if I had seen them half an hour ago.
The actual paintings in the exhibit, the things with the color green in them, did not affect me as strongly. It’s easy enough to see how they are related to the drawings, but I did not get a visceral sense of anything from looking at them. They almost appeared to be some kind of academic exercise, which is surprising as the drawings, when viewed from a technical standpoint could be considered by anyone’s definition academic exercises. I think that it might have something to do with the fact that, for the most part, the paintings are titled as objects (Compartment, Contraption, Module, Parabola, Spire) while the drawings, for the most part, are titled as actions (Reconstruction, Dismantling, Replicating). But then again, since grammar was (and still is) not my strongest subject and I’m picking a choosing titles that fit my theory, I could be very wrong.
And then there is Treehouse. A glorious painting if there ever was one. As you might expect I’m not entirely convinced it is a representation of a actual tree-house. To me it looks more like an imagined memory of what a tree-house was, or could be. Or more precisely like a collection of doors. Doors that are unlocked with the key of imagination.
But I digress…
More white than green, with some brown thrown in for good measure, it seems like some sort of gateway. I’m not certain how it fits in with the title, unless you go for the Helen Keller (or Alexander Graham Bell) quote about doors opening and closing, which I would have sworn was Zen or Buddhist and not American. But even then it’s kind of a stretch. I think the reason I like it has more to do with the form and structure of the painting than the actual content. It has a certain heft, that by extension makes it feel important.
I could kick in here with the cheesy puns and talk about how if Mr. Hildebrand doesn’t at first succeed, but I’ll avoid that. I also would like to try and figure out some way to link either his paintings or the drawings or both to some sort of hope or possibility of him being able to make it as a Canadian Artist (with the capital C and A) but I’ve been wracking my brain for the past hour and half trying to figure out some sort of way to tie things up neatly so it looks like I know what the heck I’m talking about. But I can’t, for the life of me think of anything. So I’m going to have to leave it like this, kind of dangling and not quite perfectly polished.
I first heard that the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal was going to be exhibiting a retrospective of the work of Tom Wesselmann way back in September 2010. As you can read, at the time, I thought it was a step down for the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal in the art world galaxy. I also had no clue who the heck Tom Wesselmann was at the time (my knowledge of art history, even relatively recent art history outside of Montreal is extremely sketchy). When I told a friend who is infinitely more knowledgeable on things involving international art she poo-pooed him, dismissing him, his art and everything else he ever did in his life with two mono syllabic words.
Given that it wasn’t all that important to me, I pretty much trusted her judgement up until the time I got to see the show. Or in other words, I didn’t do any research prior to going to see the show.
As I’ve said numerous times, I’m extremely saddened to see what I can only imagine is a former member of the group Bizot fall so low, so fast. It’s all fine and dandy to tout how the show is a “traveling” show, but when it’s traveling to only the third largest city on Ohio, notorious for charging a local museum with exhibiting obscene photographs when they had an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photos, I’m not so certain I would agree wholeheartedly. Then when you realize that the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal acquiesced when the fine folk in Cincinnati said they wanted to disavow any knowledge of it previously being in Montreal, I just cluck my tongue, shake my head and wish really hard that the descent stops, and sometime soon the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal begins it’s rise up the charts of museums in the world again.
(For more on
the split, read between the lines where and how it is touring read these here and here and if you wish, email me and I can supply more details.)
[Edit August 14, 2012: To clarify, the show is traveling to Richmond, Virginia and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which I have heard from unimpeachable sources is one of the top 10 museums in the United States, as well as going to Denver, Colorado and San Diego, California. In Cincinnati, the art museum there will be using the catalogue from the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal.
But thankfully, what’s on the walls, and written about in the catalogue has nothing to do with museum politics and is 100% the opposite of what my friend thought. In short it’s a pretty kick-ass show, it’s up until the beginning of October and you really should go see it, honest. Plus for a variety of reasons they are desperate for visitors so they are offering this sweet deal
In July, enjoy 2 FOR 1 admission to the Tom Wesselmann's exhibition! Applicable upon presentation of the promotion code TOM2004
— MBAM (@mbamtl) July 10, 2012
(between you, me and the screen in between us, I betcha dollars to doughnuts that the sweet deal continues through August as well) So you really have no excuse not to go see it. But as long as you’re sitting on your duff reading what I have written, I have some more things to say.
The first question I had, and still continue to have is why isn’t Tom Wesslemann a better known artist? While an awful lot of the quote Pop Art unquote movement didn’t age terribly well – Peter Max. Anyone? – an awful lot of it actually has not only aged well, but become more than significant and important. If Mr. Wesslemann was worthy of a significant and important retrospective at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal shouldn’t he previously be know as a significant and important artist? Well, every time I asked someone who knew more about art than I did, I got a bunch of bafflegab and gobbledy-gook. Anything from “he was independent,” and “the feminists beat him up” to “he wasn’t exactly the most diplomatic of people” or [insert your choice here]. None of them really held (or hold) any water but despite that I get the sinking suspicion that he is going to go down like so many other artists as a footnote in history. It ain’t like the Met, the Louvre, the Hermitage and the Prado are beating down the doors wanting to exhibit his stuff. I figure at some point I will either find an answer or Mr. Wesselmann’s work, despite how good it is will fade into the background of my memory, like so many other artists.
In the really pretty, but badly bound catalogue (the binding on mine split after one reading) Stéphane Aquin, one of the co-curators, writes things like The success of Wesselmann’s early works would eclipse the brilliance of those that were to come, and the Pop label associated with them would distract critics from the real aesthetic challenges with which he grappled. He goes on to hypothesize that the conservative climate in the United States of America during the 1980s might be to blame for the lack of recognition or going out on a limb he postulates that the lack of fame might be due to his not being a party-animal. More likely it is some combination of all of them along with a bunch of other stuff that I can’t even begin to contemplate. Although it occurred to me, since the museum showed the film on Henry Geldzahler, Who Gets to Call It Art? that perhaps there was some kind of falling out between the two of them as Mr. Wesselmann was not included in Mr. Geldzahler’s highly influential exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970 and the Met doesn’t have a single painting or sculpture. (Then after re-reading Constance Glenn’s essay in the “really pretty, but badly bound catalogue” I realized that she probably put that thought in my head, although with just a little bit more poking around, you can discover that Mr. Geldzahler was head of the Visual Arts department of the NEA from 1966 to 1969, just at the time when all the other Pop Artists’ careers were exploding, while Wesslemann’s appears to have plateaued).
While it is possible to get “famous” on one’s own, for the most part it really really helps to have someone else championing you and your art (or whatever other discipline you want to get famous in) and from my cursory and limited knowledge of New York art and artists in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s Mr. Geldzahler was the go to guy when you needed a champion. But enough about me hypothesizing about stuff I don’t know. What about the Art?
Ostensibly a complete retrospective, it somehow misses, avoids and otherwise glosses over the fact that Mr. Wesselmann was a cartoonist before he became a painter. Given that the previous fancy and big exhibit at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal on Lyonel Feininger included the early cartooning work, I can only guess at the reasoning behind the omission. However, it’s a minor complaint, as I wrote above, it is a glorious show. For those of you who aren’t aware, when speaking I tend to start my sentences “No, but…” So even if I do say something negative, remember, this is a really good, if not great show, despite its faults. The show itself is grouped into six sections (seven if you include the music, I’ll get to that later) titled, Early Collages; American Beauty; Still Lifes; Form, Focus, Scale; Lines Made Object; and The Final Years. I would presume roughly chronological, I did not study the tags too, too closely.
I’m not going to get much into his history, or biography, there is more than enough of that sort of stuff available elsewhere on sites such as wikipedia, The Tom Wesslemann website, Haunch of Venison and the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. Suffice it to say born in Cincinnati, moved to NYC, became artist, married, had kids, made art, died. As for the art theory stuff, I’ll leave that up to the big guns with the multiple diplomas as well. The quick and dirty version would be: adored De Kooning, studied real hard, figured he couldn’t do abstract as well as De Kooning, so did figurative. Using modern techniques tried (and lots say succeeded) in doing modern old masters (ie still lifes and nudes). Over time his work got larger and larger. In the 1980s discovered the technology for laser cutting steel and became a sculptor while still calling himself a drawer and making art completely and utterly different from what he did previously. Ultimately returning to painting, but in a much more abstract form while still retaining a figurative nature, before his death.
There are (if my memory serves) six or seven rooms, one almost three times the size of the others. In the first room there are a bunch of his tiny collages mounted behind acrylic masquerading as bulletproof glass. Despite the excessive security, they are utterly charming. In the second part of the room are a selection of his nudes, including one large scale preparatory drawing for one of them. Given that the museum had the “full support of the Estate of Tom Wesselmann, New York” there are a bunch of these drawings and maquettes for a wide variety of the paintings and sculptures. Unfortunately they are all ghettoized in a separate section for the most part making it extremely difficult to compare the preparation to the finished product.
One thing I discovered, was that while the nudes at the museum are extremely tame, even for Cincinnati moral standards, if you scroll through Flickr, Tumblr and Pinterest there are a bunch of nudes he made, not in the exhibit, that are slightly, if not much more explicit, and not only could be considered NSFW in Cincy, Virginia, Denver, San Diego and beyond, but also by their exclusion from the show here end up giving a certain amount of credence and credibility to the quote feminist theories unquote that apparently were the major reason why Mr. Wesselmann failed to be as well known in the art galaxy as his other contemporaries. It would have been nice to see the gamut of the nudes so that you could judge for yourself whether knee-jerk feminist criticism held water against the paintings or not, instead of just being told that the criticism doesn’t hold water.
Personally, given the lack of wall space and the lack of controversy, I wasn’t all that impressed with the nudes. I can definitely launch into all sorts of conspiracy theories right about here, but how about I don’t, and instead point out that the second room, filled with still lifes, not only left me slack jawed, but knocked my socks off, left me gasping for air and pretty much set the tone for the rest of the show. All of it is Big Art. And as I have said before, and will say again, big art (especially in a museum) is pretty much guaranteed to be great art. Obviously there are going to be some exceptions to the rule. But when you have the space to present it, the time to explain it, and the budget to do so with a flourish, I don’t think you’re going to get many complaints, nor is it likely that those complaints that do get heard will be given any weight.
I had heard of (and probably seen) some of Robert Rauschenberg‘s combines so I wasn’t shocked that Wesselmann had incorporated televisions, sinks and refrigerators into his paintings. But the way he did it was, unlike the Combines not done in an abstract manner, but completely figuratively. If I were writing some PhD thesis, this would be the place to go off on some 2,000 word aside about how his collages and the combines led to the still lifes, but I’m not so consider yourself saved. My complaint (small, tiny and insignificant, remember this still is an awesome show) is that on the tags, each and every one said “working” whatever – however none of them were working in the museum. Along the lines of a “look, don’t touch” or “trust me on this one” line. It would have been nice to see the light on, or the TV showing the Honeymooners or something along those lines instead of just once again having to take the museum’s word that in fact the antiques were still in working order (when you buy something off of Craigslist or Ebay, do you trust the seller or do you make sure for yourself that everything is in working order?)
Then we get into the space where I start losing track of the number of rooms, and exactly what’s happening, as I just end up trying to concentrate while consistently picking my jaw up off the floor. At this point in his career Mr. Wesselmann has completely bought into the idea of “Go Big or Go Home.” While the previous stuff was large in size, the stuff in these rooms is larger still, and it’s kind of easy, in retrospect to see how he got into sculpture (even though he called it drawing). At this point everything has a very nice gloss on it, there are a bunch of lips, cigarettes, cars, Ray Ban sunglasses (so what are the odds that the producers of Risky Business saw Still Life No. 60? And did John Pasche influence Tom Wesselmann or was it the other way around? Or were they both unaware of each other?) and other paraphernalia representing the luxury life.
The next room is what I’m calling the Steel Drawing/Really Shiny Floor room, and yes, the steel drawings are everything they’re cracked up to be and then some. I don’t know whose idea it was to slap down some seriously reflective floor tiles, but they should be given a raise and whoever it was who said “no you can’t do that in the rest of the show.” Should be demoted to mopping the floor of the Really Shiny Floor room for the duration on the exhibition. The steel drawings play on so many senses, concepts and ideas to begin with – especially the whole thing about how do you handle negative space – that in effect doubling it by making the floor shiny is absolutely brilliant. In my standard issue curmudgeon state, I only ask not only why they didn’t do it for the rest of the show, but in this particular room why they didn’t do it on the walls and ceiling as well.
Then (I think, I’m going to have to go back for a fifth time and write down some stuff instead of just taking it all in by osmosis) we get to the room I love and hate. The museum, for whatever reasons (personally I think it has to do with the need for cash) has decided that any Fine Arts (notice the capital F and the capital A) exhibit not only needs, but requires a musical component. To that end the powers that be have decided to stick a whole bunch of Mr. Wesslemann’s musical noodlings on an endless loop that blares at about 55db as you attempt to look at his sketches and maquettes. Nothing personal, but if Mr. Wesselmann had been even a halfway almost decent composer he would have gotten his due long ago – especially since he apparently (I stuck my fingers in my ears) only wrote country music – after all it ain’t like “A Boy Named Sue,”
or “Okie from Muskogee,”
or “They Ain’t Makin Jews Like Jesus Anymore”
are on a par with either Shakespeare or Moliere. But they are all great country tunes, and head, hands and shoulders better then anything Mr. Wesselman wrote, Brokeback Mountain soundtrack or not (and apparently according to this Wikipedia article the song “I Love Doing Texas with You” sung by Kevin Trainor didn’t even make it into the final cut of the film). I have gone off elsewhere about how the last darn thing the the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts should be doing is music, and I will continue to rail against this dictatorially enforced synesthesia until I either go hoarse or someone else shows up with more money and is able to show the Board of Directors the error of their ways. – Rant, off.
The last room is actually the penultimate room (as the MBAM always makes sure to end an exhibit in a sales annex) and while Mr. Wesselmann’s later works are good and still carry some oomph, I kind of felt that the great stuff had been in the middle. Not to slight his later works, after all it’s really nice reading how he was finally able to reconcile his love of De Kooning and Matisse before he died (I’m probably simplifying things too much) and it ain’t like they’re bad paintings. But like his much earlier collages they only suffer in comparison to his other work.
As per normal, I’ve kind of foamed at the mouth here. The show is more than worth the $15 the museum ostensibly wants to charge, it’s a bargoon at $7.50 which is what they are effectively charging, and I’m 100% certain that if you got as creative as Slim Stealingworth you could actually get the museum to pay you to go see it. In passing, why hasn’t anyone noticed the level of emotional insecurity in Mr. Wesselmann’s pseudonym? In reading the catalogue for the show, I must’ve gone over 10,000 dense words about his art, maybe 20,000, I didn’t count. But while each and every author quoted “Slim Stealingworth,” not a single author transliterated the name which means Not worth an awful lot of money if you steal it. And since Slim Stealingworth was the pseudonym for Mr. Wesselmann personally I venture a guess that the main reason why Mr. Wesselmann’s art isn’t better known is because of his, you want to call it insecurity, his reticence, his shyness, whatever – but if he chose to hide behind a facade that emphasized the lack of value in hos work, it probably ends up in a self serving result, which is unfortunate, because despite whatever he thought about his art and whatever I think about how the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal exhibits it, the stuff he made really is kick-ass.
[Edit, July 31, 2012: I received an email from Maskull Lasserre, about some of the things I wrote, and have added it to the article.]
I’m certain that James D. Campbell is a nice person, loved by many and appreciated by even more. However, I got a couple of bones to pick with him. The reason I’m doing it here is because he has written one of the essays in the catalogue for Mirana Zuger‘s exhibit Vrtlar (Serbo-Croatian for gardener). Actually 33 bones to pick with him. Thirty for his use of the following fancy-ass words (some even made up) in his essay in the catalogue that do nothing to make Ms. Zuger’s paintings understandable. Semiotic, immanent, coeval, chroma, pictographic, gnomic, tactuality (the adverb of tactual is actually tactually) excrescences, mien, amuletic, Voudoum (I don’t think this exists as a word as Google only gives about 79 results), traceries, palimpsests, irremediably, performative, anfractuous, coagula, coruscating, concatenation, gravid, praxis, balletics, fixity, cicatrices, auratic (I’m not sure this one exists either as it only shows up on wikitionary), processual, diasporae (the plural of diaspora is in fact diasporas), lingua adamica, primogenitary and vitrification. Then another bone because he gets the title of the film he cites in the essay wrong, as you can see by watching the film.
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
Dear Chris,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, and3) that poetic or artistic license, visual literacy – and, while we’re at it, basic literacy – never mind “semiotic” and “performative“, are all terms with which a self professed “culture guy” should be comfortable.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.Sincerely,Maskull Lasserre
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.
On Tuesday I went to the auction of (mostly) Canadian Art at Iegor – Hôtel des Encans. It was vaguely frustrating as less than 50% of the lots offered up for sale sold. I don’t know if that was due to reserves being placed to high, or lack of interest, or if it was more indicative of lower quality work, or something else entirely.
I was interested in it because of a bunch of items, specifically two Marcel Barbeau paintings, prints by a Johanne Corno, Alfred Pellan and Jacques Hurtubise, a Zilon painting and a Robert Roussil sculpture. Along the way there was also Vladimir Lebedev print, some Frère Jérôme stuff and three Fernand Toupins that looked kind of funky. Overall Iegor – Hôtel des Encans grossed almost $250,000. (Please take care when quoting my figures, taking notes at an Iegor auction is not an easy thing, there are numerous question marks in my notes and while I would feel comfortable using them as a rough guide, I would not trust them to be the definitive word – there is a reason why M. De Saint Hippolyte is extremely secretive).
The blockbuster, if you can call it that, was a pair of Cloisonné Qilin (Cloisonnéd Qilins?) that went for $30,353.40 with the 20% buyer’s premium and taxes included (all prices quoted here have the 20% buyer’s premium and taxes included). It seems to me that while M. De Saint Hippolyte initially made his name selling Quebecois art, he is more and more moving into the more generalized practice that really doesn’t differentiate objects that cost a chunk of change and takes advantage of the fact that most potential buyers will be first time, only time buyers from him. Emphasizing that while they know the objects in question (such as the Cloisonné Qilin in question) and therefore unlikely to overpay, there are a bunch of practices that M. De Saint Hippolyte can employ to obtain fair market value.
I’m always a large believer in taking full advantage of arbitrage, buying winter coats and boots in the middle of the summer, buying baseball cards of Tampa Bay Rays’ players in Seattle, playing Beach Boys songs in December, etc. In short going against the grain. Shorter still: Contrarian.
So you’d figure that after this much time M. De Saint Hippolyte would have figured out how to maximize sales of and on Quebecois artists. That he would have fostered and promoted collectors of Quebecois art. But as far as I can tell paintings by Stanley Cosgrove, Goodrich Roberts and others of their ilk are still selling for about $5,000, like they were a decade and a half ago. a rising tide is supposed to lift all boats, but if the tide never comes then everything just remains beached. And from where I am sitting Quebecois art has been beached and left out to rot for the longest time. If a new painting by Zilon will cost something like five figure but you can pick up an older pre-loved one for $1,793.61 like someone did on Tuesday, why in anyone’s name would you buy new?
That all being said, I will repeat myself again and say that there is sole pretty gosh darn phenomenal art being made here right now (and in the past as well) but the people whose job and responsibility it is (like M. De Saint Hippolyte, Nathalie Bondil, Simon Blais, and others) to make the rest of the world aware of how amazing, kick-ass and wonderful the art made here is are dropping the ball and screwing around big time.
Pop Shop, the one on top sold for $1,103.76.l Au bord de la mer (on the bottom) did not sell.
And then finally, if you’d like my spreadsheet of prices from the auction, download this.