Three Takes on Art Toronto 2011.

November 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

From October 27th -31st over a hundred fine art galleries and Canada’s foremost art organizations were assembled at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for the 12th annual Toronto International Art Fair (TIAF). Ranging from 13 different countries, the participating galleries exhibited the work of some of the world’s leading contemporary artists. However, the fair was dominated by an intense concentration of Canadian artists allowing for an extensive viewing of the country’s art market.

At the entrance foyer one is presented with Achim Zeman’s brilliant pink installation “Strud@l.” However, it is not until the escalators are ascended to the main floor that one can comprehend the magnitude and breadth of works presented this year. The viewer is immediately greeted by a man in a top hat and invited to enter Kent Monkman’s installation “The Art Game,” which is featured as a special project for the event. This labyrinth of a work both celebrates and critiques the art world and its characters. The artist, the dealer, the collector and the curator are featured in this witty “funhouse” that effectively prepares attendees for the market that they are about to enter.

Achim Zeman

If lacking direction due to the sheer overwhelming number of booths, the viewer could choose to participate in one of the self-guided tours curated by William Huffman. Though these tours provide a good thematic pathway to engage with and provide one with a range of galleries and works, they are hard to follow due to the many distractions you pass along the way.

The Angell Gallery from Toronto gave the viewer a true taste of the city’s contemporary art. They proudly presented Toronto based artists like Kim Dorland and Alex McLeod who recently exhibited in their gallery. The works of the two artists, amongst others displayed in the galleries space, nicely complimented each other. Though of entirely different style, they both utilized otherworldly landscapes.
Markus Linnebrink
The vibrant display at the booth of ftc. Berlin from Germany enabled one to encounter the work of European artists. The epoxy resin drip works of Markus Linnenbrink stood out with their unique materiality and rainbow colour pallets. Art Mûr from Montréal had a particularly interesting display with works from their upcoming 15th Anniversary group show, “Please Lie to Me.” With indescribable objects like Renato Garza Cervera’s man-skin rug Of Genuine Contemporary Beast VI (2007) and Sarah Garzoni pocket knife beetle, Homo Faber (2006), the booth invoked the feeling of entering a cabinet of curiosities.

– Sophia Farmer

Kent Monkman

Art fairs have often raised divergent reactions, basically depending on whether you think they’re really about the art or the fair. This year the problem was foregrounded by the Kent Monkman installation that greeted viewers once they made their way past security. His piece, complete with a carnival barker, was a mockery of art hype that led viewers through a tiny labyrinth full of empty windows, mirrors and caricatures. The satire wasn’t subtle. Stepping out of it you could stumble straight into the great white labyrinth of the fair itself, awash in a sea of plaid shirts, abstract paintings that looked like plaid, tight sweater vests and hideous scarves.

The fair was larger than last year. Many of the gallery spaces felt more cramped. There were a few big ticket Canadian items. There was a mini Molinari show, a tiny Tousignant, and the Windsor Gallery paid all of its attention to Attila Richard Lukacs’ recent abstract work, including a sculpture. There was also a small Chuck Close retrospective and a tight little group show from one of my favorite Montreal galleries, Art Mûr.

Renato Garza Cervera

The best reason to attend these things, however, is for the eavesdropping. Aside from watching dealers pace and tickle people’s palms, you actually get to see and listen to the people who buy art and find out why they do it. (I’ve always thought pieces in museums should be equipped with photo albums of their former owners and what they used to do with the works. I don’t say this facetiously.) This may be a crude, but in a very real way, it tells you far more about what works tend to amount to than the press releases or curatorial statements you’re handed. Some of the more popular topics this year were whether or not ‘it does it’ the way they like; whether it has enough blue to match the couch or do they have to have it re-upholstered; how much they can resell it for in Europe if the Euro remains stable; whether this was cheaper than the antiques fair and whether they’d ever seen this or that artist interviewed on television.

– Matthew Purvis

Kent Monkman

The addition of a featured lecture by Peabody Essex curator Trevor Smith, entitled, ‘The Museum in the Present Tense’ to Art Toronto provided an interesting perspective on the works on view. Smith discussed the challenges of placing contemporary art in a meaningful dialogue with art and culture of the past. He dismissed the notion of a ‘contemporary art room’ or space that is inclusive of only the ‘contemporary.’ This idea resonated with me as I viewed the gallery collections on display. Some of the international galleries relied on their big name artists to attract interest, while others chose a specific theme or style to create a uniform ‘contemporary’ collection. However, the Corkin Gallery was able to capture a perfect balance with their thoughtful and unexpected mix of contemporary and historical pieces. These works were unique in their own right, but still interacted with each other in the way that Smith advocates arts of different eras and cultures should.

Iain Baxter’s lightboxes were among the most subtly provocative pieces in the Corkin’s collection and consisted of illuminated photographs of urban and rural scenes that one could easily overlook as mundane. This reverential treatment questions what we as viewers find inspiring and beautiful – the suburban Ontario strip mall is suddenly seen in a new light when the neon signs are strikingly reflected and illuminated on the wet pavement.

Displayed across from these late twentieth century lightboxes, was a 1934 gelatin silver print by photographer Margaret Bourke-White. Though completely static and brown washed, it is also an image of the ‘contemporary’ – that is, what was contemporary in 1934. When compared to Baxter’s image of a strip mall in southern Ontario, Bourke-White’s photograph forces us to question what we understand ‘contemporary’ to be. Smith dismisses the notion that a ‘modernist rupture’ renders works of the past irrelevant to what is now contemporary. Instead, in contemplating Baxter’s chosen imagery of everyday scenery, one might consider the evolution from Bourke-White’s emphasis on the extraordinary, to Baxter’s interpretation of the ordinary as extraordinary.

– Georgia Erger

Photos by Sophia Farmer.

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