Review: Will Munro at AGYU.

January 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

History, Glamour, Magic is a retrospective of the work of Will Munro (1975-2010) at the Art Gallery of York University and is truly out, and truly proud of it. Munro was an active figure in the Toronto queer community. During his lifetime he Dj’ed at various venues including Lee’s and El Mocambo, promoted shows and events with his silkscreen posters, and experimented in the visual arts with neon lights, mirror printing and embroidery. Sadly, Munro passed away of brain cancer in May of 2010. This devastating reality in suspended however, while absorbing the true magic of his work.

A walk through the exhibit is like a treasure hunt through the most fabulous attic. Polaroids, posters, quilts…and underwear. He also designed underwear. The exhibit focuses on this aspect of his artistic career by devoting much of their front room to the display and celebration of these one-of-a kind pieces. At the entrance we’re greeted by four mannequin torsos sporting Munro’s skivvies. It is here that we are first introduced to sequins, studs and rhinestones. It will not be the last time we meet. Overhead, undies dangle from clotheslines while the sounds of one of Munro’s previous DJ performances blares in the distance.

But Munro did not simply design underwear; he explored the meanings, significance and history of the undergarment. Munro reveals the history of the invention of men’s briefs during WWI, and the visceral, human reaction to the vulgarity of a pair of recycled underwear. The mixing of the sacred and vulgar in “Black Fag – Henry Rollins vs. Vaginal Cream Davis” (2005), a hand-stitched tapestry of a nun embracing the naked legs of an anonymous man, made with recycled briefs is provocative indeed. The exhibit communicates that Munro’s interest, sometimes verging on fetishism, with underwear went deeper than its simple materiality.

My favourite moment was discovering a critical response to one of Munro’s earlier exhibits in a glass cased display. The critic found Munro’s work extremely vulgar, and wrote that he would never shake Munro’s hand for fear he hadn’t washed it, a slicing comment that epitomizes Munro’s deeper message! Munro aired out his dirty laundry…why don’t we all?

– Anne Deck

History, Glamour, Magic runs until March 11.

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