Michelle Furlong and Dean Baldwin have plotted a narrative stroll through Parisian Laundry – from an over-lit and bustling piazza upstairs to a spotlit card room in the basement. On a crowded opening night, their double-exhibition generated as many narratives as there were strollers. The descent and resurfacing called to mind the importance of risk and transgression in both relational artworks like his and in more solitary studio practices like hers.
Dean Baldwin, Fiasco
Baldwin’s Fiasco includes eight colour photographs, two food stands, and a fountain made out of hacked foam blocks, ceramic heads, vintage Coleman coolers, bits of broken glass (to keep pigeons out) and bottles of red and white wine (to draw visitors in). One stray wine jug sits in the corner. A regular feature in authentic Roman fountains, this knock-off is decorated with skull-and-dagger-type skateboard stickers, roughly the same vintage as the coolers. The entire installation drips with nostalgia – the refined nostalgia of art historians, the carefully guarded nostalgia of a waning Italian tourist industry, and the barely earned nostalgia of ageing skate punks. Over the course of the opening, the fountain sprung several leaks. Made after a six-month residency in Rome and installed in the first excruciating days of our Trump-era, it captures what declining empires look like as they struggle to keep up appearances.
The nearby photos are luscious and comical by turns. Prosciutto Melone, Hadrian’s Villa is beautifully layered with an arrangement of sun-kissed melons in the foreground, close enough to crave, and an enchanting ruin at the foot of some rolling Tivoli hills in the middle and background. All these offerings, culinary and touristic, sit vulnerably under a heavy grey sky. A Mound of Butter (After Antoine Vollon, 1885) glistens with verisimilitude, as it did for the under-recognized French realist named in the photo’s title. Baldwin, like Vollon, invites us to think about physical and social values that shuttle between food and art – from texture, colour, and shape to taste, manners, and decorum.
Michelle Furlong, Divining Inflexions
Upon entering the gallery’s so-called “bunker,” the first work you see in Furlong’s Divining Inflexions is Of a Sky – a crumpled canvas, lovingly painted with even clouds in a Super Mario-blue sky. It’s a signal that you’ve left Baldwin’s well-mannered, convivial space to plunge into a darker, private and brooding one, where the sky has fallen and sunglasses are for poker not tourism. The room is cluttered with oversized, painted playing cards in various configurations. Metaphors for artistic decision-making of both the tactical and the magical kind abound.
Vaguely faceted hunks of cards hang in the centre of the room surrounded by dwarfed paintings of cards and black walking sticks. Standing alone, or huddled in conspiratorial groups, the sticks are capped with black and white balls that look like eight-balls without eights or, more creepily, eyes without pupils. The hanging Weaver’s Spindle shows a mess of cards on its surfaces – piled, scattered, and overlapped. Imagined flat on a table, freshly dealt before the game, or thrown down in exasperation after a fold, the cards encode hope and devastation. But dented, cinched, and strung-up, they are more than just symbols of chance. Decorative backs and readable fronts flow seamlessly into each other to make choppy volumes and impossible suits.
The canvases are prepared with just this violation in mind. Bearing traces of Furlong’s struggle with materials, surfaces, and content, the pieces call up a whole history of arguments with painting. Modernist protests against illusionism are condensed in the work – from the monochrome to Lucio Fontana’s slashed canvases and postmodern reckonings with figuration, from Janet Werner’s adventures in folding fashion photos to Joanne Tod’s misadventures In the Kitchen.
After an hour or so in the basement, I walked back upstairs to find that the wine had run out. The fountain was leaking out of control. Curious stragglers had stepped over the pigeon fences to peer closely at details and do a sweep for more wine. A painter who had recently moved to Montreal from Toronto thought ahead. With a fitting display of bad manners and generosity, he served wine from the night’s last bottle. It had been tucked away in his black leather jacket for just this moment.
Parisian Laundry: http://www.parisianlaundry.com/en
Dean Baldwin: Fiasco continues until March 25.
Michelle Furlong: Divining Inflexions continues until March 25.
Tammer El-Sheikh is a writer and teacher based in Montreal. His art criticism has appeared in Parachute, Canadian Art, ETC and C Magazine.
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