Is it serendipity or zeitgeist that the same week I visit an exhibition on the limits of language, the New Yorker runs a piece on the death of criticism? Like cab drivers, pay phone manufacturers, and the music industry, I have become irrelevant because of the internet. In an age of charticles, clickbait, and Twitter, the written review has gone the way of the dodo bird. No one reads them, I am told, and the unimpeachable metrics of online journalism (as well as the evaporating advertising revenue that previously kept such obscure endeavours as art criticism afloat) defeat any argument to the contrary. Despite this, I keep writing them. Like an aging rocker who won’t admit his time has passed, I still think they mean something. I’d even argue they are necessary. More than any other media, contemporary art first appears in a vacuum – it is inexplicable, ineffable, unknown – and then words rush in to make sense of it, to begin the conversation that continues throughout the work’s existence, and to draw it into the history that ends just moments before the new thing’s conception.
Chris Curreri, Red Vase Collection
Rui Amaral was wrestling with the vacuum in his role as curator at the privately owned exhibition space Scrap Metal Gallery (perhaps art criticism will also have to rely on wealthy patrons if it is to survive its extinction in the social media market?) when he assembled the five works currently on display in a group exhibition titled We are safe and all is well in our world that makes excellent use of the volume in the venue by not filling it up. In a pamphlet that accompanies the exhibition, he begins with a reminder of “art’s potential to illuminate what’s left out by language” and explains the scene from Todd Haynes’ film Safe that gives the exhibition its title before proceeding with his own written responses to each of the four artists’ works. These narratives tell the stories behind the objects, but before I get to them I start piecing together my own impressions based on what I know and what I see.
Paul P., Untitled, 2004, oil on canvas
I begin by finding connections that tie the exhibition together. All the artists are gay men and their work has at one time or another dealt explicitly with the body; however, there aren’t bodies per se in this show (but, then again, there are). Instead there are holes or openings in Robert Gober’s drawing of one of his sinks and in both Chris Curreri's collection of red glass vessels and the three concrete sculptures that sit heavily on the plastic sheets that carpet the floor. And there are two flowers – one a painting by Paul P., the other a photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe – but the flowers are also stand-ins for the beauty of youth caught in the moment of full bloom. They require the water that’s missing from the sink, the water the vases contained and wait for with their mouths pointed skyward. That life-giving fluid is also blood and Curreri’s encased ceramics simulate the crimson liquid that also passes the infection so inextricably linked to Mapplethorpe’s biography and P.’s subjects.
From there my story gets personal, which is not so relevant for criticism but is essential for appreciating art, for turning it from something inert into an electric charge that illuminates. Words are all I have to contribute to the circuit; they are my means to bring the experience of a darkened room hidden at the end of an industrial strip on the west side of Toronto into the light of day. That’s all I do. Enjoy!
Scrap Metal Gallery: www.scrapmetalgallery.com/
We are safe and all is well in our world continues until April 15.
Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.
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