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Toronto
Terence Dick
2017 Critic's Picks
December 20, 2017

Tumultuous might be too gentle a descriptor for this past year. It began with soul searching about the American election and ended with a lesson for my daughter about how power corrupts. She is reading Animal Farm and my wife started a doctorate in Environmental Studies with a focus on how beauty can provide hope in an age of environmental despair. When Trump was elected, I reserved my greatest dread for how much damage he would inflict on the planet. Tax cuts come and go, but the Earth is drastically close to a state beyond recovery. The sinking feeling that we have already sunk past this point is one we all manage too well to ignore. Our complicity in a global mass homicide-suicide pact is so much part of the zeitgeist that I saw two exhibitions this year with two different artists who dramatized it in the same way. Both cut right to the bone. Julieta Maria’s Embrace at Sur Gallery and Jonathas de Andrade’s O peixe (The Fish) at The Power Plant depict fish slowly suffocating as they are cradled in human arms. In the former (and earlier) instance, it is the artist, while the latter features fishermen in a faux documentary setting. The wordless reserve of the handlers and the reflexively gaping mouth of the sacrifice are as disturbing as anything I imagine was included in the Guggenheim’s controversial Art and China After 1989 exhibition. Maybe shock art is what’s needed to shake us out of our self-destructive stupor. Maybe these two videos should be permanently installed on the Jumbotrons of Dundas Square.



Siwa Mgoboza, The Department of Afrocorrectional Services II, 2016, inkjet on Hahnemule photo rag

After decrying the doomed state of the world, it helps to remember how wonderful it can be. Art has always been a window onto that wonder and the spring launch of Matter Gallery opened that window a little larger for those of us who don’t get out of the country much. The local gallery without any local artists established a northern bulwark on the formerly warehouse and rehearsal studio-dominated Geary Avenue, which is now in the coffee shop and art gallery phase of gentrification. Dedicated to exhibiting artists from unrepresented regions of the planet (that is, not Europe and North America), gallerists Lara Morton and Zack Pospiezynski have already brought guests from Iran, Turkey, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and South Africa to Toronto. In addition to the art on the walls, the cultural exchange that comes from their artists’ performances, public talks, and studio visits can only inject some much needed international variety into the Canadian art scene.

As for the individual works from this past year that continue to stick with me, I’d flag Public Studio’s quad-as-riot-site proposal for The Art Museum’s Making Models exhibition as an appropriately angry response to the present political moment, Derya Akay’s lath installation/intervention in HERE at the Aga Khan Museum as an example of an imagination in overdrive, Amanda Boulos at Richard Rhodes Dupont Projects as a reminder of how powerful painting can be, and Maggie Groat’s installation in Illusion of Process at the AGYU as an instance of my favourite kind of maximalism.



Ronnie Clarke, READING TOGETHER

After pessimism and optimism comes one suggestion for the coming year: artists and curators, stop including so many words in your exhibitions. I am saying this as a writer who loves visual art: too much writing overdetermines your work and leaves the viewer reading when they should be looking. For example, Ydessa Hendeles’ solo exhibition at The Power Plant with its voluminous footnotes, Every. Now. Then. at the AGO with its intrusive wall texts, and the 2017 University of Toronto MVS Studio Program Graduating Exhibition at The Art Museum with its book-length text-works: each one was chock full of things to see, but weighted down by verbiage. Some of it is explanatory and some is art made with words – neither of which I’m opposed to entirely. However, the shift toward writing needs a corrective, so I’m hoping to see more visuals in my visual art next year. I can read at home and prefer to search out contextualization rather than have it thrust in my face.

Of course, rules always include exceptions and I’d be the first to eat my words if you pointed to Deanna Bowen’s multi-layered script-based project at Mercer Union and Ronnie Clarke’s ingenious cardboard and iPhone VR text piece READING TOGETHER. But in general, have faith in pictures and leave the words to me.


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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