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Toronto
Terence Dick
Allison Katz at Oakville Galleries
January 24, 2018

Do other countries regard artists who establish themselves abroad with a mixture of awe and disdain? Or is that just a Canadian thing? Or maybe it’s just a Toronto thing? Those independent spirits who ditch the local labour and start their careers in far flung locales before returning to town at a higher rung than an emerging sort would normally deserve receive a rightful measure of respect, but there’s also a hint of resistance in their reception. Part of it is the stark reminder that Canada (and especially Toronto) is far from the centre of the universe when it comes to the art world.



Allison Katz, kidding, 2018, wall painting

Allison Katz doesn’t necessarily merit that response, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear it directed towards her. After finishing her undergraduate degree at Concordia University, she headed to Columbia for her Master’s and then decamped to London to set up base. Her CV has far more references to Europe than Canada and even though her work has appeared in a couple Toronto group shows at commercial galleries her new exhibition at Oakville Galleries is her biggest effort to date on our national scene and could be construed as a homecoming celebration.

In a bold move, she has taken on both of the gallery’s venues and stocked them with a collection of work that covers such a disparate range of media and styles that her solo exhibition feels like a group show. From Photoshopped posters to ceramic plates to a sand drawing to the paintings she is best known for, Katz makes it clear that she is less interested in the material she works with and more obsessed with the ways in which meaning is generated through different combinations of elements. It’s no secret that she thinks of painting in terms of language and a semiotically-inclined vibe infuses the exhibition as it regards representation revealed through identity and difference.



Allison Katz, Diary w/o Dates, 2018, installation view

At the Gairloch Gardens site, there is a wall drawing based on a pun while the floorwork made of sand riffs on the artist’s signature (a motif that regularly appears in her practice). Recombinant posters address the advertising of art – specifically this artist’s art and this particular exhibition – in the public sphere (but they work best when they are actually out in the world, as with one that appears outside the gallery’s other venue at the city centre) and a collection of painted plates interlaces the kind of classical imagery you’d expect to find on a set of ancient dishes with the artist’s personal iconography as it has developed over her years of being an artist. Suffice to say, a certain degree of visual literacy is required to navigate the whole.

Just like the way words only make sense within a sentence (hence the inclusion of sentences as examples in dictionary definitions), there aren’t any single paintings in the exhibition. For Katz, each painting is linked to the others in a chain of signification. She makes use of the architecture of the gallery space at the Centennial Square location to emphasize this. Twelve paintings are hung on the sides of a dodecahedron in the centre of the room so the viewer’s relationship to the works is inverted: instead of standing in the middle and taking in the entire series, one has to circle around the column and slowly piece together the whole a painting or two at a time. Calendars and clocks are evoked, but any overarching order is circumvented as often as it is invited. The challenge of reading this puzzle parallels the possible reception of the artist herself: does one respond with awe as to the exhibition’s success at holding itself together or with scepticism as to its consolidated meaning? That’s exactly what you’re supposed to wonder.


Allison Katz: Diary w/o Dates continues until March 18.
Oakville Galleries: http://www.oakvillegalleries.com/
The gallery is accessible.


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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