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Steffanie Ling
Brent Wadden at the Contemporary Art Gallery
February 21, 2018

Two Scores, Brent Wadden’s solo-exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery, was recently subject to a bit of a walloping by Andrew Witt in Artforum. He opened his review with “Wadden’s large woven geometric abstractions repel one’s attention,” and concluded, “Their appearance insists we consider this object not as a painting or picture, but as a dust collector.” Though Witt’s review was read as a negative one, he told me that the attention repulsion of non-complementary colours was like Bridget Riley (“a compliment!”) and dust collecting is part of an important tradition (Duchamp’s Large Glass). His praise comes from a fairly submerged knowledge of art history, but it is consistent with how Wadden frequently invokes his training in painting and conceptualism at NSCAD in order to provide a genealogy for his practice. So, it’s not as damning as we all thought.

Brent Wadden, Score 1 (Salt Spring), 2018 (photo: Michael Love)

Even though Witt wouldn’t admit to raking Wadden over the coals, I was excited by a deviation from the norm. Wadden is somewhat of a darling weaver-painter. The majority of responses to his work have lauded it based on the synthesis of three main ideas: 1) He is a painter who paints by weaving. 2) He is an unskilled weaver. 3) If it’s poor craft, it’s good art. The criticism I’ve encountered teems with empathy. The casual nature and improvised compositions of the weavings are imbued with endearing mistakes. By repurposing secondhand material, he speaks to his working class background of “making-do.” But my encounters with the large scale, geometric abstractions in Two Scores signify anxious middle class experiences with design.

Score 1 (Salt Spring) is woven from yarn obtained in a single purchase from a Salt Spring Island weaver. At seven and half meters wide, it is described as monumental, but less so than the quad of long narrow panels that loom (no pun intended) over the viewer. Gazing up at the identical striped compositions, available in four muted palettes, evoked a sense of decision fatigue at the interior design showroom or vacillating before a table of sweaters at United Colors of Benetton. Score 2 (16 Afghans) exposes a fairly clinical lens on the soft surfaces of secondhand blankets that Wadden purchased and subsequently took apart and reincarnated as a larger-than-your-average-area-rug textile item placed on the floor. The requisite circumnavigation of this work brings it closer in operation to conceptual furniture (that which privileges looking at and thinking about over living with) than weaving or painting.

In a comment to BeatRoute, Wadden remarked, “I usually just keep all the mistakes, as it’s a total pain in the ass to remove them.” In Canadian Art, it was noted that Wadden periodically changes his loom to destabilize any skilling taking place between him and the craft. This investment in remaining an amateur fixes a homely authenticity to a practice valued on the patina of human error. Wadden prefers to align this work with the history of painting rather than craft. As a painter, he continues to receive slaps on the back for conceptual merit drawn on his commitment to a passable craft.

Brent Wadden: Two Scores continues until March 25.
Contemporary Art Gallery:
The gallery is accessible.

Steffanie Ling's essays, criticism, and art writing have been published alongside exhibitions, in print, and online in Canada, the United States, and Europe. She is an editor of Charcuterie and co-curator at VIVO Media Arts Centre. Her books are Nascar (Blank Cheque, 2016) and Cuts of Thin Meat (Spare Room, 2015). She is Akimblog’s Vancouver correspondent and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram @steffbao.



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