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Terence Dick
Geoffrey Farmer & Matthew Barney at the AGO | Celia Neubauer at General Hardware
August 26, 2014

The life of an art critic is one filled with regret, guilt, and reward. I felt all three last week on the occasion of my visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario. I regretted that I had, by leaving it so late in the season, missed Scott MacFarland’s Snow, Shacks, Streets, Shrubs exhibition. I knew I’d feel guilty if I didn’t catch works by Geoffrey Farmer and Matthew Barney that had already been up a while and were soon to close. And then, as happens more often than not, I was rewarded in a most unexpected way, not by something I was searching for, but by something I just happened to find.

Wilfredo Prieto, One, 2008, diamond and diamond crystals

Farmer’s piece is an intervention into the AGO’s storied Henry Moore collection. He’s restaged the original layout of the sculptor’s work and added a central phalanx of theatrical lighting and sound effects. I could do without the audio – it’s just a bit too much – but the visuals provide something of a clever remix to the elder artist’s work. You just have to catch it late in the day when the ambient light is at its lowest glare.

Barney’s Drawing Restraint videos – two student works from the late eighties and a recent one from 2010 – make for a short survey of this most stellar of art stars. The trajectory of his career is marked by two points here with the early videos looking grainy and no frills (for added flavour they are displayed on tube monitors – a practice I’m seeing more often with vintage video) while the new work is high definition, professionally shot, and edited according to its ambiguous narrative of evocative architecture eliciting rituals of delving deep into the earth and climbing hubristically high into the sky. It’s worth the time to watch it all, but I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why the installation of these three pieces was so institutionally god-awful with all of them suspended like hospital waiting room TVs in a single barren room.

After that I was left to explore the gallery’s current collection of contemporary work on display with some old standbys like David Altmejd’s The Index and Simon Starling’s own Henry Moore remix providing some hint as to the AGO’s potential. The pleasant surprise was a piece by Wilfredo Prieto that resembles a minimalist pile and, since it is roped off, can seem from a distance like giant circle of soap foam, but is in fact a play on the needle in a haystack but replayed in the context of conspicuous consumption. There is a diamond in that shiny mass but it is lost and/or hidden amongst millions of fakes. Once that seed is planted by the work’s title card, its value can never be completely resolved.

Celia Neubauer, Launch, 2014, oil on canvas

After wrestling with concept-heavy installations, it was a further reward to experience the light and airy abstractions of Celia Neubauer at General Hardware on a day when I was feeling the full effect of gravity. It might have been because she mentioned the cosmic in her artist statement and I had read the phrase “speculative realism” in a recent email, but I kept thinking of science fiction as I moved around the gallery. This admittedly had nothing to do with the actual critique of metaphysics the phrase connotes, but it evokes the imagined worlds that were often depicted on the covers of pulp sci-fi of the sixties when science, psychedelic drugs, and surrealism overlapped in the both the writing and the accompanying imagery. Neubauer exercises a remarkable restraint in only suggesting this in her content as well as in her application of paint in light washes that appear variously as cloud formations, light patterns, and diaphanous architecture. Some of it gets a bit too diaphanous and risks fading into oblivion, but that’s the precipice she’s exploring and I’m more than willing to follow along.

Art Gallery of Ontario:
Geoffrey Farmer: Every day needs an urgent whistle blown into it continues until September 7.
Matthew Barney: Drawing Restraint continues until September 28.

General Hardware Contemporary:
Celia Neubauer: Oblivion continues until August 30.

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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