13 February 2018

TAKASHI MURAKAMI

  FROM THE EDITOR

 

Can an art magazine be all things to all people? I often find myself pondering this question. It’s not rhetorical: art magazines tend to position themselves within surprisingly narrow niches. Some focus exclusively on prominent contemporary art, writing in dense, almost indecipherable, prose. At the other end of the spectrum are magazines that gush, saying little of substance, about artists travelling well-trodden paths. There are publications that concentrate on particular media, like photography or sculpture, or specific groups, such as collectors. Sometimes, as with Galleries West, a strong regional focus drives editorial content.

Summarizing the range of stories in this issue brought the question to mind again. Our cover story is about international art star Takashi Murakami’s show at the Vancouver Art Gallery. But we also look at long-time Alberta artists Peter von Tiesenhausen and Walter May, as well as Brenda Francis Pelkey, who spent her early career in Saskatchewan. And we have stories about younger artists at commercial galleries: Maggie Boyd at Vancouver’s Franc Gallery and aAron munson and compatriots at dc3 Art Projects in Edmonton. My musings are also fuelled by our writers. Some come from a journalistic background and use its formulas effortlessly. Others are artists, curators or academics who delve deep into the work’s ideas and subtexts. I step into this Rubik’s Cube with both journalistic and artistic impulses, working with writers to ensure the text is clear and concise, while ideas are explored with as much depth as short-form writing permits.

Our next issue offers yet more diversity. We are experimenting with a Q-and-A format with Winnipeg artist Ufuk Gueray. Former Winnipegger Sarah Swan is writing from her new home in Yellowknife about Margaret Nazon, who has been beading images from the Hubble Space Telescope since 2009. Sarah made a great pitch: “Some of them are really marvellous – intricate and dazzling,” she says. “What interests me, as a writer, is how through her art one remote place calls out to another remote place – Tsiigehtchic to deep space.” The poetry of that image made it easy to say yes. Other work that caught our attention? The Surrey Art Gallery’s exhibition of art from Indigenous communities in India.

All things to all people? Not quite. But we’re trying.

Until next time,

 

MASTHEAD

13 February 2018

Volume 3 Number 4
Copyright 2018

ISSN 2561-3316

Galleries West Digital is an online magazine published every second Tuesday to promote and advance the visual arts. Launched in 2016, it replaces the print version of Galleries West magazine, which covered art and artists in Western Canada for 15 years. Our award-winning website, gallerieswest.ca, the repository for all content, is an open archive of information about the arts in communities large and small throughout Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columba as well as Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

Editor Portia Priegert
editor@gallerieswest.ca
250-382-0567 (Victoria)
Toll Free 866-415-3282
Consulting Editor Jeffrey Spalding
Reviews Editor reviews@gallerieswest.ca
Contributors Mary-Beth Laviolette, Marcus Miller, Anne Pratt, Lissa Robinson, John Thomson
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Tom Tait
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Takashi Murakami, "Tan Tan Bo Puking - a.k.a. Gero Tan," 2002, acrylic on canvas mounted on board (private collection, courtesy of Galerie Perrotin, Paris, ©2002 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd., all rights reserved; photo by Adam Reich)

COVER STORY

Takashi Murakami in Vancouver

Whimsy and social commentary mark Japanese art star Takashi Murakami’s exhibition, The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg. The Vancouver Art Gallery snagged this coup, a blockbuster retrospective of 59 sculptures and paintings, for the show’s only Canadian stop in a three-city North American tour. The title? The octopus does indeed eat its own leg in order to survive when it is diseased or injured. And, likewise, Murakami wants to withstand the vagaries of mass popularity and critical approval. “It’s a self-deprecating reference,” he says. “I’m constantly repeating ideas and characters from old paintings, morphing them into something that looks new but is really recycled.” Ever the jokester, Murakami plays down his own importance. The exhibition, which continues until May 26, is arranged chronologically. Visitors can trace Murakami’s progression for themselves, starting with monochromatic Nihonga works, traditional Japanese paintings on paper, and moving through colour-field painting and Pop Art. He includes his cartoonish alter ego, Mr. DOB, a mercurial Japanese Mickey Mouse who bares his teeth in Klein’s Pot A but becomes cute and benign when printed on T-shirts. Riotous colour in the Superflat style anchors the exhibition. The term was coined by Murakami to refer to the flat, two-dimensional imagery found in manga and anime, early influences in his life. In a broader sense, it refers to the levelling between high and low art. Murakami sees no difference between the two, and calls the Western penchant for separating them rigid and pretentious. His Superflat-era paintings are people pleasers. Tan Tan Bo Puking – a.k.a. Gero Tan is a frenzy of movement and colour. Flowers, flowers, flowers is more controlled, subdued and, well, happy. Nearby, a wall is devoted to his commercial enterprises, notably Graduation, his cover art for a Kanye West album, and a medium-sized aluminum and carbon-fibre sculpture called Kanye Bear, which commands attention. More ►
– John Thomson

Maggie Boyd, "Grape 2" and "Grape 3," 2018, earthenware ceramics, 7" x 15" x 7.5" and 12" x 7" x 9"

FIVE THINGS

Maggie Boyd: Grapes

1

Maggie Boyd has a clever exhibition concept. Her show, at Vancouver’s Franc Gallery until Feb. 23, is called Grapes. Each of her 22 earthenware vessels is titled as a numbered grape. Yet every work is deeply singular. Placed together they become a loose agglomeration, but never quite a bunch. Boyd uses humour and irreverent visual puns as she decants humanity’s troubles into the age-old form of the vase, pulling from many ceramic traditions to critique history, gender relations and contemporary dystopia. There’s a wry quality to her content, to be sure, but these sour grapes are rendered palatable by her playfulness. In Grape 2, for instance, the vase offers a front page from the so-called Times, with a banner headline that reads “Typhoon.” Below are images of wind-whipped trees, a staple of the wild-weather stories dominating the news as climate change tightens its global grip. Sticking out of the vase are fronds of desiccated greenery that etch a similar arc as the trees. I find myself thinking of the images of U.S. President Donald Trump on a windy day, his long comb-over forming that same arc. Typhoons and buffoons, mutual blowhards creating disaster? Perhaps I’m venturing too far down a whimsical branch. But then on the same shelf, consider another piece, Grape 3. It looks like a rock, though it’s actually flatter, more a slab positioned atop an elegant base. Is it a sly reference to the newsmakers or the news consumers? Given Boyd’s propensity to use mirrors, encouraging viewers to look back at themselves, it might be both. Touché. More ►
– Portia Priegert

 

aAron munson, “Isachsen 07,” 2017 (courtesy of the artist and dc3 Art Projects)

FIVE THINGS

Isachsen: Leaning Toward Darkness

2

Edmonton artist aAron munson is no stranger to depression. His project, One Hundred Attempts to Make a Film About Depression, reveals an artist finely tuned to the vagaries that can make life seem unbearable. In this – as with his latest project, Isachsen – he is following in his father’s footsteps. Munson is haunted by the struggles of his father, who, as a 19-year-old, spent a year at the Isachsen weather station on Ellef Ringnes Island in Nunavut. Isachsen has the worst weather in Canada, rating 99 out of 100 on the Climate Severity Index. It’s so far north that you look south to see the Northern Lights. And it’s dark 24 hours a day for three months each winter. Here, with the wind howling in his ears, his father kept a diary. “I have no ambition to do anything, sleep in fits and starts, don’t give a damn about living,” he wrote in 1975. Curious about the scar on his father’s psyche, munson visited the abandoned station with a guide in 2016, spending a week shooting photographs and video, and recording a wind so disturbing he wore noise-cancelling headphones to maintain his equilibrium. His stunning backlit photographs form the core of the Isachsen exhibition, on view until Feb. 17 at dc3 Art Projects in Edmonton. Additional works by Alberta artists Dara Humniski, Gary James Joynes and David Hoffos round out the show into an immersive installation, giving it full power as an extended metaphor for depression. More ►
– Anne Pratt

 

Walter May, "Look Again," 2018, installation view at Nickle Galleries, University of Calgary (photo by Dave Brown, LCR Photo Services)

FIVE THINGS

Walter May: Look Again

3

Calgary artist Walter May’s retrospective, Look Again, invites visitors to do just that with a rare glimpse of some 50 individual works and series from his quirky and prolific practice. The University of Calgary’s Nickle Galleries has mounted a wide-ranging show that includes sculptures, drawings and photographs from the 1970s onward by May, a longtime instructor at the Alberta College of Art and Design. Using discarded objects and salvaged materials, May creates sculptures in varying scale that accentuate or play with balance, movement, weight, constraint, precision or growth. Things like wooden beams, tree branches, metal sheets, wooden canes and tool handles are assembled into poetic fusions of the natural and the manufactured. Many sculptures in the show, on view until April 28, incorporate warped lumber rendered dysfunctional for any utilitarian purpose, but transformed in ways that evoke new meaning or tell a story. May’s early drawings – often in juxtaposition with the actual source material, often sticks, but also a bear claw and a squirrel tail – demonstrate the persistence of his ongoing preoccupation. For instance, a 1978 work, Sinuous Curve and Golden Rectangle, features a pencil drawing of a curved bamboo stick tied with a length of elastic band to create a bow-like form. The model it is based on is suspended over the drawing. The tension and implied movement created by such hybrids is echoed throughout the exhibition. More ►
– Lissa Robinson

 

Brenda Francis Pelkey, "Paul Smith: Grinder," 1988, silver print on paper, 22" x 18" (collection of the University of Saskatchewan, gift of the artist)

FIVE THINGS

Brenda Francis Pelkey Documents Reality

4

A retrospective survey by Brenda Francis Pelkey, one of Canada’s leading photo-based artists, is a lesson in contemporary art history. Just consider her materials: starting with black-and-white silver-based prints on paper in the 1980s, she moved into saturated, shiny Cibachromes in the 90s. Paper gave way to aluminum in the Naughts. And now, she uses inkjet on bonded aluminum. Her latest pictures float on the walls with no frames – the display standard for contemporary, large-format photography today. That particular form of display can be read as a symptom of photography’s struggle with its tenuous grasp on its own materiality, which goes some way to explain why photo-based work, in the late 20th century and beyond, became the medium of choice for critical artistic practice. But of course, it’s the indexical nature of the photographic image that really accounts for its hold on critical discourse, and it’s what drew Francis Pelkey to the camera. Unlike painting or writing, the photograph is a mechanical reproduction: its subject was actually there. The exhibition, on view until April 15 at the College Art Galleries at the University of Saskatchewan, where Pelkey taught for a decade before moving to the University of Windsor, opens with her early documentary work. The Foundry series (1987-1989), is full of tropes: black and white, exposed film rebate (a sign of the means of production), real light, real people (the proletariat): reality! And even though she went on in subsequent work to question the truth-claims of the tradition, she never really left it. Francis Pelkey’s entire oeuvre should be considered as documentary. More ►
– Marcus Miller 

 

Peter von Tiesenhausen, "All Things Being Equal," 2018, found and made objects on wooden shelves (includes works by other artists and objects from private collectors, including Christine and Murray Quinn, and the artist; photo by Charles Cousins)

FIVE THINGS

Peter von Tiesenhausen: Songs of Pythagoras

5

“This is really an excellent exhibition!” This one short sentence is repeated every time my thoughts turn to Songs of Pythagoras, Peter von Tiesenhausen’s impressive survey-style show at the Art Gallery of Alberta. On view in Edmonton until May 6, it excels not only because of the rich works on display, but also because of the way the show is installed. With only a few hiccups, I was taken through a darkened landscape of salvaged materials, rudimentary objects large and small, and videos with moody, dissonant sound. The artist’s enormous effort is evident throughout. Axes are definitely a favourite instrument, as are hammers, rusty nails, a pair of metal cutters and battered sheets of plywood. There’s evidence too of the hot scorch of fire, making for a kind of a Sturm und Drang art practice involving the Germanic concept of blood, sweat and tears. Von Tiesenhausen is one of Alberta’s most physically engaged artists, an opportunity afforded by his commitment to working in often-distant places with minimal technology. More ►
– Mary-Beth Laviolette

 

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, "The Vineyards at Cagnes," 1908

NEWS ROUNDUP

Impressionists in Winnipeg and Other News

Works by some big names in Impressionism – including Monet, Degas, Renoir and Cassatt – will be at the Winnipeg Art Gallery this summer.  Two shows, French Moderns: Monet to Matisse, 1850-1950, with more than 60 pieces from the Brooklyn Museum in New York,  and The Impressionists on Paper, featuring some 20 works from the National Gallery of Canada, will be on view in Winnipeg from June 16 to Sept. 9. The gallery says it’s Manitoba’s first-ever major display of French Impressionist paintings and drawings. Other artists in the show in include Cézanne, Manet and Matisse. Early bird tickets are on sale now through the gallery.

Meanwhile, in other news:

 

 




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