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Terence Dick
October 29, 2009

More navel-gazing from the art critics this week as a gang of them (plus actual artists and collectors and directors and the like) assembled in a conference room at the Toronto Convention Centre to hear Adrian Searle, art critic for the Guardian, hold forth on all that he/we do.

This is a picture of Adrian Searle.

He didn’t say anything too revelatory (despite the pronouncements of some, we’re not prophets), just the usual stuff around the competing forces at work in the media: the readers, the bottom line, your own integrity, and the unresolved meaning of the work you are criticizing. The one point he made that struck a chord with me was about the importance (and inevitability) of ambivalent reviews. Sure, everyone likes the triumphs and the disasters but some of the most intriguing work elicits a less dramatically conclusive response (particularly when working to a daily or weekly deadline) and requires time and contemplation. In fact, some of my favourite work is that which changes over time in my understanding. It seems much more conclusive to have come to appreciate that which one initially rejected (or, at least, didn’t “get”).

Searle ticked off some people by repeatedly referring to the AGO (the gallery he visited earlier that day) as the National Gallery. He then stuck his foot in his mouth again, talking about the Ydessa “Hernandez” Gallery with Ms. Hendeles sitting in the audience before him. He made up for this faux pas by gushing over her curatorial acumen and favouring her lack of instruction through wall panels and explanatory texts over the far too obvious strategies of the “National Gallery” (aka the AGO). He wondered aloud why there were crowds at the latter and few people at the former, attributing it to the challenges of Hendeles’ presentation. A friend later pointed out that it might also be that she doesn’t advertise and is only open one day a week.

Jacques Bilodeau, A Burrowing (though not the version at TIAF)

At least someone in this city was appreciated, because Searle ended off his talk with a dig at the less than stellar sight to behold upstairs at the Toronto International Art Fair (aka Art Toronto 2009). By the time I left, I’d heard so much griping about the event that I felt I had to find something to love in it (I’m always one to root for the underdog). Most of my time during my brief visit was spent running into people I knew and having the type of small-talk-with-constant-over-the-shoulder-glances conversations that are typical in such scenes. But after browsing an incomplete selection of booths, I only felt compelled to linger at that of Montreal’s Joyce Yahouda Gallery because they had made the risky decision to display only one work. Jacques Bilodeau’s A Burrowing is a giant felt tube suspended from the rafters by a series of motors that twist it into a variety of shapes. Visitors were allowed burrow into its soft confines, momentarily transported from the noisy convention centre into a warm and fuzzy womb. It made me think about art and not the market, for which I was grateful.

An Te Liu

Later in the week, an exhibition at the north end of the city made me think about art and a different sort of market. The Leona Drive Project is a group intervention into five bungalows slated for demolition (to be replaced with a new housing development) curated by York University academic Janine Marchessault and OCAD professor Michael Prokopow. The unlikely location just off Young and Sheppard (former neighbourhood of MOCCA) is perfect for this reclamation of public space by a well-selected bunch of jokers and memoirists. An Te Liu’s gigantic Monopoly piece is the immediate attention grabber and stands out for its simplicity (not a bad thing) and playfulness.

Arbour Lake Sghool (courtesy Sean Marshall’s flickr page)

Next door, Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins have crashed a car through the house’s front window while Calgary’s Arbour Lake Sghool have cut open the side of the building and created a makeshift clubhouse/shanty town in the backyard and down into the ravine with assorted garbage and house-guts. The childlike exuberance with which they’ve created their own world puts me in the mind of my own backyard developments back in the day crossed with images of post-apocalyptic survival strategies that seem increasingly realistic (not to mention actual in present day shanty towns the world over). Further down the street, 9 Leona Drive is open for visitors and includes Richard Fung’s documentary of a local resident who recounts her early days living just across the street from farm land and Thomas Blanchard’s frighteningly disorienting light and sound installation in the basement.

The unfortunate thing about this ambitious exhibition is that it’s only open until Saturday, so don’t blink or you’ll miss it. Another element of their response to the community surrounding them is a series of on-site lectures with An Te Liu (1pm) and John Greyson (6pm) speaking later today, a performance by from Earl Haig Secondary School Theatre Arts students (who also contributed a work) at 4pm tomorrow, and Christine Davis (1pm) on Saturday. I feel no ambivalence in saying it is worth the trip.

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, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog.

Toronto International Art Fair:

Leona Drive Project:

The Leona Drive Project continues until October 31.



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Posted by sinara, on 2009-10-29 11:35:39
This is wonderful!
congratularions fro such an original show.