I started off my rounds this week with a visit to the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation. Rumours had been circulating that she was shutting the operation down to concentrate on her international independent curatorial projects. I also heard that she sold the building. Both were reasons to be depressed as her exhibitions are exceptionally generous and unparalleled in their selection and arrangement. I guess the rest of the world is cluing into her unique talents (see the latest issue of Frieze for evidence), but she’s found the time to re-open her last exhibition - once called Dead! Dead! Dead!, now re-titled Strait-Jacket – with some works removed and a couple new pieces added to change the flavour of the stew.
Barbara Kruger, You are seduced by the sex appeal of the inorganic, 1982
The entry and main chamber is still based on the Punch and Judy puppet show. Aside from a swatch of Robert Gober wallpaper that throws a spanner into any of my current theories as to what the hell is going on with this current collection of objects, the hall on your left that leads to Joan Crawford’s charm bracelets, an old favourite Pippilotti Rist installation (the one with the girl smashing car windows with a flower), and some classic Barbara Kruger works takes up a feminist narrative with a side of violence (Rist is obvious, Crawford’s got her reputation, and Kruger announces, “Your gaze hits the side of my face.”). If you take the other path and walk past the creepy array of vintage (and well-worn) P & J puppet ensembles, you find some puppet-like charms by Marcel Dzama and a shadow play of figurines by Christian Boltanski. How the 19th Century police truncheons fit into all this is anyone’s guess. This arrangement works better than the previous one, but it feels like a bit of a cop-out. Is it ungrateful of me to want more from Hendeles? Probably.
Matilda Aslizadeh, Portrait 1, 2009, lightjet print
Matilda Aslizadeh is a Vancouver-based artist currently showing a couple video diptychs and a super series of photos at Pari Nadimi Gallery. She had a strong work a couple years back called Hero of Our Time that’s now touring with an intriguing group exhibition called Diaboliques (which lands in Montreal and Calgary, but unfortunately not Toronto). Her current videos aren’t as strong. One is meant to be a “landscape” of BC, the other is a double portrait built up from online video samples. The portraits benefit from some nice gender opposition but really, all I’ll remember from this exhibition are the photographs of people in darkness. The immediate association is of witnesses hiding their identity. The struggle to make out anything of who they could be is terminally unfulfilled and all that remains is to suggest narratives, any number of possible life stories, and then consider who controls the source of light and who is behind the camera.
Roula Partheniou, Caution Yellow, 2009, acrylic paint on Fimo
A similarly striking image can be found in the main space at Blackwood Gallery. Zilvinas Kempinas’ O Between Fans is a loop of videotape suspended (almost) indefinitely in the air by two fans. Like staring into a fire, I could watch forever as it danced. Blackwood braintrust and concept-curator extraordinaire Christof Migone pairs it with Roula Partheniou’s unmarked banana peel. The link to the exhibition’s two-part title, Fall Out / Fall In, is clear. Other works are less so, but merit the effort. Simone Jones’s breathing-propelled vehicle and the video of it inching across the Bonneville Salt Flats is epic, intimate, and beautifully shot. If only it weren’t crammed in the Blackwood’s second space with a couple other works.
Stan Douglas, TV Spots, 1988
Yet another instance of curatorial generosity can be found at Mercer Union with their comprehensive assembly of print ads and TV spots made by artists from the sixties onward. We Interrupt this Program is birthed in the conceptual art years when artists looked to mass media as another arena for fucking around. Some of the works are familiar (Stan Douglas’ TV Spots and Monodramas or Lynda Benglis’ Artforum ads), others are less so (Walter Battiss’ magazine ads). The whole experience left me feeling melancholy for both my youth and an experience of media that is no longer with us. The proliferation of magazines have left them less iconic as cultural touchstones, but even worse is the now unfamiliar to be almost meaningless reception of television as it was in the sixties, seventies, and eighties. The power of these images to disrupt the mainstream flow of a limited range of channels is lost in the post-cable, post-internet, post-YouTube universe. This show belongs in a museum and I mean that as a complement and as a critique.
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.
Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation: 778 King Street West
Strait-Jacket continues until further notice.
Pari Nadimi Gallery: http://parinadimigallery.com/Site/index.php
Matilda Aslizadeh: Portrait/Landscape continues until December 26.
Blackwood Gallery: http://www.blackwoodgallery.ca/index.html
Fall Out/Fall In continues until December 13.
Mercer Union: http://www.mercerunion.org/
We Interrupt This Program continues until December 12.
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