While much virtual ink – including my own – has been spilt over the influx of artistic activity along Hamilton’s James Street North in the heart of downtown, the city’s further reaches have often suffered from neglect. Just as well then that the sweeping turnover in gallery shows at April’s end has pushed my focus to the fringes, from a rough-worn textile mill in Hamilton’s industrial sector to the hallowed hush of a university museum on the opposite side of town.
Installation view of 125 & 45: An Interrogative Spirit
Looking first to the west and into the past, the McMaster Museum of Art is celebrating its 45th anniversary in the context of McMaster’s 125th year with 125 & 45: An Interrogative Spirit. This two-part exhibition of works from an impressive permanent collection successfully balances the appeal of a greatest hits compilation with a selection that is also highly academic in character. The virtues of observation and inquiry valued by Museum and University alike is best exemplified by classic Muybridge plates, but wryly subverted as well by the likes of Carl Beam’s Darwin.
Sigmund Freud makes his own appearance as one half of the Tony Scherman pairing of Freud and Renata. These arresting encaustic paintings foreshadow a treasury of memorable modern portraits in this exhibition, some of which I admittedly and fondly recall from my own student days at Mac. Monet’s Waterloo Bridge, Effet de Soleil won’t be a stranger to any alumnus, while the cast aluminum sweep of Elisabeth Frink’s Mirage Bird is a genuine surprise among the fin-de-siècle flavour of the Tomlinson Gallery – especially as it lurks in the darkest possible corner, an enchantingly awkward duckling demanding greater attention in this venerable company.
Svava Thordis Juliusson, Snjóflóð/Réttir (Avalanche/Corral), 2012, mixed plastic and polypropylene installation (photo: KJ Bedford)
The former textile mill at 270 Sherman tells a different history of Hamilton, one that has gone from industrious prosperity to ruin to reclamation as creative space. In addition to housing artist studios, this complex’s cavernous third floor was the site of the first landmark TH&B group exhibition in 2008, a project now reprised in TH&B2. As in its previous incarnation, the vast space encourages ambitious sculpture with a preponderance of materiality and labour. At the exhibition’s literal centre, Gareth Lichty’s Hamper coils a seven-kilometre length of orange construction fence around the warehouse’s central support beam, radiating warmth despite its prickly surface. This playfulness with otherwise constricting industrial materials is echoed in Svava Thordis Juliusson’s Snjóflóð/Réttir, a suspended storm of brightly coloured rope and bristling cable ties. However, as with Shake-n-Make’s cheerful Soylent Green wafers spelling out an encouragement to “Eat Local,” such an attractive palette often conceals a more tumultuous intent.
Niall Donaghy, Torqued DC-3, 2012, plywood, basswood (photo: KJ Bedford)
The frenetic tension of Vessna Perunovich’s video installation strikes a darker note despite its own whimsical elements. An accelerated loop of the artist walking circles in the snow loops behind a chain-link enclosure made of pliant rubber bands rather than steel, but the accompanying soundtrack of rapid-fire pinpricks from a smaller nearby video sets an unnerving, restless pace of progress thwarted.
Further monuments are plucked out of the darkness of the factory floor by dramatic pools of light: Ivan Jurakic’s cornerboard and coffee cup transmission tower sets up an electric symmetry with Niall Donaghy’s Torqued DC-3, a skeletal model aircraft that sweeps from ceiling to floor on an improbable curve. These provide an informal gateway to the lofty constructions that define TH&B2’s landscape: rough-hewn and as ambitious as the space they inhabit and transform.
Simon Frank, View (from the escarpment) (detail), 2012, log-marking hammer on drywall (photo: Mike Lalich)
The impact of TH&B2 resounds back in the downtown core, where TH&B co-founder Simon Frank has been at work on a site-specific intervention on the two-storey wall of the Art Gallery of Hamilton’s entrance foyer. View (from the escarpment) plays off two local colloquialisms by rendering a mountain – of the imagination rather than our own modest escarpment – with a log-marking hammer. Despite the blunt physicality implied by that process – and the irrevocable chunks Frank is hewing out of that pristine white drywall – the hammer’s progress renders a drawing of understated delicacy. Subtle shades of gray are built in layers of hammer strikes that stake out contrast from the wall’s flat surface with the imprint of an iconic pine tree. In softer passages, only the most partial imprint of the hammer’s stamp leaves its mark, more like the whisper of grass than the logger’s blow of ownership.
Simon Frank, View (from the escarpment), 2012, log-marking hammer on drywall (photo: Mike Lalich)
A dense border of trees at the composition’s lower edges contains the meandering mountain ranges that have grown throughout the work’s development (much of it done during public viewing hours). This frame connects View (from the escarpment) to a tradition of Canadian landscape painting that will no doubt resonate with the AGH’s upcoming exhibition of Emily Carr landscapes on tour from the Vancouver Art Gallery while retaining its own distinctive character as an irrefutably local gesture.
Stephanie Vegh is a Hamilton-based artist and writer whose criticism has appeared in Scotland’s Map Magazine, Canadian Art, C Magazine, and various British and Canadian publications as well as her own eponymous visual arts blog. She serves on the Board of Directors for The Print Studio and the Visual Arts Committee for Hamilton’s annual Supercrawl, and has exhibited her drawings in group and solo exhibitions in Canada and the United Kingdom. She is Akimblog’s Hamilton correspondent.
McMaster Museum of Art: http://www.mcmaster.ca/museum/
125 & 45: An Interrogative Spirit continues until May 12 and August 4.
TH&B2 continues until May 12.
Art Gallery of Hamilton: http://www.artgalleryofhamilton.com/
Simon Frank: View (from the escarpment) continues until September 3.
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Posted by Earnmj8, on 2013-03-18 04:37:12|