Anselm Kiefer, Des Herbstes Runengespinst / The Web of Autumn Runes, 2003, oil, lacquer, emulsion, cork and wood on canvas on steel support (courtesy Galerie Samuel Lallouz; photo: Mike Lalich)
Buried in the core of the Art Gallery of Hamilton’s current array of summer exhibitions, Anselm Kiefer provides a rare opportunity for Canadian audiences to experience the full physicality of his practice. The three arresting canvases on show project a visceral aura, pricked through by thorny brambles that drag the viewer into their expansive spaces. A bench suspended front and centre of Des Herbstes Runengespinst / The Web of Autumn Runes provides dubious comfort in a barren waste, a resting place already occupied by a deathly bundle of sticks. Like the modern histories they evoke, these landscapes are too despondent to encourage easy lingering, and too raw with consequence to walk away unscathed.
Installation view of the Valérie Blass exhibition at the Art Gallery of Hamilton (photo: Mike Lalich)
There is a similar bite to Valerie Blass’ solo exhibition on loan from the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, though this tooth is concealed in playful sleights of hand that refuse to budge under close scrutiny. Her unparalleled craftsmanship lends lifelike precision to even her most absurd sculptures – cast hands painted to mimic animals are doubly convincing as both human and beast, creating an uncanny feedback loop.
For all their intense rigor, Blass’ sculptures are defiantly unmonumental, fusing tchotchke in cloaks of black flocking and bluffing the weight of stone with Styrofoam. A miniature cowboy bucks on his ceramic horse, his equestrian heroism subsumed by the larger totem of which he is one bit player among many. That untempered cowboy reveals Blass’ confidence in laying materials and intentions bare even as she enacts wondrous transformations. Far from collapsing beneath the weight of more refined forms, the abbreviated eroticism of splayed wooden lengths straining within fishnet stockings is the final proof of a hand so deft that it has nothing left to hide.
Art Gallery of Hamilton: http://www.artgalleryofhamilton.com/
Anselm Kiefer continues until September 9.
Valérie Blass continues until September 23.
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.
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