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Toronto
Terence Dick
Maggie Groat at Erin Stump Projects | Niall McClelland at Clint Roenisch, Toronto
February 24, 2015

In the process of explaining Maggie Groat’s current exhibition at Erin Stump Projects to a friend, I had to backtrack a number of times lest I misrepresent her work as being something that it wasn’t. I tossed out the word “assemblage” but qualified it because I didn’t want to give the impression that there was just an offhand collection of found stuff. I mentioned “collage” in reference to the work on paper and perhaps the manner in which Groat deals with her stuff, but her materials tend to be formal or, in that they resemble anything in the world, elemental rather than cultural. In struggling with the content, I threw out the term “new age” but then qualified it again and again because I did not want my friend to think the artist was hippy-dippy, because she leans more to the cool and crisp than the warm and fuzzy. But then again, there are some crystals and pyramids on hand, so I couldn’t completely disregard the possibility. In then end, my friend got tired of my waffling and proceeded to tell me about the Basquiat show at the AGO, but I kept up an internal monologue as I couldn’t let Groat go.



Maggie Groat

Later that day, I came to the provisional conclusion that she somehow entertains transcendental themes – or, at the very least, the pursuit of them (but I’d like to think she’s more sincere than that) – through the most quotidian means. The result is my favourite sort of alchemy, one that extends beyond the sum of its ridiculously simple parts to generate the depths of contemplation that one usually looks for in only the highest of modes of expression. So her allusions to balance, order, harmony, and all those classically aesthetic qualities emerge not out of marble or paint on canvas, but sneak into the room through a string hung with nails or salvaged wood approximating geometrical forms. The symmetry of the cosmos is planted at floor-level by inset bowls of water sitting on two perpendicular mirrors, while a potted fern beneath a haphazard pyramid triggers the longstanding dialectic between the real and the ideal. It’s the scope of her concerns that make her so hard to pin down. If only I’d thought to say that to my friend.



Niall McClelland, Never had the Height, 2015, basketballs, melted ice, leaves, dirt, cigarettes, coins, receipts, champagne cork

Niall McClelland used to parlay a similarly cosmic range with blackened sheets of paper unfolded to reveal inadvertent star charts or wrapped up printer cartridges stuffed in a back pocket to generate intense symmetries of colour, but his current exhibition at Clint Roenisch Gallery stays close to the ground. He moves from dirt to dirt in five large canvases impressed with the grot (including stray cigarette butts!) from his studio floor. The results are earthy abstractions but the limitations of the process keep them bound to their source. A collection of abandoned and semi-deflated basketballs does a better job of suggesting a desultory constellation left out in the rain. The debris collected in its gravitational field – from dirt (again) to a champagne cork – takes this piece beyond the whimsy of an accidental discovery and cranks up the mystery by hinting at some greater narrative. Things fall back to earth with a collection of anti-establishment silk screens that rely on the same cool cynicism as Richard Prince’s joke paintings. McClelland manages to draw on the antagonism of the message while also maintaining a clinical distance from the sentiment. It’s a clever trick but not much more.


Erin Stump Projects: http://erinstumpprojects.com/current-exhibitions
Maggie Groat: For insufficient interest in present circumstances continues until March 14.

Clint Roenisch Gallery: http://clintroenisch.com/
Niall McClelland: Hot Sauce continues to February 28.


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, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.

 

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