Terence Dick is Akimblog’s Toronto correspondent and editor. He also writes about art for other publications such as BorderCrossings. Even though some would argue the decade doesn’t end until next year, he is taking this opportunity to list the five most… important? interesting? wonderful? things about the Canadian art scene for the ten year period now known as the 00s (like in “n00b”). They aren’t in any particular order and represent a good week and a half of idle mulling. Terence fully expects this list to be largely inaccurate and potentially embarrassing about halfway through the next decade. Happy New One!
I was chastised a couple years back for remarking with surprise that the capital of Manitoba has produced so many world class artists. I won’t make the same mistake twice and will simply note that Winnipeg has usurped Vancouver as the urban incubator of artistic success in this country. For whatever reason (cheap rent? long winters? relative isolation? Gimli?), the plethora of talent that has emerged from this ville has been exceptional: the Royal Art Lodge, Sarah Anne Johnson, Karel Funk, Tim Gardner, Guy Maddin, Wayne Baerwaldt, BorderCrossings magazine, to name just a few.
2. Nuit Blanche
Sure, it’s only four years old but after spending the first half of the decade quixotically trying to figure out ways to draw crowds to my old stomping grounds The Power Plant, I’m still in awe of Nuit Blanche's success at bringing masses of up to half a million people face to face with artists who would otherwise languish in the spare halls of artist run centres and intermittent museum shows. And yes, there are a ton of problems with how the event works and the authenticity of what goes on there vis-à-vis a “real” art experience, but all nitpicking aside, have you seen the crowds? Halifax has picked up the ball with Nocturne, other municipalities should follow suit. The biennial craze of the nineties was a failure and only replicated the inaccessibility of contemporary art spaces. Nuit Blanche is triumphant. Let’s hope we don’t fuck it up.
3. Sobey Art Award
Okay, so it’s not like the papers have taken up this now annual prize with the same furor that the British dailies trash the Turner Prize. The Sobey Art Award organizers could do a lot more to raise their profile (celebrity presenters seems to work for the Brits) and there has been a tendency to make predictable choices, but thank god someone set this up. At least we now have something to argue about once a year. And a sense of competition might encourage more Canadian artists to push their practice and exercise some ambition. Plus I like the regional representation because it hips me to East Coast artists I wouldn’t have otherwise heard about.
The internet changed music irrevocably this decade. Art? Not so much. In fact, in the age of infinite reproducibility, art is evermore tied to the unique and singular. Damien Hirst’s diamond skull is just the most grotesque example, but the continued vitality of painting and sculpture attests to our investment in unmediated presence and the thing itself. Even the relational works that proliferated these past years drink from the same pool of being there. But the economic gravity of the original, traditional art work holds sway at the top end of the market and on the streets of our towns. As I make my way through the galleries each week, young painters continue in their attempts to make things worth looking at and, most exciting for me, sculptors lead me to see an increasingly same old, same old world in new ways. That’s what keeps me going back.
5. Not Brian Jungen
When I was discussing this list with my wife, she insisted that Brian Jungen should be the Canadian artist of the decade. And if I were making a list of the most talented or prominent or successful of our artists, he would definitely be up there. But I don’t feel like I get to see enough nationally, let alone internationally, to make such judgments. What I do see is the influence of certain figures on the past ten years of art making in the country and I don’t see a lot of artists taking up Jungen’s lead. His work is too specific in its style and context to be anyone’s but his. If I were to choose one artist who is most often godfather to the next generation of practioners, it would have to be Rodney Graham. The seduction of his all encompassing method and his seemingly free-and-easy play with the stuff of cultural history is all over young conceptualists (Craig Leonard, Tony Romano, and Althea Thauberger, to name three) from coast to coast. If I were to choose another, it would be Marcel Dzama (Royal Art Lodge-era). His (their) success inflamed an entire indie rock subclass of artists in this country, some of whom (Shary Boyle, Paul Butler, and Daniel Barrow, for example) have gone mainstream in the best possible way. And if I were to choose one more key influence on the art of the 00s, it would be whoever invented Photoshop. Digital technology hasn't done much to change the distribution of art (other than as a marketing tool), but its effect as a tool for manipulating stuff - from colour to information - is the ordering principle in works from Etienne Zack's paintings to Stephen Shearer's collages.
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