“Do we have more than four people? This is Jack Chambers, for God’s sake!”
These are the words of a bewildered Art Gallery of Ontario foot soldier, uttered moments before the nearly media-less media preview for Jack Chambers: Light, Spirit, Time, Place, and Life, the gallery’s expansive tribute to Canada’s best-known artist outside the Group of Seven. I was surprised too — Chambers should not be a tough sell.
In the ’70s, Chambers became the highest-earning painter in Canadian history and the closest thing to a Continental master this country had ever seen. He also defied nature by fighting acute myeloblastic leukemia — a cancer that kills in about three months if untreated — for ten years. Chambers was a spiritual locomotive fuelled by love for his wife and two sons. He worked constantly to ensure their financial security. The artist churned out dozens of jewels in his London, Ontario studio, only to sell them immediately. In her essay “Unfinished Business” — about Chambers’ incomplete masterpiece, Lunch — from the January/February issue of The Walrus, Sara Angel writes that he was a man of immense passion. Until death, he “remained keen to stay a part of the world he had rendered.” So, had the media lost its mind? (more…)
I’d like to start by naming three of my favorite things that are happening in Toronto right now: The Gibraltar Point art centre on Toronto Island, the new Feminist Art Gallery built and run by Allyson Mitchell and Deirdre Logue, and the West Toronto Railpath. These are three things that perfectly embody the potential for excellence when stultifying bureaucracy is outwitted, community is fostered, and public spaces are made with vision and radical hope. These are “yes” places.
Imagine if Toronto was so proud and smart about promoting and celebrating its artists that people from Berlin got excited about our amazing scene and started moving here. Imagine if every wealthy educated person in this city found making the decision to spend money on art as easy as deciding to buy designer shoes. Imagine all new condos being legislated to not only include a percentage of subsidized units but also a few dedicated affordable artist studios — instead of commissioning a single, one-off public sculpture. Imagine a downtown art college with such a fantastic international reputation, facilities, and faculty that it was the first Canadian choice of application if you were an ambitious young artist. Imagine that the Toronto Now gallery off of the AGO’s Frank restaurant was turned into a space for grad students, and the serious artists of Toronto could always be found in major shows in the main spaces of the museum all months of the year. Imagine there were line-ups to see these local artists’ work at the AGO like there were during those first heady days of Frank Gehry’s redesign. Imagine Torontonians with so much confidence that instead of travelling internationally to buy culture, they stayed here, trusted their own judgment, and invested in something they decided for themselves was excellent.
As long as I have lived in Toronto I’ve had a push-pull relationship with it, constantly leaving and searching for a place I felt I truly belonged but always returning for pragmatic reasons. For many artists and creative people I know this is a common story. We want to be here — there are excellent people and resources, it makes a solid base to travel from, our friends and families are here, and compared to other cities in Canada, we have a better chance of creating and finding opportunity. Best of all, there is an old and strong culture of do-it-yourself here, pockets of radical thinkers and makers that keep a fire lit even when the politics of safety and small-think capitalism threaten to smother all those who live to take creative risks. (more…)
Joshua Knelman’s Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives through the Secret World of Stolen Art explores the evolution of the international black market in stolen canvases, sculptures, and antiquities through alternating stories of crooks and coppers from two continents. Hot Art, published earlier this month, is being widely described as non-fiction that reads like a novel; it’s been favourably tweeted by Margaret Atwood, among others, and Knelman has embarked on a promotional tour of morning television and talk radio shows across Canada. All of which makes everyone at The Walrus rather proud, because the story that inspired the book happened right here at this magazine. The author explains.
MATTHEW MCKINNON: You worked as head of research at The Walrus when you began investigating international art theft. Where does the Hot Art really start?
JOSHUA KNELMAN: Before the magazine launched, way back in 2003, I was sent to write a short piece about two burglaries at an art gallery in Toronto. The first of those burglaries, by the way, was discovered on the morning of September 11, 2001. When I showed up at the gallery, the owner was apprehensive about moving his story into the public arena. “I don’t know much about this world of art theft,” he told me. He did, though, give me the phone number of a cultural property lawyer based in Toronto — Bonnie Czegledi. “Apparently she knows something,” he said.
Czegledi agreed to meet. It was a lucky break. She turned out to be one of only a handful of lawyers in Canada, and one of only a few in the world, who was focused on understanding how the international black market in stolen art operates. (more…)
The National Gallery of Canada launches a satellite project in downtown Toronto
A new partnership between Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada and Toronto’s Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art debuted this week with the collaborative exhibition Adams/Demand/Fraser. Over the course of the three-year project, MOCCA — until now, a relatively minor institution best known for its massive ambitions — will host work from the NCG’s contemporary art collection. At a press conference announcing the initiative, NCG director Marc Mayer and MOCCA director David Liss laid out how the shared content is meant to complement the artists (and works) featured by the latter’s main programming.
“This new partnership will expand [the National Gallery’s] service to Canadians in one of Canada’s most populous cities and help broaden the conversation on contemporary art,” Mayer said.
The relationship is well begun. From now through the end of December, a newly renovated project space at MOCCA is featuring loaned work by Canadian artists Kim Adams and Geoffrey Farmer and Berlin’s Thomas Demand. Liss and NCG curator Josée Drouin-Brisebois selected the pieces — a single sculpture by Adams and large-scale photographs by Farmer and Demand that play on the temporality of sculptural media — to play off MOCCA’s current exhibition, David Hoffos: Scenes from the House Dream. (more…)
More than a year after the world’s economy teetered on the edge of collapse, it’s difficult to read a magazine or newspaper without being reminded that we’re still in trouble. But for those longing to ditch the bulletin of the apocalypse in favor of a more hopeful headline, something winsome this way comes: Papirmasse, an art magazine cum old world broadsheet cum boho time capsule founded by Albertan painter Kirsten McCrea. Last January marked the beginning of McCrea’s “grand art experiment,” an art-by-mail monthly that arrives unbound and uncomplicated, just a folio of limited-edition prints with stories, poems, and interviews on their backsides. When I ask McCrea for a simpler description of her very ambitious project, she fails beautifully: “It’s a meeting point between a book of fine art prints, a magazine, a gallery visit, and a pulp novel. It engages in multiple ways.”
The genesis of Papirmasse dates to the spring of 2008, when McCrea graduated from the art program at Montreal’s Concordia University and returned to her native Edmonton to save enough money to paint full time. While working in a restaurant, she noticed that the walls were covered with paintings by an artist she knew. They were beautiful — and each one had a price tag of $2,000. Then McCrea thought back to her previous job, going door-to-door soliciting donations for Amnesty International. There, she recalled, it was amazing to see how many homes had completely bare walls. From this collision of unsatisfying circumstances — exorbitant art or no art at all — Papirmasse was born.
Right away, McCrea knew what she wanted: to make art for everyone. She chose the name Papirmasse after stumbling across the term in a printmaking class — in Dutch, it means “pulp,” calling to mind both the soft wet fibers used as the base material for paper and the mass culture art for which she hopes to cultivate a taste, a demand, and an audience. In keeping with her mission, McCrea knew she’d have to expand her repertoire of art-making techniques in order to produce the project. “I started thinking about offset lithography,” she says. “It seemed to be a good alternative to paintings and prints. If I could get machines involved, I knew I could keep the price down.” And while she clearly understands the importance of web publishing (she hosts much of Papirmasse‘s content on her own impressive website, www.hellokirsten.com), McCrea has no plans to downsize her print production: “People who subscribe are really excited about getting something like this in the mail.” (more…)
Years ago, when I first met Nick Mount, he was teaching me about Major John Richardson in a U of T course called Early Canadian Literature. As I got to know him over beers and in the classroom, I learned more about his disparate interests: graphic novels, aesthetic theory, John Travolta records. He is the best teacher I’ve ever had. (more…)