Paint­ing proves it’s alive and well at En­tan­gled

The Van­cou­ver Art Gallery’s big, en­er­getic ex­hibit sur­veys Canada’s con­tem­po­rary brush­work, from monochromes to con­cep­tual cre­ations

The Georgia Straight - - Arts -

EN­TAN­GLED: TWO VIEWS At the Van­cou­ver Art Gallery un­til Jan­uary 1, 2018

En­tan­gled is a big, en­er­getic, 2 and en­gag­ing ex­hi­bi­tion. It trots us past an abun­dance of con­tem­po­rary works, from John He­ward’s hang­ing pieces of paintstained fab­ric to Jessica Groome’s table­top pa­per “flags”, and from Neil Campbell’s eye-pop­ping black-on­white mu­ral to Jeanie Rid­dle’s in­stal­la­tion of neatly folded can­vases set against a bril­liant yel­low ground. Com­posed of some 70 works by 31 artists, En­tan­gled ex­am­ines (mostly) ab­stract paint­ing cre­ated in Canada since the 1970s, a time when the medium was de­clared dead, de­funct, or worse, ir­rel­e­vant. Some pain­ters, how­ever, were not en­tirely con­vinced of its demise. Hu­man be­ings, after all, had been ap­ply­ing pig­ment to re­cep­tive sur­faces for tens of thou­sands of years. Paint­ing was too old to die.

Still, the con­cep­tu­al­ism of the 1960s and ’70s had a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on all vis­ual-art prac­tices. Con­cep­tu­al­ists be­lieved that with high mod­ernism, paint­ing had pretty much, well, painted it­self into a cor­ner. They also con­demned the com­mer­cial­iza­tion and fetishiza­tion of the art of the time, in­stead choos­ing to value the idea over the ob­ject. The ev­i­dence in this Van­cou­ver Art Gallery ex­hi­bi­tion, how­ever, is that pain­ters have found in­ge­nious and some­times re­vi­sion­ist ways of re­vi­tal­iz­ing the ob­ject and jus­ti­fy­ing their medium. Of­ten, this has in­volved adopt­ing con­cep­tu­al­ism’s own strate­gies. En­tan­gle­ment, in­deed.

The VAG’S Bruce Grenville and guest cu­ra­tor David Macwilliam pro­pose that “two dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent modes” of paint­ing have de­vel­oped in Canada in re­sponse to the de­bate over its rel­e­vance. One mode, seen in the half of the show cu­rated by Macwilliam, is pred­i­cated on ideas and con­cepts. Ex­am­ples in­clude Ger­ald Fer­gu­son’s large spray paint­ings on un­primed can­vas, their ver­ti­cal lines of thin black dots de­ter­mined by us­ing plas­ter­ers’ cor­ner bead­ing as a sten­cil. Fer­gu­son’s works of the late 1960s, along with red-ox­ide monochromes pro­duced by Garry Neill Kennedy in the 1970s, in­voke the lead­ing role that the Nova Sco­tia Col­lege of Art and De­sign played in pro­mul­gat­ing con­cep­tu­al­ism in the cul­tural back­wa­ter that was Canada at the time.

Monochromes abound here, per­sist­ing through decades and gen­er­a­tions, from Guido Moli­nari’s straight­for­ward Un­ti­tled No. 8, cre­ated in 1979, to Jef­frey Spald­ing’s sys­tem­at­i­cally lay­ered black-and-bluish paint­ings, also from the 1970s, to Ara­bella Campbell’s all-white Wall paint­ings, made in 2007 and cued to the colour of the walls in three lo­cal art gal­leries. “Art as idea as paint­ing” also in­cludes Jeremy Hof’s ex­tra­or­di­nary and highly sculp­tural works cre­ated out of hun­dreds and hun­dreds of lay­ers of acrylic paint built up over a num­ber of years, their cen­tres then carved out and var­nished to re­veal deep cir­cles and ovals of glow­ing colour. Julie Trudel’s black, white, and grey paint­ings are also daz­zling, their op­ti­cally com­plex con­stel­la­tions of dots and dashes cre­ated by care­fully rolling and bend­ing their thin Plex­i­glas grounds while the paint is wet.

The other “mode” of con­tem­po­rary ab­strac­tion, re­vealed in the half of the show cu­rated by Grenville, is “per­for­ma­tive”, its out­comes de­ter­mined by a com­bi­na­tion of “ma­te­ri­als and ac­tions”. In this sec­tion, we find Mar­vin Lu­vualu An­to­nio’s big, ges­tu­ral can­vases, ref­er­enc­ing, Grenville writes in his cu­ra­to­rial es­say, dis­place­ment and dis­pos­ses­sion. Also on view here are Stephanie Aitken’s small but strangely vi­o­lent paint­ings, their or­ganic forms ex­e­cuted in a kind of mud­died cu­bist pal­ette, their can­vas sur­faces lay­ered and torn, with oc­ca­sional dan­gling pieces of fab­ric that sug­gest flayed skin.

On the whole, and not sur­pris­ingly, the con­cep­tual paint­ings are pris­tine in their ex­e­cu­tion. The per­for­ma­tive pieces are more ob­vi­ously phys­i­cal, re­lat­ing to the body rather than the mind, with rips, smudges, muddy marks, cruddy tex­tures, and un­ex­pected colour com­bi­na­tions. Ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ism, es­pe­cially ac­tion paint­ing, is an ob­vi­ous pre­de­ces­sor in this sec­tion—al­though the­o­ret­i­cally cleansed of its machismo sins.

The best work in the show is hardly in the show at all. It is The Kiss, a small 1960 oil by Joyce Wieland, hung out of gen­eral view in a clos­et­sized cor­ner gallery and op­po­site the en­trance to a women’s wash­room. Seem­ingly in­tended as a his­tor­i­cal foot­note to En­tan­gled, Wieland’s ab­strac­tion con­sists of a mossy green ground, with a small smudge of lipstick-red paint on its right mar­gin and a gob of streaky blue-white paint at its cen­tre. A lightly sketched yel­low ar­row be­low the gob word­lessly points to it in a suc­cinct ref­er­ence to the male-dom­i­nated realm of ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ism.

De­spite its lo­ca­tion, The Kiss is elo­quently de­scribed in Grenville’s cu­ra­to­rial es­say and in the ex­hi­bi­tion la­bel: “It is an ex­cep­tional paint­ing for its sim­plic­ity and hu­mour, its sub­ver­sive dis­rup­tion of the pa­tri­ar­chal dis­course around the painterly ges­ture, its mak­ing and its mean­ing, and its pro­found state­ment on love.” Wow—long be­fore con­cep­tu­al­ism trans­formed our un­der­stand­ing of paint­ing, Joyce Wei­land nailed it.

> ROBIN LAU­RENCE

(Ca­lypso

GO LIVE While we can try to de­scribe the sorts of things that might un­fold at the LIVE Bi­en­nale of per­for­mance art this week, the true joy of the fes­ti­val is the ele­ment of sur­prise. And, to be hon­est, a lot of what you’ll see hap­pen­ing on-stage sim­ply de­fies de­scrip­tion. Oc­cur­ring at the Western Front, VIVO Me­dia Arts Cen­tre, Unit/pitt Projects, and Pat’s Pub un­til Sun­day (October 8), the event will fea­ture some of the most ex­cit­ing, provoca­tive, and eye-pop­ping per­for­mance art hap­pen­ing here and around the world. On Thurs­day night (October 5) at VIVO, check out Theo Pel­mus and Kristin Snow­bird’s live sculp­ture, a com­men­tary on Michelan­gelo’s that draws on cos­tumes and ob­jects from their re­spec­tive Ro­ma­nian and Ojibwa her­itages. Else­where at VIVO, Ber­lin’s Jörn J. Burmester uses colour­ful paint and can­vas in a du­ra­tional per­for­mance all week­end; Colom­bian-born Win­nipeg artist Praba Pi­lar de­buts her NO!!!BOT, a glitched-out ex­oskele­ton un­like any­thing you’ve ever seen; and Pales­tinian artist Raeda Saadeh uses phys­i­cal bur­dens, fences, and other sym­bols to em­body the idea of a woman un­der oc­cu­py­ing forces. There is much more; plan your view­ing at

Still Life: Me­mento Mori, Pi­età live­bi­en­nale.ca/2017.

Stephanie Aitken’s small but vi­o­lent paint­ings is shown here) fea­ture or­ganic forms ex­e­cuted in a kind of mud­died cu­bist pal­ette.

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