Ross Bonfanti takes NYC

In writing this blog, I’m always on the look out for artists to admire. One of my new favorites is Ross Bonafanti – whose work was brought to my attention by his gallery.

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ABOVE: Ross Bonfanti, Power Struggle, 2016, concrete, toy parts,extension cord, 10 x 9 x 12 inches

Shortly after arriving in Washington D.C., I was contacted by the Rebecca Hossack Gallery in New York City, and asked if I would be interested in writing a brief post about Toronto based sculptor Ross Bonfanti – whose work is currently on display in their gallery. Although, at the time, I was unfamiliar with him, I did a quick web search, and was intrigued.

A graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design (now OCAD University), Ross Bonfanti has been exhibiting regularly since the mid-nineties, and since the early 2000’s, he’s been exhibiting more and more outside of Canada. Looking at his CV, you’re left with the impression that his career is on the rise. His success is well deserved.

To better describe his work, here is a quote from the Rebecca Hossack website:

“Bonfanti’s concreatures are created from cement, hardware materials and found soft toys, all collected in the artist’s native Toronto. But even as he redefines their sumptuous bodies and studs them with nails and screws, Bonfanti deliberately retains the toys’ fluffy seams, their felt noses and their glass eyes. The sculptures stand in a striking state of in-between: Fortified for modernity and urbanity, the charm of a bygone age still lingers.”

Although I will not be able to catch his current show, I’ll be sure to check him out when he arrives back in Toronto. For those in the NYC area, you should check him out now.

Ross Bonfanti: No Hard Feelings will be at the Rebbeca Hossack Gallery until May 15, 2016. You can find more information here.

Outsiders: American Photography and Film 1950s to 1980s

I recently visited the Art Gallery of Ontario to see its new photography exhibition. If you’re interested in counter-cultures, and street photography,  this show is for you.

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Last Saturday, I saw Outsiders: American Photography and Film 1950s to 1980s at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).

From Kenneth Anger to Nan Goldin, this show is full of thought provoking shots, and lasting impressions. What’s more, it manages to flow seamlessly from artist to artist – despite the many differences in their narratives.

Being a fan of Diana Arbus, it was great to see some of her best known photos, but of all that I saw, I was most impressed with Carl Winogrand. The date and range of his work is impressive, and the curators did an excellent job in contrasting his shots of poverty and protest with those of the ruling elite. There’s a certain timelessness to it all, and given the current political climate in the U.S., it’s as relevant as ever.

As the above paragraph suggests, this is a distinctly American show, and it covers a time of great change and turmoil in U.S. history. That said, it is also a deeply humanistic show that highlights the coming of age of people previously pushed to the fringes. The room dedicated to Gordon Parks and his documentation of a struggling black family is especially powerful, as are the many unaccredited shots of cross-dressers on retreat.

All told, this exhibition forces the viewer to confront realities both past and present. We’ve come a long way since the 1980s, but we’ve still got a long way to go.

Outsiders: American Photography and Film 1950s to 1980s is at the AGO until May 29, 2016.

Toronto’s New Contemporary Art Museum

Owing to a condo boom, the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art closed in September. Fortunately, its new space, which opens in May, looks awesome.

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ABOVE: Douglas Coupland at the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art

Last year, I wrote about gentrification, and the relocation of the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art (MOCCA) from the Queen West neighborhood to the Junction. While I was sorry to see the original museum replaced with a condo, I’m happy to report that the new location looks even better than the first.

A few days ago, MOCCA director and CEO Chantal Pontbriand revealed plans for the new museum. Here are some of the details:

  • The Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art is now the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto_Canada (I prefer the original name, but whatever).
  • At 5,200 square metres, the new museum is much bigger than the old one (990 square metres).
  • The site is leased for 40 years, so it will be a long time before they’re forced to move again, if ever.
  • A site specific building, currently dubbed MoCA II, will be built across the street and will add an additional 6,800 square metres of space.
  • Open from noon to midnight.

Having been a fan of the old museum, I’m really looking forward to May 2017 when they open the doors to a new era of art in Toronto.

Carl Zimmerman on SNAP! 2016

I recently interviewed photographer Carl Zimmerman about his involvement with SNAP! 2016, an upcoming charity auction to benefit the AIDS Committee of Toronto.

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ABOVE: Carl Zimmerman, Interior with Sky, 2013, pigment print on archival paper (edition: 1 of 5), 28.5 x 24 inches, courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery (Lot. 9, donated by the artist, estimate: $2,400)

Last week, I was asked if I’d be interested in writing about the AIDS Committee of Toronto and SNAP! 2016. I quickly agreed.

First, a little bit about the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT):

Founded in 1983, ACT works with gay men, women and young people to increase their knowledge, skills and resilience in the face of HIV/AIDS. ACT also provides services for people living with HIV through programs such as counselling, information provision, and social support activities.

And now, a little bit about SNAP!:

SNAP! is ACT’s annual photographic fundraiser featuring a live auction of art, a silent auction, and a photo competition. Now in it’s 15th year, the event provides a great opportunity for both established and emerging artists to showcase their work.

In preparing this post, I was given the opportunity to interview Carl Zimmerman about ACT, SNAP!, and the piece he has graciously donated. Below, is a brief Q&A I had with him this week:

How did you come to be involved with the AIDS Committee of Toronto and SNAP!?

I was asked to contribute something this year by Sarah Burtscher who works at Stephen Bulger Gallery and I believe is involved with the organization of this year’s SNAP.

Has your involvement with organizations such as SNAP! shaped your artistic practice, or any of the relationships you have within the arts community?

I live in rural Cape Breton, so I really don’t have the same exposure to arts organizations or arts events on an everyday sort of level that I might have if I were working in an urban area. I certainly think its a worthy cause and am glad to contribute to events like these and other similar events, but I often don’t get the opportunity to know the people behind the events. It’s great to be included though and a nice venue to showcase one’s work.

Your photograph, Interior with Sky comes from your Cold City series which was inspired by images of former Soviet ‘closed cities’. Can you tell us a little more about the piece?

I build small models usually, photograph these, and then combine them with various supplementary shots. The whole thing starts as a sketch and most of the conceptual parts are figured out at this time. The other various parts are added in and photo-shopped, sometimes over a fairly lengthy period.

The title “Cold City” is an amalgamation of “cold war” and “closed city”, terms that conjure up similar ideas, but inspired, if that’s the right word, by the closed city of Norilsk in the Siberian arctic. I just happened to come across some photos on Google Earth maybe 5 or 6 years ago and really just had this feeling that industrialization had crossed some line of no return. It reminded me of something almost medieval, without beginning or end. The only other time I felt that same sort of unreality was during the Cuban Missile crisis at the height of the Cold war.

The location of my fictional city is somewhat metaphorical. I wanted to suggest the north, or tundra, or perhaps the Soviet north, so the backgrounds in a number of the photos are borrowed from similar landscapes taken on trip to the northern tip of Newfoundland. However, in some photos , I used the images of East German leaders and in this photo “Interior with Sky”  the lettering on the wall indicates the German language rather than Russian. The Soviets when controlling eastern Europe established closed cities throughout the East Germany and I thought the German reference would make my city seem more familiar.

The function of the building was left unclear, but it plays off other gigantic architectural images associated with Germany during the 2nd world war.

You often depict buildings on their own instead of in groupings. In addition to the themes of isolation and abandonment, what do you seek to convey with your work?

This series is somewhat similar to previous series that envisioned a kind of abandoned utopia. My intention was to suggest an initial sense of awe, a sense of ambition, but there is a simultaneous awareness of the past and obsolescence and time. But there are also some signs of current activity that possibly suggests some sort or re-purposing or appropriation. The scary thing about Norilsk for instance, is that, while the city is an environmental and physical ruin in many respects, it continues to function seemingly undisturbed.

The idea of the closed city originated with Stalin’s desire to move industrial and military production to areas out of the range of enemy bombers, so sites in the north or Siberia were perfect. But after the war, a closed city could simply be a secret facility or factory that could be located anywhere.

How often have you come across similar sites in real life? 

I grew up in Hamilton and back then it wasn’t uncommon to see large buildings seemingly isolated against the background, like the old CNR building for example. In and around Niagara and the the Welland Canal it similar, large damns, grain elevators. In Cape Breton it is not uncommon to see a power plant or paper mill, oil storage depot seemingly spring out of the wilderness.

Many of your photograph’s include people or objects to show scale. How big would this building be in relation to others in the physical world?

The scale I imagined would be larger than anything that I’ve come across in real life, but there are precedents, e.g. some of Germany’s WWII submarine bases and Albert Speer’s plans for redesigning Berlin. The Great Hall for instance, would have been 900 ft.high.

What’s next? Projects? Solo or group shows?

I’m doing a show in Halifax of the Cold City work in May at Studio 21. and I’ve been working on a new series that continues some of the themes in “Cold City”, that I’m calling “Land without Time.” It generally takes me a long time to put together a series, so no plans to show that yet.

SNAP! 2016 takes place on March 31, 2016 at the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library (doors open at 6pm / auction begins at 7pm). You can purchase tickets to the event here.

The Lansdowne Portrait

Next month, I will be visiting the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. Of all the paintings on display, I’m most excited to see the Lansdowne Portrait by Gilbert Stuart.

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ABOVE: Gilbert Stuart, George Washington (Lansdowne Portrait), 1796, oil on canvas, 96 x 60 inches, National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C.

Commissioned in 1796 by Senator William Bingham of Pennsylvania, the Lansdowne Portrait is one of the most iconic works by renowned portraitist Gilbert Stuart. It shows a 64 year old George Washington at the end of his second term in office.

The gigantic painting, which measures 8 x 5 feet, was gifted to English statesman William Petty for his role in bringing the American War of Independence to an end. As Petty’s official title was the 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, the portrait came to bear his name.

In addition to the original, Stuart painted several replicas, one of which was purchased by the U.S. Government. That painting was later rescued from the White House shortly before British soldiers set it on fire in the War of 1812. First Lady Dolley Madison is often credited with its rescue.

While the replica still hangs in the East Room of the White House, and copies by other artists can be found in the U.S. House of Representatives and on Capitol Hill, the original hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. It was donated to the gallery after being purchased for $20 million in 2001.

The Lansdowne Portrait is at the top of my list of things to see while in Washington D.C.

Watson and the Shark

This spring, I will be visiting the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Of all it’s masterpieces, I’m most excited to see John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark.

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ABOVE: John Singleton Coply, Watson and the Shark, 1778, oil on canvas, 72 x 90.5 inches, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Painted in 1778, Watson and the Shark depicts the rescue of Brook Watson from a shark attack in Havana, Cuba.

The attack took place in 1749, and Watson, who was a fourteen year old cabin boy at the time, lost his leg before being pulled to safety.

Several years later, he became friends with Copley, and commissioned him to make a painting of the incident. Copley made three, the original of which resides in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.

I can’t wait to see it.

Current/Upcoming Art Shows in Toronto

There’s never a shortage of things to do in Toronto, especially if culture is your thing. That said, if you’re in the city this winter/spring, the following shows look promising.

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ABOVE: Diane Arbus, A young man and his pregnant wife in Washington Square Park, N.Y.C., 1965, gelatin silver print, 20 x 16 inches (sheet), private collection, Toronto, copyright © The Estate of Diane Arbus

BELOW: Aude Moreau, Waiting for Landing, 2015, digital print, 28 x 42 inches, collection of the artist

Outsiders: American Photography and Film 1950s-1980s

Art Gallery of Ontario (March 12 – May 29)

A selection of art misfits – including Diane Arbus, Kenneth Anger and Nan Goldin – comes to the AGO this month. Given the current state of U.S. politics, this show promises to be more relevant than ever.

Angell Gallery’s 20th Anniversary Exhibition

Angell Gallery (April 9-23)

Not a lot of info available on this (no artists listed), but I’ll give this gallery the benefit of the doubt and expect a good showing.

Aude Moreau: The Political Nighfall

The Power Plant (January 30 – May 15)

If you dig panoramas and cityscapes (I do), then this exhibition is for you. Several cities, among them Toronto and Montreal, are included.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Royal Ontario Museum (November 21, 2015 – March 20, 2016)

The world’s longest-running nature photography competition comes to Toronto with 100 stunning photos. You don’t have to be an art junky to love this.