Georgia O’Keefe at the Art Gallery of Ontario

This past Saturday, I hopped on the subway and headed downtown to see the Georgia O’Keeffe retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Here is a brief review.

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ABOVE: Georgia O’Keeffe, My Front Yard, Summer, 1941, oil on canvas, 20 x 30 inches

BELOW: Georgia O’Keefe, Nature Forms – Gaspe, 1932, oil on canvas

Georgia O’Keeffe had a long and storied career that spanned many decades, so a full accounting of her life and work would be a tall order for any institution. That said, the people who put this exhibition together tried, and for that they deserve credit. This show isn’t perfect, but it’s still pretty good. Here are my thoughts:

There are a lot of pieces on display, and for the most part, they are shown in chronological order. While I would have liked to see more cityscapes (as they are my favorite of her works) there are at least a few key pieces from each phase of her artistic journey. Interspersed throughout, are numerous photographs of O’Keeffe, posing, and at work in her studio. These bring context to the exhibition, and being shot by the likes of Ansel Adams and Alfred Steiglitz, are exceptional on their own.

While walking through the galleries, I overheard a couple complaining that there were only “6 flowers in the show.” While this is true, the quality of what is on display is pretty impressive. O’Keeffes craft is really tight, and her paintings are very well made. You can rarely spot a pencil line in her work, which shows a strong attention to detail, and a labor intensive practice. She wasn’t whipping these things off, she was taking her time.

In terms of imagery, the retrospective does an excellent job of highlighting some of O’Keeffes many influences, namely abstraction and minimalism – her simplest works are quite calming. In terms of palette, her greens, whites and blues really pop. Her reds, not so much.

Pleasantly, there is a Canadian connection to all this, that being her painting “Nature Forms – Gaspe”. It was, by far, my favorite piece in the exhibition. It’s small, and tucked into a corner, but judging by the murmurs around it, seemed to impress everyone who saw it – not just me.

All said and done, this is a fairly well thought out exhibition, that while lacking some blockbuster pieces, gives a good accounting of the life and work of one of the 20th centuries greatest artists. If you’re a fan of her work, I highly suggest you go.

Georgia O’Keeffe is at the Art Gallery of Ontario until July 30, 2017.

Kim Dorland at Angell Gallery

Starting with Nuit Blanche and ending with Art Toronto, October is going to be great for art lovers. I’m especially looking forward to the Kim Dorland show opening mid-month.

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ABOVE: Kim Dorland, Untitled (Painter in a Canoe), 2013, oil and acrylic on jute over wood panel, 72 x 29 inches

BELOW: Kim Dorland, So Fucked-up, 2008, oil, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 60 x 72 inches

Kim Dorland’s new show “I Know That I Know Nothing” opens October 14 at the Angell Gallery, and, being a fan of his work, I’m really looking forward to it. While I plan on writing a review of the show later this month, here first is a little bio:

Born in 1974 in Wainwright Alberta, Kim Dorland graduated with an MFA from York University (in Toronto) and now lives and works in Vancouver, B.C.

His career began to take off in the early 2000’s and in 2007 he was a finalist in the RBC Canadian Painting Competition (he didn’t win). Since then, he’s shown in multiple venues including a solo exhibition at the prestigious McMichael Canadian Art Collection in 2014.

His work, which takes its inspiration from Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven is in some ways similar to Peter Doig, but with a heavier, almost sculptor-like hand (Dorland often adds so many layers of paint that screws are needed to anchor everything in place). To add contrast, washes and sprays are placed alongside thick globs of paint, and bright florescent colors are used to accent darker spaces. All this makes for a complex and compelling visual narrative.

The doors to this exhibition don’t open for another 16 days but if I had to guess, it’s going to be one of the years best shows.

Vision after the Sermon

On October 22, you’ll be able to see some incredible artworks at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Of them all, I’m most looking forward to Gauguin’s Vision after the Sermon.

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ABOVE: Paul Gauguin, Vision after the Sermon (Jacob wrestling with the Angel), 1888, oil on canvas, 28.7 x 36.2 inches

The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) seems to be on a role as of late, and it looks like that’s going to continue with Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, Van Gogh and more (opening on October 22). After viewing some of the works on the AGO’s website, I’m most excited to see Vision after the Sermon by Paul Gauguin. Here is a little about the piece.

Painted in 1888 and purchased by the National Gallery of Scotland in 1925, Vision after the Sermon is one of Gauguin’s most famous works, in part, because it marks his transition from plein air landscapes to religious iconography.

In the painting, the women have just listened to a sermon based upon Genesis (32:22-32) which tells the story of Jacob, who, after crossing a river with his family, gets into an all-night wrestling match with an unknown angel. They are separated from their vision by a tree that cuts across the visual plane, and, to draw attention to the scene before them, the ground on which they stand is painted red. About the piece Gauguin wrote “for me, the landscape and the fight only exist in the imagination of the people praying after the sermon.”

In a few months, I’ll get to see it in person. I can’t wait.

Lawren Harris at the Art Gallery of Ontario

I recently visited the Art Gallery of Ontario to see it’s latest exhibition, The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris. Here are some of my thoughts on the show.

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Of all the art shows to come to Toronto this year, none had me more excited than The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris. I finally got to see it a few days ago and as I had expected, it was impressive.

The exhibition, which is broken into three parts, begins with work inspired by life in one of Toronto’s poorest neighborhoods, the Ward. It was there that Harris cut his teeth as an artist, and as such, the paintings at the beginning of this section bear little resemblance to those at the end. They’re all good, but the later ones are better.

The middle section stands in stark contrast to the first and contains some of Harris’s most beloved work. The paintings here were inspired by Canada’s arctic, and owing to that, are sparse in nature and grand in scale. Although a bit cold (no pun intended), they are strikingly beautiful and provide a nice escape from the summer heat.

The final section represents yet another shift for Harris and the works on display are mostly abstract. While I can appreciate his artistic evolution, I liked these paintings the least.

If I’m being honest, this exhibition isn’t perfect. I would have liked a little more info on Harris because as great as the paintings were, I didn’t leave knowing much more about him than when I entered. That said, I suspect that for most folks, the artwork itself will be more than enough – there were a lot of people when I went, and they all seemed engaged.

The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris is at the Art Gallery of Ontario until September 18, 2016. I highly suggest you go.

CHIHULY at the ROM

Last Sunday, I visited the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) to see a selection of works by famed glass artist Dale Chihuly. Here are some of my thoughts on the exhibition.

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ABOVE: Dale Chihuly, Persian Ceiling, 2012, installation

BELOW: Dale Chihuly, Float Boat, 2014, blown glass and wooden boat

I like all types of art for all types of reasons, and often, what I like wouldn’t fall into anyone’s definition of beautiful. That said, I do appreciate aesthetics, and sometimes, I like an artwork for it’s beauty alone. One artist whose work I do consider beautiful is Dale Chihuly. He’s currently showing at the Royal Ontario Museum, and last weekend, I stopped by for a look.

I really enjoyed this show, and I loved the fact that photography wasn’t just allowed, it was encouraged (Instagram, here I come). What I didn’t love was the price of admission. It was way too steep.

If you’ve heard about the exhibition and are debating whether or not you should go, I highly suggest you do (if you can afford to). It isn’t overly intellectual, but it is jam packed with eye-candy, and based upon the reactions of the people I saw there, it’s a real crowd pleaser.

CHIHULY is at the ROM until January 2, 2017.

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.

J.W.M Turner at the Art Gallery of Ontario

I recently visited the Art Gallery of Ontario to see its latest exhibition, J.W.M. Turner: Painting Set Free and came away impressed. Here is a short review.

 

ABOVE: J.M.W. Turner, War. The Exile and the Rock Limpit, 1842, oil on canvas, 40.5 x 40.3 x 4.7 inches, © Tate, London [2015]

BELOW: J.M.W. Turner, Peace – Burial at Sea, 1842, oil on canvas, 43.7 x 43.6 x 4.7 inches, © Tate, London [2015]

I’ve written about J.M.W. Turner in the past. First, about his painting The Slave Ship, and then, about his biopic film Mr. Turner. Suffice it say, I am a huge fan, and as such, I was super excited to see his works up close and personal in J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).

As usual, I went on a Saturday afternoon, and as is the case with most of the AGO’s blockbuster shows, so too did half the city. Despite the turnout, I was able to maneuver my way through the crowd and take in all the show had to offer. Which was a lot.

While I would have loved to see my favorite painting The Slave Ship, this exhibition does perfectly well without it. Many of the works on display are stunning, and the curators did an excellent job of showing Turner’s  progression as an artist, as well as his many influences.

From maritime scenes and mythical stories, to sunrises and sunsets (who doesn’t love those) there’s something for everyone in this show. If you’re already a fan of Turner, or if you’re hearing about him for the first time, you should go.

J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free is at the AGO until January 30, 2016.