The 10 best art shows of 2017

January 10, 2018 § Leave a comment

Many of this year’s top exhibitions explored Canada’s colonial legacy, the concept of nationhood and the meaning of monuments

BY ROSEMARY HEATHER, FRAN SCHECHTER DECEMBER 5, 2017

The Scream, a painting by Kent Monkman

1. Kent Monkman, Shame And Prejudice: A Story Of Resilience, Art Museum at the University of Toronto (January 26-March 5)

In his most integrated and powerful show yet, Monkman deployed history paintings, installations and artifacts to tell the story of Indigenous people in Canada through the eyes of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, his two-spirited alter ego. Though there’s humour in her appearances as a “country wife” and nude model posing with the fathers of Confederation, there’s also a hefty dose of pain and anger in works that dramatize starvation, forced treaties, residential schools, incarceration and murdered women. (The show is touring Canada, opening in Kingston in January, and being adapted into a book.) Fran Schechter

2. Every. Now. Then: Reframing Nationhood, Art Gallery of Ontario (June 29-December 10)

Former AGO Canadian art curator Andrew Hunter and curator Anique Jordan put together this politically charged sesquicentennial show before Hunter resigned to join the Art Gallery of Guelph. Works by mostly Black, Indigenous and Asian-Canadian artists, both emerging and established, dealt with Indigenous perspectives, immigrant dislocation, Black culture and activism, and migrant agricultural workers. We might not see such radicalism at the institution again. FS

3. HERE – Locating Contemporary Canadian Artists, Aga Khan Museum (July 22-January 7)

Go see this show of contemporary work by Canadian artists curated by Swapnaa Tamhane. Then take a look at the museum’s permanent collection. The net effect is to better understand all artworks as cultural artifacts. It’s one of the great accomplishments of this sesquicentennial project, which presents a stunning range of art practices and experiences. It’s hard to think of a better representation of what Canada is today. Featuring work by Derya Akay, George Elliott Clarke, Sameer Farooq, Osheen Harruthoonyan, Nahed Mansour, Nadia Myre, Nep Sidhu and others. Rosemary Heather

4. Raise A Flag: Works From The Indigenous Art Collection (2000-2015), Onsite Gallery at OCADU (September 16-December 10)

In the refurbished gallery, OCADU Indigenous visual culture chair Ryan Rice brought together selections from the federal government’s Indigenous art collection, a 50-year-old program at Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development that hires First Nations curators to acquire artworks that are rarely exhibited. The show highlighted the ongoing cultural strategies Indigenous artists have used in a variety of media to insert their stories into the colonial narrative and keep their creative spirits alive. FS

5. Aude Moreau, Less Is More Or, TD Centre (September 2-4)

Montreal’s Aude Moreau used Labour Day weekend to add giant glowing letters to the Mies van der Rohe masterpiece that is the TD Centre, an icon of modernist architecture. A fitting tribute to the architect’s maxim “Less is more,” Moreau’s repetition of the phrase on multiple facades of the buildings created a monumental artwork that succeeded as both image and physical experience. More artworks of this scale, pleaseRH

Mies van der Rohe

Aude Moreau’s Less Is More Or

6. Life of a Craphead, King Edward VII Equestrian Statue Floating Down The Don, part of the The Don River Valley Park Art Program (October 29, November 5, 12 and 19)

Perhaps no image better sums up the meaning of Canada’s 150 celebrations than that of artist Jon McCurley in a kayak, towing a half-submerged equestrian sculpture down the Don River. Picked up by wire agencies, this image of a work by artist-duo Life of a Craphead (McCurley and Amy Lam), was seen internationally. A smart contribution to a cultural moment that is seeing old narratives dismantled. RH

7. Deanna Bowen, On Trial The Long Doorway, Mercer Union (September 15-November 4)

Bowen, a descendant of early 20th-century Black immigrants to Canada from Alabama, brought her unique perspective on Canadian racism to this installation re-enacting a 1956 CBC drama about a Black lawyer defending a white U of T student who’s attacked a Black athlete. Black actors who played against race and gender deconstructed the teleplay in video and occasional live performances that took place in period sets in the gallery. FS

8. Adrian Stimson, Mourning And Mayhem, A Space Gallery (September 26-October 28)

Wanda Nanibush took time out from the AGO to curate this multimedia show by the Saskatchewan-based Siksika artist, his long-overdue first Toronto solo. Stimson here skewered colonial concepts of Indian-ness with a wall of documents about Grey Owl and tourist kitsch. Videos, photos and a sculptural replica of the looming, horned Shaman Exterminator, Stimson’s second alter ego, provided an otherworldly counterpoint to Buffalo Boy, his gender-bending trickster in skins and fishnets. FS

9. Ydessa Hendeles, The Milliner’s Daughter, The Power Plant (June 24-September 4)

What Hendeles does is unique, and her exhibition at the Power Plant rightly celebrated that. Moving from gallerist and collector to curator, she now combines these activities into work as an artist. Highly syncretic, Hendeles’s investigations are informed by a personal set of concerns without ever being limited by them. What results are exhibitions like this first major survey of her output, asking us to consider what the lessons of familial history tell us about the present. RH

10. An Unassailable And Monumental Dignity, CONTACT Gallery (September 21-November 18)

Curating is harder than it looks. This exhibition is a great example of how to do it well. Borrowing a title from a text by James Baldwin, curator Heather Rigg creates a quietly provocative context for the consideration of how images of Black men function in the visual economies of today. A pointed combination of works, the show avoids sensationalism and delivers on the promise of its title. Featuring work by Alexandra Bell, Mohamed Bourouissa, Leslie Hewitt, Aaron Jones and Keisha Scarville. RH

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Kent Monkman prepares to debut his largest painting yet

September 26, 2017 § Leave a comment

On the heels of his popular U of T Art Museum show, the Cree artist is unveiling a 12 x 24-ft history painting based on a treaty between the Dutch and the Iroquois

BY ROSEMARY HEATHER

Kent Monkman

Kent Monkman in his studio – photo credit: Samuel Engleking

Kent Monkman’s show at U of T Art Museum earlier this year might have been Toronto’s most important art exhibition of 2017.

Hugely popular, Shame And Prejudice: A Story Of Resilience presented the artists’ work along with a selection of historical paintings and artefacts. A much-needed corrective to the Canada 150 celebrations, the exhibition addressed topics including treaty signings, First Nations’ reserves, residential schools and missing and murdered Indigenous women. Whatever the event’s organizers had in mind when planning the sesquicentennial, it probably wasn’t this.

Now Monkman is back with Two Ships. The monumental painting will be presented for two days – September 26 and 27 – as part of 360: Bridges at 6 Degrees Citizen Space, an event that asks what citizenship looks like in the 21st century. This series of discussions at the Art Gallery of Ontario will be livestreamed via four Toronto Public Library branches. Monkman’s talk happens September 26 from 3:30-5 pm, and his piece will be shown in Paris at the Canadian Cultural Centre’s inaugural exhibition in May 2018.

At 12 x 24 ft, this is the largest painting you’ve made. Tell me about it.

This project has been ongoing for almost three years. I wanted to do a very large history painting. The scale has a certain impact. The story I wanted to tell is based on a treaty between the Dutch and the Iroquois called the Two Row Wampum Treaty. It was a belt with two purple rows of beads made by the Iroquois to talk about a peace alliance — one for the European vessel and one for the Indigenous vessel and the idea was that they would travel a parallel course and not interfere with one another.

This painting is, of course, that moment of interference. I was inspired by Delacroix’s Christ On The Sea Of Galilee (1854). The parable here was that Christ was asleep and everyone was freaking out because they thought the boat they were in was going to sink. And he was blissfully asleep. In my painting, because of the collision of two cultures, these two vessels are about to collide and Miss Chief, my alter ego, is asleep in the boat. The idea is she is going to wake up and calm the storm.

With your show at U of T’s Art Museum – the room about the residential schools, for instance – I saw that and thought, I’ve never seen anything like this before.

Well, that was part of my work as I cycle through Western art history looking for all these gaps – there are huge gaps in the narrative and how the story of North America is told through a very European lens. The other stuff never really made it into the art canon because no one wanted to show it or to expose it. These chapters of Indigenous history – the removal of children, the rate of incarceration, the dispossession of Indigenous people from our land – those never made it into art history. They never made it into our school curriculums. I never set out to be an educator, but when I went into art history, all this stuff just came to the surface and I had to deal with it.

A large part of what I do in the art world is bring people over to my perspective because they are so used to the dominant narrative, which is a whitewash. The incidences where this story does exist in art history is minor. The story North America tells itself about its own history and mythology is flawed.

Do you think there are different rates of progress between Canada and the U.S. on these issues?

[Americans] are at least a generation behind in terms of their awareness. It’s like slipping back in time when you go across the border, depending where you are. That’s my perception. I feel that they are 20, 25 years behind. They have never had a major biennial, like the Sakahàn, of Indigenous work. They don’t have Indigenous curators working in institutions as contemporary curators. We do. And those are major battles that took generations to secure.

There is the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., but that’s an ethnographic museum.

Exactly. That’s still how native people exist in the minds and imaginations of Americans, that they belong in the ethnological wing. Or the Indian Market. It’s either tourist art or they are ethnological specimens. That’s one of the biggest problems holding back Indigenous art from getting into the mainstream.

In Canada, the treaties haven’t been resolved. Is that the reason this history is not being dealt with?

Absolutely. It all goes back to the Indian Act and how the government has established a relationship with Indigenous people. It’s not nation-to-nation; we are wards of the state. We still have cards with numbers that identify us as wards of the state. This goes back to the signing of the treaties and the beginnings of colonial policies that began with incarcerating Indigenous people on reserves and then the institutionalization of Indigenous people through all these different policies.

This is why Indigenous people fill our prisons, because they were foster children. They were taken out with the Sixties Scoop and never had a chance. They never had a relationship with their parents or grandparents and they became institutionalized. They are in our prisons, they are in our foster care system. I could go on and on.

ORIGINALLY COMMISSIONED BY NOW MAGAZINE, SEPTEMBER 20, 2017 11:42 AM
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