PHOTO: Courtesy of Equinox Gallery and the artist
On the Nature of Things, Kamloops Art Gallery, October 15 - December 31, 2011
— BY Beverly Cramp
Modern art, with its philosophy of eschewing the traditional in favour of breaking new ground and experimentation, is often referred to, in art textbooks as a movement that is over, having ended sometime in the late twentieth century. That ‘death’ is greatly exaggerated as modern art’s influence, if not the outright creation of modern art, is still most definitely with us.
This exhibition proves how artists from across Canada and around the world are re-purposing modernism. “On the Nature of Things” is a remarkable survey of themes, mediums, and materials from fifteen artists that speaks to modernism. How else do you explain the combination of works from artists such as 92-year old painter Gordon Smith, conceptualist art star Rodney Graham, contemporary English realist Sarah Dobai, sculptor Jack Jeffrey, installation artist Kristi Malakoff, photo-based artist Evan Lee and the French neo-surrealist Jacques de la Villeglé?
The first piece likely to be seen is Kristi Malakoff’s playful installation Stardust. It’s the only artwork that can be seen from the street through the gallery’s large window facing its entrance. Referencing the signage of Stardust roller skating rinks scattered across North America in the 1970s and 1980s, this piece is made up of lettering and stars constructed from colourful tissue paper mounted on wood and lit from behind. It represents a time of disco dancing long past, but is transformed by Malakoff’s laborious working of tiny bits of paper into an amusing sculptural piece. It conjures up images of roller skaters in shiny polyester jostling each other around corners. Stardust is another in a long line of her lively sculptures and assemblages, often made with paper, that re-work the common, machine-made images which surround us and that we take for granted.
Inside the first gallery space which is long and narrow in scope, one enters the strange fantasy wonderland of artists Tony Romano & Tyler Brett, often referred to as T&T. Their digital C-print called The Delivery looks, at first glance, like a dreamy landscape with trees in the foreground and layers of blue mountains and sky in the background. But off to the left is a tiny figure with a container of yellow blossoms hung over his shoulder. Is he gathering or planting the flowers? Underfoot appears to be a buried boat with the top layer of soil growing the same yellow blossoms as in the container. Further away is a half buried car with soil and yellow flowers on its roof. It’s an apocalyptic hallucination of our current automobile-centric world destroyed and decaying. Yet somehow T&T’s vision has a warmth and sweetness to it. Other elements of T&T’s works include watercolours and drawings as well as off-site installations on a ranch outside Kamloops. The installations are witty sculptures of a sailboat, pedal-boat and a lighthouse made from old car parts, bicycles, wood and detritus from garbage dumps and other graveyards of material from our convenience-oriented, middle-class world.
One of the real revelations in the show is several sculptures by Gordon Smith, better known for his abstract paintings and post-impressionistic images of trees. These are made of found objects that he has paper-machéd or wrapped in cellophane. One sculpture, Untitled (2011), is a pile of twigs wrapped in colourful magazine pages, looking like the horns of some fantastical ungulate.
Overall, On the Nature of Things is an eclectic, exciting and engaging exhibition demonstrating how artists continue to respond to modernist influences. Bravo to Kamloops Art Gallery, this show wouldn’t be out of place in any avant-garde gallery anywhere.