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Courtesy of the artist and Clifton Benevento, New York.
"Bring Back the Funk"
Polly Apfelbaum, "Bring Back the Funk," 2013, dye and synthetic velvet (foreground, installation view, dimensions variable).
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Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York.
Jennifer Steinkamp, "Sharpie (detail)," 2009, video installation, continuous loop.
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Collection of the Mendel Art Gallery.
Roy Kiyooka, "Untitled (Hoarfrost)," 1960, oil on masonite panels, 16.5” x 19.1”.
Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon
Sept. 27, 2013 to Jan. 5, 2014
By Lissa Robinson
An ecological metaphor of fluxing ideals pulls viewers into the plastic world of Rewilding Modernity, curated by the Mendel Art Gallery’s chief curator, Lisa Baldissera. The exhibition’s pageantry reveals shifting patterns, ideologies and motifs, while setting up jarring contrasts between formalism and regionalism as well as old and new approaches to making modernist art.
Baldissera imagined the exhibition as a kind of laboratory incorporating art from the 1950s to the 1970s, as well as contemporary pieces, as a way to create dialogues between the shifting ideals of modernism and formal aesthetics. It spans artists from Kenneth Noland, Roy Kiyooka and Jack Shadbolt to Polly Apfelbaum, Robert Youds and Wally Dion, exploring Saskatchewan’s relationship to modernist art practice via the artists who have lived and worked here, along with the international artists who participated in the Emma Lake workshops. These juxtapositions create a zone of flux where old and new can reshape how we view or consider modernist tendencies in art.
The centrally placed diary text of John Cage on the opposite side of the didactic wall sets the exhibition’s tone. Published in Canadian Art, the diary was composed of 100 words written on each of the 14 days of his leading a workshop at Emma Lake in 1965. The significance of Cage’s words and their inherent rhythm reverberate as one walks through the space. Using his compositions as a marker or counterpoint, one can almost hear the sound that a painting or sculpture might make – the hssst of fluorescent pink, the shhsh of muted browns, or the ting-tong of the metallic green in Dion’s Star Blanket, which he made in 2006 from circuit boards and brass wire. Viewed as an orchestrated series of notes, both harmonic and off tune, its lines and gestures writhe, zigzag, roll and spew. A quality that permeates the exhibition as a whole, it’s best exemplified by Jennifer Steinkamp’s monumental 2004 video installation, Sharpie, a colourful and layered composition of pulsating squiggles.
Both galleries contain a jumble of old and contemporary works, making it a challenge at times to decipher the era of each piece. There is a definite hum and clash. Viewing the meditative surface of Kiyooka’s 1960 piece, Untitled (Hoarfrost), juxtaposed with Apfelbaum’s Bring Back the Funk (2013), is a confounding and revelatory experience. Her psychedelic painting on the floor, which at first seems random and out of control, is placated by the quiet space of Kiyooka’s work. In contrast, the volume of Kiyooka’s formal composition becomes a profound rift on nature with its obsessive layers of cross strokes and patterning.
Although this exhibition, at first viewing, seems off kilter, its most distinctive feature is how it plays with the space in between and on the surface of polarizing images that both repel and attract. This zone of flux becomes a curious place in which viewers can contemplate the relationships between works, while also coming to their own conclusions about what modernity means today, and what it may have meant to past generations.