Closing after this long weekend is the Power Plant’s sprawling summer exhibition, Postscript: Writing After Conceptual Art. Curated by Andrea Andersson and Nora Burnett Abrams, this multi-sensory feast for the eyes, ears, and mind is a testament to the variety and richness of artistic and poetic approaches to language undertaken by conceptual artists and writers since the 1960s.
It’s the beginning of April, and in honour of Max Ernst’s birthday (April 2) and National Poetry Month, we thought we’d do a little feature on Ernst, key figure in the history of Dada and Surrealism, and Dorothea Tanning, prolific artist and late-blooming poet who also happens to have been Ernst’s fourth wife.
A dashing and charismatic pair, they met in New York in 1942, when Ernst was still married to Peggy Guggenheim. Four years later, upon his divorce from Guggenheim, Ernst married Tanning in a double Beverly Hills wedding with Juliet Browner and Man Ray. Settling first in Sedona, and then the south of France, Ernst and Tanning continued their innovative and ever-evolving artistic practices, encompassing painting, collage, printmaking, sculpture, filmmaking, costume and set design, book illustration, and writing.
Recently we saw Susan Low-Beer’s newest work in an exhibition titled About Face at David Kaye gallery. Twenty-six heads mounted to cylindrical bases or spools and displayed on shelves lining three of the gallery’s walls were the central focus of the show. All of the heads were created using the same mold, into which Low-Beer pressed an array of texturally varied clay pieces in order to produce the range of dispositions on display. The artist called them emotional portraits.
By our calculations, The Thing Quarterly launched a full four years ago, with a hand-wringing window shade bearing silkscreened text by Miranda July. Each issue of The Thing, conceived as an object-based periodical, is the brainchild (or red-headed stepchild, depending on your aesthetic inclinations) of a different invited artist, writer, musician, or filmmaker, including the likes of Trisha Donnelly, Jonathan Lethem, Doo.Ri, and James Franco. Charged with the task of marrying a useful object with text, contributors have created, among other things, a bamboo cutting board with text seared into its surface (“Crying Instructions” by Starlee Kline), and a hefty rubber doorstop bearing a letter to Billie Jean King written by the artist’s much younger self (untitled, by Anne Walsh). The editors, Jonn Herschend and Will Rogan, are visual artists themselves, and the most interesting of the things they have produced walk an elegant or provocative line between literature, fine art, and functional object.
Over the past few weeks we’ve been thinking especially hard about art. So hard, in fact, that recent encounters with art that foregrounds the physical experience have been a hugely welcome relief from all that heady cogitation.
The first such encounter got us out of our chairs and walking up stairs as part of Derek Sullivan’s recent Power Plant show, Albatross Omnibus. Comprising three industrial-sized stepladders and 52 print-on-demand artist books suspended from the ceiling, Albatross Omnibus conceptually echoes Yoko Ono’s well-known 1966 installation, Ceiling Painting (YES Painting), whereby viewer initiative and participation is required to experience and complete the performance of the exhibition. However while Albatross has similarly playful, meditative, and uplifting moments, Sullivan’s books collectively embody a much more idiosyncratic and energetic profusion of words, images and ideas rather than a singular (albeit profound) experience. This is not to say that Sullivan’s work is superficial; in fact the many humourous concrete texts and visual koans which make up the body of Albatross belie a deeper love and engagement with the history of reading, print, and the book itself. Steering a ladder through space, ascending the steps, and stretching up to page through each slim volume in turn, one enacts a physical experience of the pre-digital library, wherein books occupy positions, not always easy to reach, in a specific place and time. At a moment when books are rapidly beginning to disappear into the cloud, we are reminded not only of the sheer pleasure of touching and turning a page, but also of the importance of preserving and protecting the printed format as one of the still-unsurpassed achievements of human social, political and cultural expression.
Upstairs in The Power Plant’s North Gallery, a more poetic and less overtly political mode of curatorial inquiry is represented, one which serves as a counterpoint to the ground floor exhibitions (see links to related posts below). To What Earth Does This Sweet Cold Belong? is a group exhibition of young Canadian and American artists curated by Jon Davies, Assistant Curator at The Power Plant. Taking its title and cue from the poetry of American Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, this show features fantastical landscapes from the imaginations of artists Andrea Carlson, Annie MacDonell, Kevin Schmidt, Jennifer Rose Sciarrino, and Erin Shirreff.