CURRENT ISSUE | FALL 2017: THE IDEA OF HISTORY
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Canada at the New York Fairs: Art from the Upper North Side

A view of Jason Gringler’s mirrored installation at Volta / photo Bill Clarke

From West Side piers to East Side schoolhouses, work by Canadian artists could be found throughout New York during last week’s art fairs. Highlights included Armory projects by the Art Dealers Association of Canada, booths by independent Canadian dealers at Volta, northern perspectives at new curator-driven fair SPRING/BREAK, and more.

This year at the Armory Show, the Art Dealers Association of Canada, rather than doing a group show as in 2011, wanted to focus on an installation by a single artist—Douglas Coupland.

“Coupland was a natural choice because of his exploration of Canadian identity and his profile as a writer and public figure,” said Elizabeth Edwards, ADAC’s executive director.

Coupland’s ADAC display was colourful and bold, featuring a large QR code painting, one of his hard-edged, greyscale landscapes, and 16 works from the Slogans for the Early 21st Century series.

 

“People have really engaged with the work; the timeliness of the Slogans is particularly resonating with people,” said Edwards. “Being at the Armory gives us the opportunity to introduce Coupland’s work to many people for the first time, and to talk broadly about Canada’s lively visual arts scene.”

The biggest Canadian convergence in New York seemed to occur in relation to this project on March 9, when ADAC hosted a reception for Coupland and curator Denise Markonish, who organized the “Oh, Canada” show that opens at MASS MoCA on May 27. During a lively Q&A, Coupland and Markonish talked about her impressions of the Canadian art scene, and how her opinions changed as she trekked across the country to find work for the exhibition.

 

“I was familiar with Jeff Wall and Janet Cardiff, but I knew there had to be more,” said the bubbly Markonish. “I knew about NSCAD through John Baldessari and Vito Acconci, but I’d never heard of Garry Neill Kennedy. I had to re-teach myself art history through a Canadian lens.”

Early in the conversation, Coupland coined the term “comparison-itis” to describe how Canadians insecurely defined themselves against the US throughout the 1980s and 90s. In Coupland’s view, however, something changed in the early 2000s. “We started to define ourselves by ourselves,” he said.

Given Canadian art’s strong presence elsewhere in New York last week, one hopes, perhaps, that Americans began to experience a little “comparison-itis.”

 

The Armory booth for New York’s Art in General featured editions by Brooklyn-based Canadian artist Brendan Fernandes. 1979.206.143 (cow) and 1979.206.200 (hyena) (both 2010) are wall-mounted neon works. An edition of mirrors suggestive of indigenous masks was almost sold out an hour into the fair’s preview. “Brendan’s star is definitely on the rise,” said deputy director Anna Starling.

Also at the piers, Toronto’s Corkin Gallery displayed a blue-chip selection of work by Canadian and American photographers, including Garage Door, Vancouver, British Columbia (1967), an early lightbox by IAIN BAXTER&. The standout was Headlighting (1974–77), a series of black-and-white images by Thaddeus Holownia that picture moustache-and-bell-bottom-sporting dudes posing with their boat-sized cars.

 

Mike Bayne’s paintings at Toronto-based gallerist Katharine Mulherin’s Armory booth generated significant buzz. Sales of his immaculate, snapshot-sized realist paintings of liminal urban spaces were brisk, perhaps spurred by respected critic Blake Gopnik’s mention of Bayne’s paintings as among the Armory’s best on the popular website Daily Beast. (Of course, Gopnik has Canadian connections too, having worked north of the 49th in the past.)

Across from the Empire State Building in midtown, three Montreal galleries, and one from Toronto, did Canada proud at Volta.

Volta first-timers Battat Contemporary presented an elegant arrangement of new collages and drawings by Sophie Jodoin bookended by two larger works—Close Your Eyes (2012), a black glass piece with the work’s titular words sandblasted into it, and the charcoal-and-pastel drawing Untitled (feet) (2012), in which a woman’s strappy-heeled feet dangle disturbingly from the top of the picture frame.

 

Parisian Laundry took a less-is-more approach in its presentation of new Janet Werner paintings. “We thought it would be eye-catching to just focus on two large, high-impact paintings,” said gallery assistant Megan Bradley. The major paintings—Lucy (2011), which pictures a blonde woman in polka-dotted sweater, and Earthling (2012), of a pallid woman with a blue beehive hairdo—were a welcome bit of figuration amid a lot of colourful abstraction.

At Pierre-François Ouellette, Toronto-based artist Ed Pien presented stunning drawings, a cut-paper work and a woven sculpture, Play (2012), which points the artist in an exciting new direction. “With the sculpture, I’m drawing in space,” Pien explained.

 

Also at Volta, Toronto’s O’Born Contemporary featured work by Alex Fischer, who digitally manipulates images sourced from the Internet (including, at Volta, one striking image of a shadowy Earth) and outputs them as lightjet or giclée prints. The results are painterly.

Cologne gallery Stefan Röpke presented work by Brooklyn- and Toronto-based artist Jason Gringler, whose practice combines collage, painting and sculpture. The incorporation of shards of mirror make works like Black Mass (2012) violently prismatic. One wall of the booth was a grid of cracked mirrors, turning the display into an apocalyptic funhouse.

“I like watching people interact with the work,” said Gringler, smiling as people used their iPhones to photograph their fractured reflections.

Gringler’s work was also on view at the SPRING/BREAK fair mounted in a Bowery district schoolhouse. Claiming to be “New York City’s first curator-driven art fair,” SPRING/BREAK brought together work by more than 65 artists selected by 23 independent curators. Artists like Assume Vivid Astro Focus and Eve Sussman anchored the show, but most work was by emerging artists interpreting the chaos that will ensue when the End is upon us.

 

Canadian Natalie Kovacs was one of the curators participating in SPRING/BREAK, and her portion included an installation of works by Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins. The duo was represented by two wall-mounted clear acrylic boxes containing strips of shredded paper, and by a work in which a pair of large googly eyes, controlled by computer vision technologies, follows visitors around the room. In this context, the pieces embodied the paranoia caused by surveillance. Anxieties about the current economic situation were also reflected in Noam Gonick’s video Commerce Court, which was first shown at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche in 2008.

Anxiety aside—whether about art, society or national identity—last weekend proved to be a memorable one for Upper North Side content.

 

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