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Richard Rhodes’s Art Toronto Highlights

Metro Toronto Convention Centre October 24 to 28, 2013

There is nothing like real life. The JPEG-scouting phase of Art Toronto 2013 is over; the real stuff is on the walls at the Toronto Convention Centre.

At the press preview Thursday morning, I did a quick tour of an almost empty art fair. The works were on the wall, and the wall tags often missing, but it was a great, uncrowded opportunity to see what is standing out at this year’s fair.

Unmissable is curator and artist Thom Sokoloski’s welcoming special project All the Artists Are Here, which looms over the escalators with a massive grid of black and white photos of participating artists at the fair. The red, white and black colour scheme has a nice agitprop resonance and the project itself serves as a reminder of what social group sets any art fair in motion.

Diving into the aisles of gallery booths, Nicholas Metivier holds pride of place on the right side of the cavernous hall. A blue-chip gallery with blue-chip artists, it has a lovely Robert Polidori Versailles photo with just the right tone of lèse-majesté in a portrait of a French king resting sideways on an easel in the corner of a room undergoing renovation. This is a Polidori Versailles that remembers the Revolution. (Galerie de Bellefeuille of the left side of the hall also has a booth of Polidori Versailles prints, too.)

Tucked in behind on another wall is a majestic recent Edward Burtynsky—an aerial view of river delta—that looks like a Gothicized Morris Louis Veil painting. Burtynsky continues to head his documentary photos into realms of painting practice and abstraction.

Nearby, Daniel Faria is showing the zebra photos from Shannon Bool’s 2012 solo exhibition at his west-end Toronto gallery. I say zebra, but these are photos that come with a story about a Palestinian zookeeper who no longer had zebras and so painted stripes on a pair of donkeys. Bool has extended the pattern, as well as the touching combination of confusion and ingenuity, in her pictures.

Opposite the Canadian Art booth, near the south café, Trench Contemporary Art from Vancouver could win a prize for its tiny booth installation—if Art Toronto offered a prize for best booth at the fair. What clinches it for Trench is the spectacular West Coast raven wood carving that makes the convention centre seem like Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology for a moment. Here’s where the missing wall tags were regretted: Was this a Bill Reid? It sure looked like a Bill Reid. It turns out to be Nicholas Galanin‘s Raven and the First Immigrant, created in dialogue with Reid’s iconic Raven and the First Men and (yes) displayed at the Vancouver MOA across from the Reid work in 2010.

A similar thought might hold for the schematic drawing of two silhouette figures on yellowing paper at the Barbara Edwards booth. On the left, a child looks toward a levitating blind man with a cane. Across the bottom, reversed out of a band of paint, are the words “who there?” But the real surprise is that this is a pre-famous Eric Fischl from 1978!—yet another treasure at a fair mostly known for its inventory of recent contemporary artworks.

Then its Quebec’s turn to stand out. At Parisian Laundry from Montreal, eyes turn to Fabienne Lasserre’s revamped post-minimal sculptures that hang tentatively from the wall or sit lightly on the floor. The language is unmonumental but the fabric materials and delicate colourings point to meditations on the three-dimensional potential of painting.

And it is the same at Galerie René Blouin, where Anthony Burnham has outdone himself with a lavender-coloured canvas that drapes objects beneath its surface. Never have contours and shadows played such an expository role in what amounts to a meta-painting for painting’s engagement with three-dimensional space. So much for the picture window model of painted space. After Burnham, we have to think: cloaking and draping and other hidden visibilities. (On Thursday night, the AGO acquired this Burnham work for its collection, so if you don’t get to see it at Art Toronto, maybe you’ll see it at the gallery someday.)

At Pari Nadimi, multimedia artist David Rokeby has a photo to die for on the outside wall. Dating from when Rokeby was in Venice for the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2002, it is a still from his San Marco Flow project that condenses six minutes of elapsed time in a view of Piazza San Marco. The dark clusters and white ghost forms are residues of recording time, and their vestigial weight becomes a moving metaphor for transient human experience.

In a similar through-a-glass-darkly vein, Paul Petro is presenting a series of etchings by the British artist Ged Quinn, who spends much of his time in his studio in the Cornwall countryside painting inimitable late-romantic paintings of misty, be-treed landscapes. In Petro’s etching series, he pokes a bit of fun at this aesthetic terrain by adding watercolour additions like smiley faces to the tasty muted tones of the etchings, along with a blooming, mold-like litho effect that covers the surface with a visceral signing of abandonment and neglect.

Not to be outdone on this dystopia theme, the genial Pierre-François Ouellette takes great pride in showing off the new work generated as a result of sculptor Maskull Lasserre’s involvement with the Canadian Forces Artists Program. The tour de force is heavy metal safe that Lasserre has reworked in his foundry into a one-person armoured personal carrier that sits malevolently in the middle of the booth. This much protection equals its matching weight in either an endless landscape of external danger or an infinite one of projected paranoia. The levered grenades turned into doves have a matching ambivalence.

Vancouver’s Winsor Gallery is showing a softer take on the end the world in a series of photos by Brian Howell who, in the past, has turned his camera on the extravagances of consumer society. This time, he wants to show us the end of print. If magazines and newspapers can endlessly talk about the end of analog photography, Howell takes some rebuttal time to show that the print world and its folding print shops are on their last legs too. This is why we have a website.

Richard Rhodes is the editor of Canadian Art. Join him today (October 27) at 2 p.m. at Booth 940 to discuss Art Toronto highlights and reflections further. For more picks from our editors, visit

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