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Richard Rhodes’ Top 3: Ambitious Imaginations

1. Cyprien Gaillard at the Centre Pompidou, Paris

Gaillard, now in his early 30s, was the winner of the 2010 Marcel Duchamp Prize, and this related installation, which continues into January, went on view at the Pompidou in September. In one of the large mezzanine galleries, Gaillard’s installation presents a complex meditation on ruins that launches itself with the presiding visage of an ancient Mesopotamian tribal head drawn from the collection of the Louvre. The head, in profile, acts like a directional guide to the installation. Along the walls is a continuous, waist-high shelf subdivided into curved bays, each of which holds a diamond shape composed of nine Polaroid photographs. The photographs, shot on the diagonal, were taken on the artist’s journeys to various sites in Asia, Europe and the Americas over the past five years—some of them ancient ruins, some of them modern ruins. Each diamond shape mixes and matches images from the sites to create a widening visual dialogue in what Gaillard calls “an atlas of ruins.” Continents and eras collapse into one another to create a history of decay animated by an exquisite visual sensitivity. With the arrangement of photos and a diamond-motif steel-and-car-tire structure, Gaillard pulls a diverse array of place and circumstance into a commons now haunted by the spectre of encroaching entropy. This installation has nearly a thousand different elements if you count picture by picture, object by object, but Gaillard’s fleet and subtle presence of mind lends them a single, encompassing effect that highlights the archival imagination that is bringing a fresh, but deeply historical, energy to the contemporary Paris art scene.




2. Chopped & Screwed at MKG 127, Toronto

This sassy summer show was something I already identified for my year-end list when I reviewed it in early August. Then, as now, it deserved attention for how it put conventional curatorial practices on notice; we could use more adventurous efforts like this when it comes to putting artworks into galleries. Quiet, slow, spacious hangings might work often and for many works—and the same is true of didactic, earnest, chronological, connective displays—but other models are out there and waiting to match the tone and tenor of evolving contemporary practices. Hugh Scott-Douglas moved yardsticks with this crowded little show. For anyone watching through MKG127’s big picture window on Ossington Avenue, a kind of clockwork mechanism set pieces moving in the gallery over the course of the exhibition. Its series of rotations and counter-rotations linked to hip-hop remixing set up an engaging meta-narrative for the mostly minimalist-derived works in the show; everything was in perpetual flux. The enveloping mindfulness that I mentioned in my original review is not disconnected from what Gaillard presented in Paris—an artwork/exhibition in search of ambitious and more widely imagined standards.




3. Gary Michael Dault at Peak Gallery, Toronto

Mindfulness is a theme for this year’s selection, and one of the highlights on these terms is Gary Michael Dault’s exhibition “Envelope and Contents: Notebook Paintings,” at Peak Gallery until January 15. Dault has been a critic on the Toronto art scene since the late 1960s, and as a student at OCAD in the early 1970s, I can attest to the brilliance of the seminars he ran on contemporary art when he taught there. Even then, Dault’s reference point during discussions would be a small notebook in which he had written observations or made drawings. At Peak, some of the recent notebooks from this lifelong practice are on view. They offer a cornucopia of small, painted images that stand as meditations about the visible world, art history and literature. Working effortlessly in acrylic black and white and mid-tone gray, Dault’s graphic brushwork turns each image into a dense, visceral epiphany. The images and notebooks add up to a record of a life aligned with art, and they speak volumes for the intensity that Dault, as a critic, brings to his writing. They also open the door for us to regard him as an artist in his own right—an artist with much to say about drawing and painting as parallel worlds deeply attached to the descriptive impetus of writing.

Richard Rhodes is the editor of Canadian Art.

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