Canadian Art

Review

Will Munro: A Legacy

Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto Jul 31 to Sep 6 2010
Will Munro  <I>Total Eclipse (Klaus Nomi)</I> 2005 Courtesy the estate of Will Munro and Paul Petro Contemporary Art © 2010 Estate of Will Munro / photo Sean Weaver Will Munro Total Eclipse (Klaus Nomi) 2005 Courtesy the estate of Will Munro and Paul Petro Contemporary Art © 2010 Estate of Will Munro / photo Sean Weaver

Will Munro <I>Total Eclipse (Klaus Nomi)</I> 2005 Courtesy the estate of Will Munro and Paul Petro Contemporary Art © 2010 Estate of Will Munro / photo Sean Weaver

“Total Eclipse,” the current show focusing on recently deceased Toronto artist (and legend) Will Munro, is an essential first step. This is true in multiple ways: Pragmatically, it’s the first proper solo show of Munro’s work to be mounted since his passing in late May. Contextually, it marks the beginning of a new phase in regarding Munro’s art; we are no longer looking at it in strictly memorial terms. “Total Eclipse” marks the moment where we begin to look at Munro’s work through the lens of legacy and canon.

The work is mounted in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s fledgling Toronto Now space. On the one hand, this is deeply fitting—Munro was “Toronto Now” for most of his adult life, and still remains so. On the other hand, the choice of space poses a significant challenge; the room itself is miniscule and demands firm curatorial efficiency.

Faced with this situation, curator Michelle Jacques deftly pulls the whole thing off. She wrestles the disparate elements of Munro’s practice into a whole; she satisfies both the curiosity of the uninitiated and the reverence of Munro’s intimates; she recognizes the aforementioned perceptual shift in our relationship to his work; and she begins the work’s posthumous appraisal in the smartest possible way—unearthing Munro’s network of influences to implicitly begin the discussion of his own wide-ranging influence.

Jacques navigates the porousness of Munro’s works and tastes—his art, his parties and his DJing all bled into one another—through the common denominator of music. Munro’s underwear-collage-portraits of Klaus Nomi and Leigh Bowery and his Black Fag poster (an homage to hardcore-punk-via-drag legend Vaginal Crème Davis) line the south wall. His David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust mirror piece is the sole ambassador of his screenprinted work. Also included are bits of ephemera: Hidden Cameras– and Klaus Nomi–inspired turntable beds, apparel and a collection of YouTube clips culled by Luis Jacob and Kevin Hegge.

Munro’s work offers a kind of queer pedagogy, one that expounds a particular type of faggot ontology: it’s insistent on the necessity of self-made culture and buttressed by an encyclopedic knowledge of queer underground cultural history. As such, the YouTube clips are one of the more ingenious aspects of the show in that they far surpass anything that could possibly be explained in a didactic panel (a feature thankfully absent here). Instead of a second-hand lecture on the emergence of various queer subcultures, or on the particular eccentric genius of Bowery or Nomi, we get to see it for ourselves. Munro always wore his heroes on his sleeve; Jacques wisely recognizes that as we begin to discuss where his work is going, we must understand where it’s been—and where it comes from.

This article was first published online on August 19, 2010.

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