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Beautiful Fictions: The Bigger Picture

Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto Sep 9 2009 to Jan 24 2010
Axel Hütte  <I>Audubon Swamp</I>  2005  © Axel Hütte/Schirmer-Mosel Axel Hütte Audubon Swamp 2005 © Axel Hütte/Schirmer-Mosel

Axel Hütte <I>Audubon Swamp</I> 2005 © Axel Hütte/Schirmer-Mosel

While the blockbuster exhibition “King Tut: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs” dominates the Art Gallery of Ontario’s winter programming, another kind of monumentalism takes centre stage in the gallery’s top-floor contemporary art space. “Beautiful Fictions” draws together a selection of large-scale photographs from the collection of local art patrons David and Vivian Campbell set alongside a complementary sampling of key photo works from the gallery’s own contemporary holdings.

It’s an impressive display that mixes major international artists with homegrown players. From the AGO’s permanent collection come influential stalwarts Lewis Baltz, Jeff Wall, Suzy Lake, Michael Snow, Arnaud Maggs and Cindy Sherman as well as works by younger artists like Kristan Horton and Janieta Eyre. Last year’s Venice Biennale artist and 2007 Gershon Iskowitz Prize winner Mark Lewis gets his own room featuring three of his recent cinematic projection works.

The exhibition’s main gallery is set aside the Campbells’ collection of signature works by artists from the vaunted Düsseldorf school of photography. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, international photo practice was dominated by these German artists with their architecturally inclined and massively sized views of the contemporary world. But, with the exception of the Vancouver Art Gallery’s recent Andreas Gursky retrospective, it’s been rare for Canadian audiences to get a close look at any substantial gathering of works by this influential group. “Beautiful Fictions” offers just that opportunity. Consider, for instance, Thomas Struth’s panoramic Museo del Prado suite, which frames bustling museum crowds examining art masterpieces, in contrast to the poetic stillness of Candida Höfer’s view of an empty Rubens gallery in the Musée du Louvre. Or Gursky’s Pyongyang IV (Red) which turns the human mass of a North Korean political rally into a deep-field abstract composition while on another gallery wall Thomas Ruff’s Substrat 13.1 enlarges the fantasy realm of Japanese anime to a blur of softly hued colour. Or Axel Hütte’s Audubon Swamp and companion photo of a glacial front, Vetlebreen, Norway, where the natural world is amplified to otherworldly proportions. In their monumental scale and monumental impact, the beautiful fiction in these works is undeniable. (317 Dundas St W, Toronto ON)

This article was first published online on January 14, 2010.

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