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15 Shows We Want to See in 2015

1. BGL at the 2015 Venice Biennale from May 9 to November 22, 2015

The countdown is on for the opening of the 56th Venice Biennale on May 9. No one knows this better than the Quebec City art collective BGL (Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère and Nicolas Laverdière), who will be Canada’s official representatives at the world’s most prestigious contemporary art event. Production is well underway (the first shipment of works leaves for Italy in mid-January) for the exhibition, which, as the trio revealed to Canadian Art in October, is set to fill the notoriously awkward Canada Pavilion space with three separate solo installations provisionally titled “Canadisimo.” Of course, anyone who has followed BGL’s kitsch-fuelled culture-critical practice (including bow-hunting an ATV, sculptural mazes with hidden doors to secret rooms, and an automobile exhaust system converted into a communal hookah) will know that the trio has a knack for unorthodox surprises. Venice-bound audiences should take note: when it comes to BGL, expect the unexpected.

2. Villa Toronto in the Great Hall of Union Station from January 16 to 23, 2015

The Villa project, organized by Warsaw’s Raster Gallery, first took shape in Warsaw in 2006. Since then, it has had iterations in Reykjavik in 2010 and Tokyo in 2011. Now, in 2015, it comes to Toronto. The “roving art event,” which is quick to point out that it is not an art fair, is presented in association with Art Metropole and will be held at Union Station, with special events happening at other institutions (including MOCCA, Mercer Union, the Power Plant, Scrap Metal Gallery, Vtape and more) around the city. In partnership with Reykjavik’s i8 Gallery, the AGO will present acclaimed Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson in a unique performance on opening night. All events held during the weeklong run are free to attend and open to the public. A detailed program will be announced on the project’s website on January 4, 2015.

The organizers of Villa have stated that they “are particularly interested in the art and artistic life that develops outside the main centres of the global art industry,” in places like New York and London, and chose Toronto as the host city for 2015 because of all the highly regarded artists from Canada who enjoy international success but are not widely known to be Canadians. Villa is also keen to investigate the role that commercial galleries play in artistic life. Local galleries taking part are Jessica Bradley, Cooper Cole, Diaz Contemporary, Daniel Faria, MKG127 and Clint Roenisch. They will be joined by 12 international galleries from London, Los Angeles, Berlin, Cluj, Paris, Milan, Reykjavik, Barcelona, Zurich, Warsaw, Tokyo and Mexico City.

Villa sees itself as an “exploratory research project” and its sweeping goal is to find out “how to communicate better.” The heavily trafficked, shared public site of Union Station promises to encourage discussions about “the presence of art in public space, the role of the general audience and the use of participatory tactics in the presentation of artwork.” Torontonians should leap at this opportunity to engage with artistic communities from other countries in a setting designed to foster conversation and collaboration.

3. David Altmejd, Jon Rafman & others at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal

2015 will be a robust year for the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. French artist Sophie Calle opens two works February 5, alongside a retrospective of Copenhagen-based UK artist Simon Starling. From June 11 to September 6, two of Montreal’s most high-profile international exports are being shown: sculptor David Altmejd, whose “Flux” survey comes acclaimed from France and Luxembourg; and Jon Rafman, who combines installation, photography and digital art. On October 17, the MAC opens a show from great New York expressionist painter Dana Schutz.

4. “Burnt Generation” at the Founders’ Gallery in Calgary from January 9 to April 12, 2015

Thanks to partisan politics and the attendant mass-media coverage, the general perception of Iranian culture in the West arguably suffers from a dangerous mix of cliché and hysteria. The critically acclaimed group exhibition “Burnt Generation,” curated by Fariba Farshad, director of the London, UK–based arts agency Candlestar, goes a long way to correct that imbalance. Gathering works by eight young Iranian photographers—Ali Nadjian and Ramyar Manouchehrzadeh, Azadeh Akhlaghi, Gohar Dashti, Shadi Ghadirian, Babak Kazemi, Abbas Kowsari, Sadegh Tirafkan and Newsha Tavakolian—the exhibition takes a trenchant and poetic look at everyday life behind the decades-long legacies of war, religion and political unrest in Iran to reveal a universal struggle for individual expression and ideological freedom not so different from our own hopes and dreams.

5. Jeremy Shaw at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver from February 27 to April 19, 2015

Berlin-based, Vancouver-born artist Jeremy Shaw does not show prolifically in Canada, so this institutional show provides an opportunity to see two recent international projects, as well as a new work. Variation FQ is a black-and-white 16 mm film piece begun in 2011 depicting and deconstructing the moves of transgender vogue dancer Leyomi Mizrahi. Quickeners, from 2014, is an audiovisual installation allying the mysticism of a splinter sect of Pentecostal Christians from the 1960s with current discussions on artificial intelligence. The new piece, in the CAG’s window vitrines, is a series of screenprints activated by black light.

6. Geoffrey Farmer at the Vancouver Art Gallery from May 22 to September 7, 2015

Vancouver sculptor Geoffrey Farmer’s smart, odd, elliptical and increasingly spectacular work requires appropriate context and space to be appreciated, something promised by “how do I fit this ghost in my mouth…,” his biggest mid-career survey to date, which spans the last 15 years and stresses Farmer’s interest in theatricality and the image archive.

7. “Material Girls” at the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina from January 30 to April 5, 2015

Curators Blair Fornwald, Jennifer Matotek and Wendy Peart describe the Dunlop’s “Material Girls,” as a horror vacui— an art-historical term used to describe cluttered visuals resulting from a fear of empty space. With 23 women artists at various stages of their careers stitching together sumptuous, ornate, highly material responses to the politics of gender in contemporary life, the show promises to take up both physical and conceptual space. Paired with a performance by Jess Dobkin for Queer City Cinema’s Performatorium, and an immersive installation by Tricia Middleton at the Dunlop’s Sherwood Gallery, it’s sure to be a much-needed feminist extravaganza.

8. Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Alberta and other venues in Edmonton from January 24 to May 3, 2015

From January 23 to May 3, the Art Gallery of Alberta and a selection of offsite locations will present the work of 42 Alberta artists as part of the 2015 Alberta Biennial. Its title, “Future Station,” references an abandoned subway platform underneath Edmonton’s civic centre, and the themes for the exhibition include some of the sweeping hopefulness and abject ruin recalled by this site: psychology, the forces of nature, detritus and austerity.

9. “Yesterday Was Once Tomorrow (or, A Brick is a Tool)” at Plug In ICA in Winnipeg from February 7 to May 24, 2015

If the 1960s and 1970s were about the dematerialization of the art object, the 2000s and the 2010s might be about the dematerialization of the art-media object. After all, everyone now ingests most of their media coverage on their phones, tablets and laptops…right? Interestingly, while this may be true of the mainstream, many younger artists, curators and writers find themselves drawn to print projects—perhaps for their nostalgic aspect, and perhaps for the fact that they provide a break from too-frequent Facebook, Twitter and Instagram notifications. In any case, art-interested audiences young and old could find something to enjoy in “Yesterday Was Once Tomorrow (or, A Brick is a Tool),” a look at Canadian art magazines that established themselves, as well as ceased production, between 1990 and 2000. Curated by Kegan McFadden, and featuring art by Shary Boyle, G.B. Jones, Kathy Slade and others, the show attempts to capture the spirit of exchange manifested in five such magazines from Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal during that time period.

10. “Monet: A Bridge to Modernity” at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa from October 30 to February 15, 2016

The National Gallery of Canada’s Claude Monet exhibition this fall is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. The exhibition will present a focused look at the Impressionist painter’s bridge paintings through the lens of their social and historical context. At the centre of the show is Le pont de bois (1872), an important early work on long-term loan to the NGC from an anonymous collector. This bridge scene is a picture of modern life, a key subject among the Impressionist painters; with its steamboat, horse-drawn carriage and bustling passersby, the painting captures a society rapidly altered by urbanization and industrialization. The work also echoes the formal qualities of Japanese woodblock prints much admired by Monet.

Building on Le pont de bois, the show will feature a dozen related bridge paintings gathered from private and public collections around the world. These works stem from Monet’s Argenteuil period, a pivotal moment when Impressionism was first coming into prominence. The paintings will be accompanied by 19th-century photographs, illustrations, Japanese prints, and works by Monet’s precursors and contemporaries. These elements will provide a fresh perspective on the renowned painter, offering a close look the social and artistic milieu in which Monet produced his now much-beloved works.

11. “Folklore and Other Panics” at the Rooms in St. John’s from January 17 to April 26, 2015

Folklore plays a big role in the way Newfoundland and Labrador is marketed to the rest of the country, with provincial tourism commercials playing upon the appeal of “traditional” musics, architectures and rituals. So it’s possible there is no better place to stage an exhibition that considers what folklore can mean in a contemporary context. “Folklore and Other Panics” at the Rooms in St. John’s includes Passion Over Reason, a quilt designed by artist Mark Clintberg and produced by Newfoundland artisans that also riffs upon wider aspects of Canadian folklore, like the legacies of Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Joyce Wieland. Eleven other artists are also featured: Janice Wright Cheney uses traditional media like embroidery and taxidermy to contemporary-art ends—including investigating less-glowing histories like those of the cockroach and the Norway rat—while Duane Linklater has tried unsuccessfully to change the Wikipedia entry for Cape Spear to a more subjective mode, and Michael Waterman plans to produce a live radio broadcast from the gallery every Saturday.

12. “Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time” at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto from February 7 to May 10, 2015

Jean-Michel Basquiat is talked about as much for his personal life as his art. The graffiti-artist-turned-painter catapulted to fame in the 1980s New York art scene. He sold out his first solo show at age 21 and counted Andy Warhol and David Bowie among his friends. His whirlwind career was cut short in 1988, when he died of a heroin overdose at age 27. But rather than fixating on the artist’s biography, the upcoming Basquiat retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario will take a thematic approach, looking at his art in relation to the social issues and pop cultural forces of his time.

Curated by Austrian art historian and curator Dieter Buchhart, this travelling exhibition will be the first major retrospective of Basquiat’s work to hit Canada, featuring close to 85 large-scale paintings and drawings culled from private and public collections across Europe and North America. These works will showcase Basquiat’s idiosyncratic visual language, which blended the vernacular of high-art movements like Abstract Expressionism and Conceptualism with that of comics and graffiti. His expressive art addressed the world around him, tackling issues of identity, racism, class and fame. Highlights of the show include Irony of a Negro Policeman from 1981, a daring critique of racism and police brutality, and A Panel of Experts from 1982, which packs social commentary into humorous imagery.

13. Eleanor King at Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax from January 16 to June 15, 2015

Nova Scotia–based artist Eleanor King, whose drawings and playful installations draw on music, nostalgia and technology, mounts a solo show at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia this spring. Curated by David Diviney, “Dark Utopian” should offer ample context and attention for viewers to fully appreciate King’s varied work, which often includes site-specific projects. In recent exhibitions at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery and the Confederation Centre Art Gallery, her site-specific work took the form of wall paintings, while in “Memories of the Future,” at the Gibson House Museum in Toronto, she created a sound piece that referenced the site’s history as a farm. Whatever approach “Dark Utopian” takes, it will be well worth a visit.

14. “c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city” at the Musqueam Cultural Education Resource Centre and Gallery, the Museum of Vancouver and the Museum of Anthropology at UBC beginning the week of January 21, 2015

This exhibition will open simultaneously at three Vancouver institutions, with each museum highlighting a different aspect of the rich and fascinating 5,000-year history of the Musqueam First Nation. The c̓əsnaʔəm village and burial ground, upon which present-day Vancouver is built, is a site that has been mined many times over the past 125 years. The Museum of Vancouver, in particular, has a complicated and unsettling history with the Musqueam First Nation: in the early 20th century, its predecessor, the Art, Historical and Scientific Association of Vancouver, excavated and removed more than 1,500 objects for their museum displays and discarded whatever they deemed not useful—including ancestral remains. This act signalled that Musqueam heritage belonged to Vancouver’s past, not its present, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The colonial ideals that have informed the collection practices of many museums, as well as the topic of repatriation, will be explicitly addressed in a section of the gallery. In 2012, Musqueam community members held a vigil for more than 200 days on the site, unearthing ancestral remains and putting a stop to a proposed condominium development. The bone, stone and shell objects, which have survived for thousands of years, will serve as catalysts for conversations about the relationship between Indigenous and settler societies in Vancouver. There will be a range of public programs and events designed to complement the exhibitions, including curated tours, cultural exchanges with Musqueam artists, elders and activists, and cultural tours from Musqueam youth.

15. Bridget Moser at Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery in Halifax from May 30 to August 16, 2015

Bridget Moser, who had something of a banner year in 2014 with her inclusion in Mercer Union’s “Push and Pull,” has her first solo show at MSVU Art Gallery in 2015 titled “Is This Thing On?” Curated by Toronto-based Stefan Hancherow (a past employee of MSVU), the exhibition will feature a selection of Moser’s videos and documentation, in addition to a new video produced on-site at MSVU Art Gallery.

Expect to see Moser’s often humorous, occasionally anxious performances, which draw from experimental theatre, modern dance and prop comedy. As Daniella E. Sanader writes in our Winter 2014 issue, “Moser points to…the emptiness in much self-help rhetoric,” a tactic that, far from alienating audiences, offers affirmation in an era of austerity. Drop by for a performance by Moser and an opening reception on May 30 from 2 to 4 p.m.

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