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Steven Shearer: Canada’s 2011 Venice Pick

The National Gallery of Canada sent a minor shockwave through the art world’s summer lull earlier this week with its announcement that Vancouver artist Steven Shearer will represent Canada at the 2011 Venice Biennale. It’s a welcome surprise to see Shearer get the nod for Venice—a pinnacle achievement for any contemporary artist—but the news also marks a significant and somewhat unexpected structural turn for the overseas national art pavilion, which has been dogged in recent years by organizational and funding issues. In place of a nominated curatorial commissioner, next summer’s exhibition at the Canada Pavilion will be overseen by the NGC and its senior curator of contemporary art, Josée Drouin-Brisebois. If the Shearer selection is any indication, things are looking up. With an exhibition record going back to the mid-1990s, his practice has put a smartly subversive edge on Vancouver’s conceptualist legacy with sprawling found-image photo collages, hallucinogenic figurative drawings and paintings, explosive sound sculptures and darkly poetic text works that find rich meaning on the margins of popular culture—from the dreamy haze of teenage basement rock ‘n’ rollers to the underground lexicon of heavy-metal devotees. Shearer has shown sparingly in Canada, with his last major domestic exhibition at the Power Plant in 2007. But considering his growing international reputation, including recent shows in Zurich, Mexico City, New York, Amsterdam, Berlin, London and San Francisco, as well as blue-chip gallery representation in Turin, London and New York, sending him to Venice on behalf of Canada makes good art-world sense. It’s anyone’s guess what Shearer will dream up for the notoriously unconventional space of the Canada Pavilion, but let’s hope it sets a precedent for seeing more of his work on our home turf, too.

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