“Oh, Canada” at Mass MoCA

From our review of “Oh, Canada” at Mass MoCA:

These days you often hear how the Web has made everything more accessible, how the art world is flat, how the art capitals no longer have a monopoly on ideas and whatnot. But then you notice that half of the artists in the “2012 Whitney Biennial,” a survey of “contemporary art in America,” reside in New York. And nearly all the rest hail from LA or San Francisco. Or a third of all the artists in Phaidon’s 2009 book surveying “Painting Today” across the globe are also in New York. Do all great artists in fact live in New York or LA or a handful of other art capitals? Do artists elsewhere just need better advertising? Or could it be that the art world still has a major geographic bias?

For the record, let’s note a significant structural problem: American contemporary art curators, with limited time and money, do much of their scouting via a handful of biennials, art fairs (Miami!), magazines (mainly published in New York), and New York and LA neighborhoods. Which offer the benefits of one-stop shopping, but result in most everybody curating from the same pre-approved pool. It’s much more time-consuming and professionally risky to try to identify talent outside these usual suspects.

So one of the extraordinary things about “Oh, Canada” at Mass MoCA — which features 62 living Canadian artists and collectives and is billed as “the largest survey of contemporary Canadian art ever produced outside Canada” — is that curator Denise Markonish spent three years crisscrossing Canada and visiting more than 400 artists.

The show is part of the “New Regionalism” that’s evidenced in recent exhibits like the Getty’s “Pacific Standard Time,” which featured 60-plus California venues digging into post-War LA art, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Museum’s “here.” — a sort of fly-over-country biennial. This October, the Southeastern College Art Conference will offer a session on “Regionalism in Art: New Perceptions of Here (vs There).” This art-world locavore movement seems driven by fatigue with glitzy biennials and art fairs, prompting a search for (perhaps) more soulful works off the beaten path.

“Oh, Canada” feels like a revelation because Canada is part of the geography the US art world typically ignores. That it’s showcased outside Canada is vital. A limitation of many regional biennials — like the ICA Foster Prize or DeCordova Biennial here — is that they rarely travel outside their homelands, and so do little to spread the word out of town.

What does Markonish say we’re missing? She purposely (mostly) excluded stars — like Vancouver photographer Jeff Wall, the subject of a major 2007 New York MoMA retrospective — to focus on fresh faces. Which can give a misleading impression that all Canadian artists are nobodies, but also generates a sense of discovery. There are examples of familiar styles: deadpan architectural photos; a meditative/poetic/boring hour-long video of flapping window curtains; and Garry Neill Kennedy’s conceptual-art archive of found photos documenting planes used by the CIA for the “extraordinary rendition” of suspected terrorists to secret foreign locations allegedly more amenable to torture.

But visionary spectacles emerge as the most prominent style — seemingly dredged up from the unconscious, often involving toys, doll houses, dioramas, fairy tales, cartoons, carnivals, “naïve”/folksy drawing, and other stuff associated with youth.

Shary Boyle, who’s been selected to represent Canada in the 2013 Venice Biennale, is best known for monstery drawings and feminist fairy-tale porcelain sculptures. In recent years, she’s blown them up into life-sized dreamy installations like “White Light” (2010), a seemingly naked spider-woman tangled in a web and disappearing into (blacklight) darkness save for her long gold hair and watching, beckoning, haunted, glowing green eyes.

Read the rest here.

“Oh Canada,” Mass MoCA, 1040 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams, Massachusetts, May 26, 2012, to April 1, 2013.

Pictured at top and in detail immediately above: Shary Boyle (B. 1972, Scarborough, Ontario; Lives & works in Toronto, Ontario)
“White Light,” 2010, Mixed media.

BGL [Jasmin Bilodeau (B. 1973), Sébastien Giguère (B. 1972), Nicolas Laverdière (B. 1972); Live & work in Québec City, Québec]
“Canada de Fantaisie,” 2012, Mixed media.

Nicolas Baier (B. 1967, Montréal, Québec; Lives & works in Montréal, Québec), “Vanité/Vanitas,” 2012, Aluminum, nickel, steel, glass, fluorescent.

Amalie Atkins (B. 1975, Winnipeg, Manitoba; Lives & works in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), “Three Minute Miracle: Tracking the Wolf,” 2008, Felt tent, mixed media, video, 13 minutes.

Noam Gonick (B. 1973, Winnipeg, Manitoba) and Luis Jacob (B. 1971, Lima), “Wildflowers of Manitoba,” 2008, Mixed media.

Annie Pootoogook (B. 1969, Cape Dorset, Nunavut; Lives & works in Cape Dorset, Nunavut), “Composition (Evil Spirit),” 2003–4, Pencil, ink, pencil crayon.

David Hoffos (B. 1966; Lives & works in Lethbridge, Alberta) “Scenes from the House Dream: Winter Kitchen,” 2007, single-channel video, audio, mixed media installation.

Daniel Barrow (B. 1971; lives and works in Montreal, Quebec) “The Thief of Mirrors,” 2011, mixed media.

Graeme Patterson (B. 1980, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Lives & works in Sackville, New Brunswick), “The Mountain,” 2012, Mixed media.

Kent Monkman (B. 1965, St. Mary’s, Ontario, lives & works in Toronto, Ontario), “Two Kindred Spirits,” 2012, Mixed media.

Divya Mehra (B. 1981, Winnipeg, Manitoba; Lives & works in Winnepeg, Manitoba), “Hollow victory (You gotta learn to hold ya Own. They get jealous when They see ya with ya mobile phone.),” 2012, Neon sculpture.

One Response to ““Oh, Canada” at Mass MoCA”

  1. Anne B. Zill says:

    This is a splendid review. Am so on your wave length about the myopia of art professionals vis a vis artists on and off the radar screen. I would love to discuss an upcoming four-part series on ME Living Women Art Pioneers (Oct through July) at the UNE Art Gallery.