1. Luis Jacob: Tableaux Vivants at the Darling Foundry
This summer show was a revelation about Luis Jacob’s art. It brought home too the lagging gap that Toronto artists can face in terms of topical public gallery attention to their work. While Jacob has been feted since his inclusion in 2007’s Documenta 12, Toronto viewers have largely needed a passport to see his work. This Montreal show, curated by Marie Fraser, was the closest thing to an overview of what Jacob has been up to and of what sets him apart as an artist, which is, namely, his affection for art in general. Jacob is a lover of the idea of art making. There is something immediate, contingent and volatile in his documentation of far-flung artist projects gathered in the 2009 work Album VIII. Hundreds of images conspire to form of an encyclopedia of modern and conceptualist art that blooms into a visual poem about invention and imagination. This attention and commitment to the art-making life adds extra bite to his Evicted Studios at 9 Hanna Avenue; November 1999, a photo documentation of a once-favoured Toronto studio building left empty and waiting for redevelopment after eviction of its artists. A new iteration of the show travels to Toronto’s Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in the New Year—not a moment too soon.
2. Julian Schnabel: Art and Film at the Art Gallery of Ontario
Eyebrows lifted with the announcement of this show. Was this an exhibition, or a marketing maneuver to capitalize on the annual media buzz for the Toronto International Film Festival? The answer of course is—both. How clever to pay homage to North America’s best film director, who also happens to be a famous, if not lately a largely respected, painter. The title of the show could have easily been “Julian Schnabel: Hype2.” But then it arrived and when you set aside the queasy celebrity portrait paintings, you found yourself in the midst of a major statement about the heroics of painting and the way an intelligent, humanist imagination (Schnabel’s) can use painting to suggest limitless boundaries of engagement and dreaming. With paintings the size of cinema screens you were reminded of British critic John Berger’s thought of how modern cinema managed to replicate the perceptual arena of the church and provide a new site of bonding. In and of itself, the scale of Schnabel’s paintings does likewise. It comes across as a declaration of faith in the potential of colour, line, texture and allusion—the tools that can make even huge paintings seem intimate. The look was loud, but the mood was quiet, pregnant and promising.
3. Jason de Haan: Like Dust at Clint Roenisch Gallery
My enthusiasm for this show started a few months before its opening at de Haan’s Calgary studio when he picked up a smooth, pale rock from his desk in the middle of telling a story about a recent trip into the wilderness with Moby Dick as reading company. (I visited de Haan while curating the Alberta Biennial, in which he was included.) How Melville’s book would stand up to a Rocky Mountain reading, I wasn’t sure, but de Haan was full of enthusiasm for the story of Ahab and the whale. As he talked, he kept rolling the stone from hand to hand in a slow-motion version of how it once must have tumbled along an Alberta streambed. I noticed a dark mark and asked to see it. It was a tiny hole that de Haan had carved into the rock, a blowhole for the rock whale in honour of the book. It’s connections like this that make de Haan one of the most interesting young artists in the country. He works with a fresh alertness to cultural history and builds these references into his work, like the classical bust in the Salt Beard (Mercury) sculpture that he made for his Toronto show. It lingers as a standout.
Richard Rhodes is the editor of Canadian Art.