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How the TIFF Bell Lightbox’s latest piece of interactive art hypnotizes kids with moving light

Click to see a larger version. (Image: Kayla Rocca)

Click to see a larger version. (Image: Kayla Rocca)

Every March, the TIFF Bell Lightbox hosts digiPlaySpace, an exhibition of kid-friendly interactive art. This year’s marquee installation is Forest, a co-creation of new-media artist Micah Elizabeth Scott and 26 students from Ryerson University’s new-media program. It’s a massive digital canvas made up of over 7,500 LEDs and controlled by software Scott developed herself. Young visitors interact with the piece by turning wooden spinners with their hands. “I designed something that wasn’t a screen,” Scott explains, “something that has a lot of real, tactile sense to it, and isn’t just fingers sliding against glass.” Here’s an annotated look at how it works.

1
The sculpture is 16 feet wide and eight feet tall, and it weighs over 600 pounds. It took about six weeks to build and two days to install.
2
The body of the installation, including the spinners, is made of medium density fibreboard. “It’s literally from the Home Depot,” says Steve Daniels, a Ryerson professor who helped coordinate the project. He used a CNC router at Ryerson’s Maker Space to cut it into shape.

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Rewrite Canadian history with the Cree artist Kent Monkman

(Image: Kent Monkman, Expelling the Vices, 2014. Courtesy of Pierre-François Ouellette Art Contemporain)

(Image: Kent Monkman, Expelling the Vices, 2014. Courtesy of Pierre-François Ouellette Art Contemporain)

Paintings by the Canadian Cree artist Kent Monkman feel familiar at first—romantic landscapes, coniferous forest, Mount Rushmore—but quickly reveal their surrealism: indigenous warriors reign mightily from rearing stallions, stoic rhinos and sleek red motorcycles, empowered in a way that native North Americans have rarely been in western art. In a new series of works on display at Toronto’s Centre Space until the end of February, Monkman hyperbolizes, subverts and prods the power dynamics that governed the relationship between European colonizers and North America’s first inhabitants. Instead of somber sermonizing, he goes for playful exuberance: the works feature outlandish allusions to Greek mythology and frequent cameos from the artist’s queer alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle.

To Feb. 28. Centre Space, 65 George St., centre-space.ca.

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Discover the culture-clashing art of Jean-Michel Basquiat

(Image: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Obnoxious Liberals, 1982. Acrylic, oilstick, and spray paint on canvas. The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection. © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat [2014]. Licensed by Artestar, New York.)

(Image: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Obnoxious Liberals, 1982. Acrylic, oilstick, and spray paint on canvas. The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection. © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat [2014]. Licensed by Artestar, New York.)

A product of New York’s punk scene, the Brooklyn artist Jean-Michel Basquiat quickly jumped from the street to the gallery circuit in his late teens, creating shambolic, irreverent works of art until his death from a drug overdose at age 27. His paintings and drawings are deliberately jumbled and messy—colours smudge and swirl, shaky penmanship overlaps childish doodles, ideas are rooted then abandoned halfway. But there’s anger beneath the chaos. Every work confronts poverty, racism and power—the uncomfortable issues that separated the realms the artist straddled. Now’s The Time, the AGO’s new exhibition, is the first Canadian retrospective for Basquiat, featuring 85 of his most iconic—and iconoclastic—pieces.

Feb. 7–May 10. $16.50–$25 (includes general admission). Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas St. W., 416-979-6648, ago.net.

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The birthplace of the Lee’s Palace mural: inside Al Runt’s studio

Click to see a larger version. (Image: Rick McGinnis)

Click to see a larger version. (Image: Rick McGinnis)

For a certain kind of aging hipster, Toronto isn’t complete without a mural by Al Runt spilling over the wall of some club or restaurant, thick with his cast of fornicating, fighting, day-glo creatures. Runt—known to his friends as Alex Currie—has been filling walls with his cartoonish streetscapes since the mid-‘80s, when his Rabelaisian murals at Lee’s Palace and the long-gone BamBoo set the tone for downtown fun. For a while, he seemed to disappear. “No one really wanted me,” he recalls. “There was a period when I couldn’t get a show. I just fell out of favour.”

Runt and his creatures were revived five years ago when Lee’s Palace commissioned him to repaint its façade for the third time. Since then his work has appeared on storefronts in Kensington and Parkdale. Last summer, he finished his latest mural. It’s on the side of Electric Mud, the city’s most celebrated barbecue joint. And this year, the Runt renaissance will continue. His work graces the cover of the TTC’s 2015 Ride Guide, a freebie transit manual relied upon by tourists and locals alike. Currie is also making his cinematic debut in RUNT, a documentary by Augusto Monk that showcases three decades of the painter’s life and work. Here, a tour of his studio.

1 On Currie’s desk is his current project, a can design for hipster tipple Pabst Blue Ribbon, which he hopes will help raise his profile outside of Toronto. “It’ll be fun. At least I’ll get a few cases of beer and some money.”

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Get lost in the Gladstone’s annual art takeover

Gladstone: Come Up to My Room

(Image: Gladstone Hotel)

Every year, as part of the alt-design event Come Up To My Room, the Gladstone Hotel lets artist loose on its quirky rooms and exhibition spaces. This year, they’re taking it even further, filling the entire building with new, site-specific works from a scattershot collection of artists, architects and interior designers: a wall of mounted papier-mâché masks by Toronto’s Annie Tung, a dark room lit only by neon-and-wire installations from public-space design collective DTAH, and a hallway of irreverent Nike branding curated by local graphic designer Carla Poirier. The event runs to Jan. 25, with live music and panel discussions planned throughout, but we suggest saving your visit for the Love Design Party, where local psychedelic singer-producer and Grimes collaborator Petra Glynt will turn the Gladstone’s ballroom into an immersive cornucopia of sci-fi-inspired visual art, high-saturation video work and noisily entrancing electro-pop.

To Sat. Jan. 25. $10 for one day, $15 for entire festival. Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen St. W., 416-531-4635, comeuptomyroom.com.

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Discover the staying power of Gordon Parks’s segregation photography

(Image: courtesy and copyright of The Gordon Parks Foundation)

(Image: courtesy and copyright of The Gordon Parks Foundation)

At Life magazine, where he was the magazine’s first African-American staff photographer, the American photographer Gordon Parks trained his lens on mid-20th-century sports, Broadway and influential figures like Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. But his most poignant works are those that capture an era of racial segregation in the American South. The candid photos that comprise his 1956 Life photo essay “The Restraints: Open and Hidden”—rediscovered in 2012, six years after Parks’s death—capture the home lives, church visits and everyday chores of African-Americans. With stunning beauty and composition, they also document the times when segregation broke down: in one photo, a black woman holds a white baby; in another, white and black boys play together. Discover the enduring relevance and power of Parks’s stills at Metivier Gallery, where the works will be on display through the end of January.

Jan. 8–31. Nicholas Metivier Gallery, 451 King St. W., 416-205-9000, metiviergallery.com.

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See a radiant retrospective of Art  Spiegelman’s comic (and not-so-comic) art

House of Maus: the irreverent cartoonist Art  Spiegelman gets a radiant retrospective

Art Spiegelman never wanted a retrospective. “It feels like walking around among a bunch of tombstones,” he recently pronounced. It’s no surprise the famously anti-establishment cartoonist would be ambivalent about hanging his work in museum halls: he’s a cultural heretic who got his start scribbling satirical cartoons in the early ’70s as part of an underground comics ring in San Francisco. In 1991, he completed his Pulitzer-winning Maus, a disturbing parable based on his father’s experience in the Holocaust, that reimagined the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats.

Just as Spiegelman inadvertently elevated comic books into literature, he also transformed cartoons into high art. His new AGO show, which opens on Saturday, documents every stage of his creative ­trajectory: his earliest comic strips, the discarded drafts of his 1993 New Yorker cover depicting a Hasidic man kissing a black woman, and studies for a stained glass panel he designed for his alma mater, New York’s High School of Art and Design. Most affecting is the ­section dedicated to Maus, plastered with character studies and family artifacts, where a sound system plays recordings of ­Spiegelman interviewing his father. Click through the gallery for a look at some of his most iconic comics.

Dec. 20 to Mar 15. Included with general admission, $19.50. Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas, St. W., 416-979-6648, ago.net.

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Go beyond the Grinch at Liss Gallery’s Dr. Seuss exhibition

(Images: courtesy of Dr. Seuss Enterprises)

(Images: courtesy of Dr. Seuss Enterprises)

Searching for a perfect complement to the obligatory annual viewing of How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Head to Yorkville, where the Liss Gallery is hosting a touring exhibition of the work of beloved American cartoonist and storyteller Theodor Seuss Geisel—that is, Dr. Seuss. The Art of Dr. Seuss consists of more than 50 limited-edition prints (not originals) released by the artist’s estate. Items on display will include images of preliminary sketches from Seuss classics like The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and The Lorax. Meanwhile, prints of items from the artist’s surreal “secret art” collection will provide a darker, more nightmarish take on his career. The exhibition continues until Christmas Eve. Admission is free, but offerings from un-Grinchlike donors will support Autism Speaks.

Dec. 6–24. PWYC. Liss Gallery. 140 Yorkville Ave., 416-787-9872, lissgallery.com.

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World of Wonders: the Aga Khan brings his treasure trove of Islamic artifacts to Toronto

The Aga Khan Museum

Click to see more of the museum. (Photograph courtesy of The Aga Khan Museum)

Anyone who drives in Toronto knows about the kink in the DVP—that bend below the Eglinton off-ramp where, however swiftly cars have been moving away from downtown, they inevitably slow to a crawl. It’s a pain if you have a pressing engagement north of the 401, but the spot affords a terrific view of the Aga Khan Museum, which hovers over the highway. Each day, thousands of captive drivers will turn their eyes to the gleaming white structure and think: hold on, when did Toronto get a castle from the future?

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Learn to distrust your eyes at an exhibition of Charles Bierk’s impeccably photorealistic paintings

Learn to distrust your eyes at an exhibition of Charles Bierk's impeccably photorealistic paintings

(Images: photo of Bierk: Evaan Kheraj; paintings: Charles Bierk)

The portraitist Charles Bierk is a professional trickster: what look like black-and-white photographic portraits are actually impeccably rendered paintings. In his Niagara Street studio, Bierk photographs his friends, blows up the images and uses them as references for large-scale oil paintings on canvas. He studied painting under his father, the landscape artist David Bierk, who taught him to divide his canvas into a grid and paint square by square, millimeter by millimeter. In his debut solo exhibition, which starts today at Metivier Gallery on King West, he shows a series of images that transform depending on where you’re standing. From 20 feet away, they’re stark, striking portraits, coated in an eerie gloss of perfection. The closer you get, the more fascinating and flawed they become, as the stubble, pores and freckles take on gritty, abstract texture. We asked Bierk for a preview of some of his most arresting shots—and to tell us the stories behind them. Click through the image gallery to read what he had to say.

Nov. 13–Dec. 13. FREE. Nicholas Metivier Gallery, 451 King St. W., 416-205-9000, metiviergallery.com.

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How Hudson’s Bay assembles its amazing, animated Christmas windows

(Image: Gabby Frank)

(Image: Gabby Frank)

Seven years ago, at its flagship store in Toronto’s financial district, Hudson’s Bay debuted its Santa-themed Christmas windows along Queen Street. The intention was to display them for a few years, then ship the sets east for use in the downtown Montreal store, but the response from Torontonians has been so strong that Santa is here to stay. The company does get the odd email from someone asking, “Is this the same as last year?” Regardless, HBC creative national director Ana Fernandes says, “I would be more worried about what would happen if we didn’t bring Santa back.”

This year, the display lit up on November 1, and it will stay up until the first week of 2015. And even though this is the eighth year Santa’s story has been told in window-display form, assembling the giant diorama is still a major undertaking. We asked Fernandes to tell us about the quirks of building the five windows. Click through the image gallery to find out how it’s done.

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Twelve visions of post-apocalyptic Toronto

Fallen Toronto

(Image: courtesy of Mathew Borrett)

Toronto sci-fi mastermind Jim Munroe’s new project, Haphead, is an eight-episode webseries set in a near-future Toronto, where a subculture of teenagers learn lethal skills by playing a new breed of highly immersive video game. To pay for post-production, Munroe and friends have set up a Kickstarter campaign where one of the rewards for donors is Fallen Toronto, a month-by-month calendar full of richly detailed illustrations of what Toronto might look like after an apocalyptic event. Taken as a whole, the images make for an unusual—and unusually unsettling—imaginative exercise. We aren’t used to seeing Yonge-Dundas Square, Roundhouse Park and CityPlace used as settings for floods, epidemics or other disasters. (In movies and TV shows, it’s usually American cities like New York and Washington D.C. that get the end-of-the-world treatment.) We asked artists Mathew Borrett, Sanford Kong and Terry Lau to share the stories behind the dozen dystopian visions they created and how they made the leap from today’s crumbling Gardiner to tomorrow’s toppled CN Tower. Click through the image gallery to read what they had to say.

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Introduce yourself to Canadian photographer Suzy Lake at the AGO

(Image: Suzy Lake, courtesy of the AGO)

(Image: Suzy Lake, courtesy of the AGO)

The title of Suzy Lake’s AGO retrospective, Introducing Suzy Lake, is a peculiar one, because the revered Toronto-based artist should require no introduction. After moving to Montreal from Detroit in the 1960s, Lake began using photography, video and performance art to explore themes of gender, identity and body politics. Her iconic, poignant work—much of it self-portraiture—has since been featured in hundreds of exhibitions. This past spring, the Globe and Mail called her a “national treasure.” Introducing Suzy Lake will trace Lake’s career in images, “from age six to 66,” through Detroit’s civil rights movement, her early work in Montreal and her success in Toronto. The exhibition will feature 50-odd previously shown works, as well as a handful of new pieces.

Wed. Nov. 5–March 22. Nov. 12 public opening. Included with general admission. The Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas St. W., 416-979-6648, ago.net.

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Mingle with high rollers at Toronto’s burgeoning art festival

Primer: Fair Play

(Images: courtesy of their galleries)

Over the past decade, the art world’s biggest business has shifted from auction houses and galleries to the glamorous fair circuit, with the jet set traipsing from London to Hong Kong to Miami to Madrid for a parade of glittering parties and high-roller deals. Art Toronto, the city’s own buzzy festival, is quickly rising in the ranks. Last year, it attracted big-name gallerists and collectors from New York, Brussels and Tokyo, moved blue-chip pieces by artists like Jack Bush and Tom Thomson, and brought in $17 million worth of sales. As the fair gears up for its 15th year, here’s a look at the hottest artists, savviest collectors and biggest deals.

Fri. Oct. 24. General admission $18 advance, $20 door. Metro Toronto Convention Centre North, 255 Front St. W., 604-730-2065, arttoronto.ca.

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“It reminds me of a winery”: people try to explain the meanings of Nuit Blanche installations

(Image: Giordano Ciampini)

(Image: Giordano Ciampini)

On Saturday, almost a million people flooded downtown Toronto for the all-night art crawl known as Scotiabank Nuit Blanche. In between navigating the crowds and filling up on food-truck snacks, some attendees were actually able to take in a few of the more than 120 contemporary-art installations on display. We asked onlookers—some in awe, others fighting off liquor-induced confusion—to try, in their own words, to explain the stuff they were looking at. Here’s what they had to say.