This is our second year reviewing the Toronto art fair, and while it has been some time, it is imperative to wind down and digest all the galleries and works of art. There are soooo many things to look at that your brain sometimes hits sensory overload. While last year’s fair boded a sense of excitement and awe, this years fair (for me at least) did not have the same vibrant-ness and freshness as other years. I found it to be dull as galleries seemed to hold back (maybe my critique lies more with the Canadian art buyers rather than the galleries themselves). What was exciting was to see some big stars and names such as Marcel Dzama, Jean Paul Lemieux (Miriam Shiell’s booth had a spectacular figurative Lemieux of a elegant woman), Kris Knight and Zachari Logan to name a few.
While I believe the fair rang stale in its lack of inventiveness, I did manage to find some spectacular diamonds in the rough. This years top three artists were chosen due to their technique or avant-gardness. As I stated last year, I choose these works based upon the fact that “ these artists all build upon their creative energy to create innovative thought provoking works”
Kim Schoen is a German conceptualist that is based both in Germany and in LA. For Moskowitz Bayse solo presentation at the Art Toronto, the gallery exhibited a body of work from her last exhibition, titled “Hawaii” (March 11 – April 22, 2017). The solo exhibition featured a 23 minute looped film that explores the manufacturing of “blank books”. Blank books are used mainly for presentation purposes in showrooms or offices.
Schoen is interested in investigating the notions of language, rhetoric and their relationship within a consumerist culture. These blank books that she showcases serve as a reminder to the deteriorating market of literary forms. Through the film, the viewer watches the process of creating these manufactured items. At the beginning, the film itself seems cold and manufactured. It feels like a PBS documentary on how things are made - very dry, cold and without substance - as these blank books are. However, in time we meet the manufacturer Thomas Moser. Schoen overlaps industrial scenes with snippets of conversation and ideas from Moser himself. These books, which seem to be of no substance, actually have much more care and thought invoked onto them. Moser carefully chooses the colours and titles of the books. It is through his ideas and curiosity that these books are created. The titles opens the viewers imagination and allows it to run wild. One of Moser’s books “Canada Made Me” is “one of those high minded titles you can read a lot into”.
Schoen attempts to emphasize the absurdity of this consumerist culture. Books, which are defined as “a written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers” have now been stripped of their meaning and function. It is through mass production that we lose something significant and I believe the artist emphasizes this quite bluntly. Yet, Schoen is not so bleak. Through the protagonist Thomas Moser, she breathes meaning and imagination back into these hollow books. Moser for me is personified as a new age Grimm Brother, where he is producing empty books which in his mind hold endless possibilities with those they encounter.
Xiao Guo Hui had a breathtaking egg tempera showcased at the fair “Sous le Ciel”. The painting acts as a legendary Hieronymus Bosch would – an initial feeling of awe and grandiose with a tinge of deviancy and mischief added subtly. At first glance, we notice a large boat sailing across the Tuscan Arno river. The landscape in the background references the historical tradition of egg tempera -the medium of painting that Xiao has chosen to follow. Egg tempera, which for those of you that don’t know, is a technique of painting by mixing pigment with egg yolk. The yolk acts as an adhesive as well as adding an ephemeral quality to the paint. It has a long tradition in Italian history dating back to the Renaissance. Artists such as Sandro Botticello, Piero del Francesca (too name a few) used this technique to create some of the Master works we see in museums. This ode to egg tempera and Xiao's mature artistic skills is what made this piece so striking.
Another aspect to the work, that attracted us to this painting is the subtlety it displays. There is a quite elegance to the work. The subject depicts a boat sailing along the river. It is once we come closer, we see all these playful, sinister narratives play out. A lovely dinner has taken place and gone aray – excessive drinking has men vomiting off the side of the boat, people passed out at the table, a child chasing a crow and a woman smugly smirking at her company as she stands elegant and composed watching the chaos unfold. Sous Le Ciel is an amusing, pleasurable painting to look at made with exceptional technique.
“Much of the time Ken’s work is self-documentation. His pen literally tracing the miles it has travelled in Ken’s hand across a blank page. The geometry of counting in grids that make up perfect squares. Tallying an undetermined element to fill a large space. His text pieces pay homage to a self-reflexive process of conceptual art making.”
These continuous tallying works hung on the outside corner of Korper’s booth. You would think that with numerous works with such vibrant colours and gestural strokes, the works of Nichols would get lost. The opposite occurred - these small works on paper created an intimate space that commanded attention. Groups of people gathered around these paintings with their noses almost pressed against the glass. Your eyes meticulously follow the tallying lines – what is he counting? Why is it important? Why do this? Nichols is able to make the mundane look beautiful. Ken Nichol has an analytical take on art. He visualizes the method of showing his artistic process. It is a rational, logical approach to art, which is why I gravitated to this work at the fair.