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Art Toronto returns with a focus on bringing the Canadian perspective to the world

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Visitors to Art Toronto 2022's opening night walk the floor at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. It is a concrete-floored space broken up by white-walled booths filled with artwork. A site-specific installation by Joseph Tisiga appears in the foreground. The floor of the installation is covered with green astroturf. A puppet-like life-size human figure reclines at the centre. It's surrounded by terra-cotta coloured forms that tower over it. Small grey sock puppet figures with teeth also sprout from the astroturf.
Visitors to Art Toronto 2022’s opening night walk the floor at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Oct. 27, 2022. A site-specific installation by Joseph Tisiga appears in the foreground. (CBC Arts)

The era of the pandemic-pivot is finally over, or at least it is for Art Toronto. The country’s oldest and largest international art fair returns to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this weekend, and after two years of virtual and hybrid programming, they’ll be doing things 100 per cent IRL.

Will it be a throwback to the Before Times? Not quite. Yes, in some ways, it’s very much the event you remember: a sort of trade show of contemporary art that gathers commercial galleries from Canada and around the world. More than 90 exhibitors will appear at the fair this year, looking to connect with collectors and curators who’ll be treading some 17,000 square metres of hall space. But beyond the art-world dealings, there’s also talks, daily tours and a spate of programming including an exhibition that puts Canadian art, and the role of the fair itself, into context.

That reflective side of the fair is something director Mia Nielsen has been cultivating since she joined Art Toronto in 2019. At that year’s edition, Nielsen introduced a public-art program, a section that’s evolved and expanded for 2022. Large-scale works by Joseph Tisiga, Divya Mehra and Native Art Department International are among those featured, but the all-new development for 2022 is a “Focus” exhibition that offers a sort of museum moment amid the marketplace. Titled “held open,” the show assembles 16 works that have been selected from participating Art Toronto galleries, a mix of new and historical pieces. Recent works by Toronto-based artist Nadia Belerique, for example, are bookended by photographs from Nan Goldin and General Idea.

Photo of various contemporary artworks installed in a white-walled space.
Installation view of held open, the Focus exhibition at Art Toronto 2022. (Art Toronto)

Marie-Charlotte Carrier is the curator of the exhibition; originally from Quebec City, she currently works at the Hayward Gallery in London. The show has a relatively open premise, she tells CBC Arts, but in gathering both new and historical works, she’s telling a story about “the ways we relate to one another and the non-human.” She’ll be leading tours of the exhibition daily. (Further details are available on the Art Toronto website.)

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The addition of a curated section that purposefully turns its attention to Canada — its galleries, artists and curators — is an idea Nielsen’s waited three years to launch. “An exhibition structure within an art fair is very unusual,” she told CBC Arts. We reached her by phone to learn a little more about her vision for the fair.

Photo of various contemporary artworks installed in a white-walled space, the location of Art Toronto 2022.
Installation view of held open, the Focus exhibition at Art Toronto 2022. (Art Toronto)

CBC Arts: The Focus exhibition “held open” is a new initiative this year. What was the original idea behind launching that section? What did you want to add to the Art Toronto experience?

The Focus section used to be about looking out into the world, you know — like bringing back an experience from a different country or geographic location.

When I started in 2019, and got to know the exhibitors a little better, something that struck me was the extraordinary quality of the work that they were bringing.

That extraordinary quality you mentioned: I don’t know if you can distill it, but what were you seeing from Canadian exhibitors that punches above our weight?

Ooh, it’s not necessarily something that’s easy to answer in a word. There are so many artists who are being recognized in a big way. Esmaa Mohamoud is one of them. Caroline Monnet is another, just kind of off the top of my head. Rajni Perera — she just had this huge show in Glasgow.

Canadian art used to be thought of as regional. Maybe it’s globalization, maybe it’s social media, maybe it’s that many artists are physically getting out of Canada for projects, for residencies. But Canadian art is participating in an international dialogue that is very dynamic. Five Canadian artists were in the Venice Biennale this year including Tau Lewis and Shuvinai Ashoona [who was awarded a Special Mention]. And you see that in the fair.

Photo of a gold quilted robe on a life-size figure.
This piece by Nep Sidhu is among the Canadian works appearing in Art Toronto’s public art program, curated by Mia Nielsen. (CBC Arts)

So seeing what’s happening internationally gave you even more impetus to launch an exhibition about what’s happening here in Canada instead of looking outwards?

Yes, exactly.

With the Focus exhibition I wanted to create an opportunity to elevate that conversation and let these artists bring in works that are ambitious, that are museum quality — and new.

It’s really taking a broad look at the exhibitors that come to the fair and bringing together a group of artists from different regions.

Photo of textile cut-outs suggesting human figures and body parts. Art work by Alicia Henry that's been hung on a white wall inside Art Toronto 2022.
Installation view of work by Alicia Henry, as appearing in Art Toronto’s Focus exhibition, held open. (Art Toronto)

These works would already be seen — they would already be represented in the fair. But the exhibition itself creates this moment of pause.

One thing: the works are not exclusively Canadian, but they’re all by artists who are represented by our galleries. Nan Goldin’s work is in the exhibition as well as Alicia Henry’s. A curator came in — Mary-Charlotte Carrier — and pulled threads on themes that she saw across the show floor.

Now that the exhibition is up, have you discovered any interesting perspectives or highlights? 

Sharona Franklin was really interesting to me. She was someone Marie-Charlotte introduced me to, and the works she made for the show have not been seen before.

The themes that [Carrier] is exploring in held open — I thought it was a really beautiful and poignant concept. There’s a real interest in exploring vulnerability, particularly in the work of Sharona Franklin — her gelatin sculptures — and how Sharona’s work speaks so much to the disabilities she manages.

Art by Sharona Franklin. Canadian thistle jelly with heliopsis and baby’s breath on a papier mache armature. (Instagram/@paid.technologies)

The Focus exhibition isn’t the only curated section at the fair. You’ve curated the public-art program, and as you’ve said in the past, growing that program is a priority of yours at Art Toronto. Is the launch of the Focus exhibition part of that vision?

Yeah, I would say it’s a nuance of that vision. You know, one of the things that I think is really interesting about Art Toronto as a fair is there are a number of important institutions from across the country that acquire from the fair. The AGO, of course, the National Gallery, the McMichael, the VAG, the Musée de beaux arts in Montreal. And so with the public installations and with the exhibition, I thought, here’s an opportunity. There are museums coming to acquire here. Let’s put something really exciting in front of them.

Detail of Assemblage en bleu (Sphinx) by Celia Perrin Sidarous. The piece is one of three works acquired by the AGO at Art Toronto 2019. (Instagram/@agotoronto)

So one of the latest additions to the program is a really ambitious work from Divya Mehra. It’s a sculptural installation that’s 10 by 20 feet. It had to be moved in with two forklifts! It’s a really impressive work, and I think that one of the exciting things about coming to the fair is that you do get this hybrid experience where there are works by new artists — young artists, emerging artists — alongside historic works, alongside these huge installations.

So are major institutions the main audience you have in mind when putting the public-art program together? 

That’s part of the audience, for sure. There are a lot of curators — independent curators and those affiliated with institutions who come from across Canada, but also some from the States too. They come to Art Toronto to do research and just see what’s going on, and so I think about that audience too. Like, what can I show that’s really inspiring?

In the case of Divya’s work, it was a sculpture that was in storage and here’s an opportunity to put it in front of this huge audience. Think about going to Nuit Blanche and seeing monumental work and how exciting and inspiring that is. I want to speak to the uninitiated. I want to give them an opportunity to see works that are inspiring — that you wouldn’t necessarily see in a commercial gallery, a private gallery, and also works that are defying the expectations of a commercial art fair. Like, you know, it’s not just a painting over the sofa.

Close-up photo of a smashed gold 1987 Jaguar Vanden Plas sportscar, the centrepiece of an installation by the artist Divya Mehra.
Here’s the Divya Mehra piece in question. Presented by Night Gallery, its title is: “I am the American Dream (still just a Paki)/Seminar Series on Race, Destruction and the many afterlives of a Paki: A private talk for one by your less than ideal Representative, 2010-2017.” (CBC Arts)

It’s interesting to hear you talk about “uninitiated” curators. Between the public art program, and the Focus exhibition, it seems the fair feels a responsibility to make a statement: “this is what’s happening in Canadian contemporary art.”

Exactly.

Do you see that as the fair’s responsibility?

Well, I think the fair has an opportunity there. What you’re tapping into is a personal interest of mine. What is exciting to me about this role is that as the director I have an opportunity to look at the entire exhibition and think, how does this represent art in Canada and art from a Canadian perspective? How does Canadian art fit within an international framework? What is going to be inspiring and exciting for Canadian audiences to see?

Photo of a white-walled booth displaying artwork, erected in a concrete-floored convention centre hall.
The Cooper Cole booth at Art Toronto 2022. (Art Toronto)

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Art Toronto. Oct. 27-30. Metro Toronto Convention Centre. www.arttoronto.ca

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Paired exhibitions showcasing Sask. art history at MacKenzie Art Gallery – Regina Leader Post

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Two collections, curated in tandem, are examining the under-highlighted 1950s era of contemporary art that helped shaped artists like Regina-born Anthony Thorn.

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A set of connected exhibitions opening at the MacKenzie Art Gallery are offering a window into a “critical moment” of Saskatchewan art history in the 1950s.

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The two shows, titled Anthony Thorn: A Portrait, 1927–2014 and Ten Artists of Saskatchewan: 1955 Revisited, have been curated in tandem by head curator Timothy Long and open at the gallery on Thursday.

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Long began conceptualizing the retrospective on Thorn first, after receiving a large number of works from the private collection of art dealer Tony Colella, including art and essays from Thorn’s later years.

“It’s one of those opportunities we have to look back and observe a lifetime of achievement, from very early days to a painting that was sitting on his easel at the time when he died,” Long said.

Thorn is a nationally renowned abstractionist whose career began in Regina, where he was born, before continuing in B.C. as he forged a path through the evolution of Canadian contemporary art.

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“He was an artist who was attached to his studio, attached to representational practices, at a time when abstraction was in its ascendancy,” Long said.

“His independence of thought really went against the grain.”

Conceptualizing Thorn’s ties to his home province led Long to thinking about the show that introduced Thorn to Saskatchewan audiences as an emerging artist: an exhibition in 1955 titled Ten Artists of Saskatchewan.

The show debuted just two years after the MAG opened, as the first public art gallery in Saskatchewan, including Thorn and other artists who would go on to similar successful prominence like Dorothy Knowles and members of the Regina Five Ken Lochhead, Arthur McKay and Douglas Morton.

Long has revived this past show, re-collecting works as close to those featured in the original show as possible, to “recreate the feel of that exhibition” in Ten Artists of Saskatchewan: 1955 Revisited.

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“I’m always thinking about how to tell the story of art in this province,” Long said, about the idea.

The collection partners with the exploration on Thorn’s career, tethered by a painting titled “Moses Diptych,” which was included in the original 1955 Ten Artists show.

“Moses” is from a period when Thorn worked under Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, before it became part of a travelling art show program in Regina the 1960s. Long had it restored specifically for the exhibition.

“It’s like a time capsule of art in Mexico City in 1955. The image of Moses — he looks like Che Guevara holding the Ten Commandments in one hand, but that hand is a fist that’s punching into the future. It’s an incredible painting.”

  1. Curatorial fellow Felicia Gay, who has put together a retrospective exhibition on the career of contemporary artist Faye HeavyShield, stands by one of the installations at the MacKenzie Art Gallery on Thursday, October 20, 2022 in Regina.

    MacKenzie Art Gallery debuting retrospective on artist Faye HeavyShield

  2. Curator Michele Hardy stands in the new exhibit at the Nickle Galleries called Prairie Interlace: Weaving, Modernisms and the Expanded Frame 1960-2000 on Monday, September 19, 2022. Gavin Young/Postmedia

    Nickle Galleries exhibit highlights ‘explosion’ of innovative textile arts in the Prairies

The MAG is approaching 70 years since opening doors, and Long said these shows are an “opportune time” to consider how contemporary art in Saskatchewan has evolved.

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Historically, the ’50s were something of a precursor era, as many artists from this time are better known for works from the ’60s and ’70s, the later years of their careers.

It’s a decade that “hasn’t received a lot of attention, in terms of our history,” but Long feels offers insight into how these artists existed and grew together, as a group.

“Saskatchewan artists weren’t breaking new ground, at that point, but this was an important foundation for what they would explore in future years,” he said.

“Artists don’t work in isolation; they look at what each other and others are doing in their community, and so you get a sense of the shared effort to become modern, in terms of art in the province.”

In tying together the shows, the hope is audiences will get a sense of the province’s history, through the lens of Thorn, who revelled in the craft and had a penchant for retrospection.

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“He really was an artist who followed his own internal vision, and spent more time looking back than forward,” Long said. “As we’re looking back at history, we’re looking at an artist who himself is always looking back, seeing what can be recovered, what can be brought forward from a very long history of art.”

The shows will be accompanied by a free talk on Thorn’s life and career with art historian and curator Ihor Holubizky on Saturday afternoon.

lkurz@postmedia.com

The news seems to be flying at us faster all the time. From COVID-19 updates to politics and crime and everything in between, it can be hard to keep up. With that in mind, the Regina Leader-Post has created an Afternoon Headlines newsletter that can be delivered daily to your inbox to help make sure you are up to date with the most vital news of the day. Click here to subscribe. 

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Rancher gives new life to afterbirth by creating art from cow placentas – CBC.ca

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When customers enter the Dawson Creek Cannabis Company store to buy marijuana, some are stopped dead in their tracks by what looks like a full-sized, glowing coffin in the middle of the store.

Illuminated from within, it looks like a stained-glass casket.

But it’s actually a work of art crafted from cow placentas, created by local rancher and artist Emilie Mattson.

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“It raises eyebrows,” said Mattson in an interview with CBC News about creating art from afterbirth. “It makes a bit of a spark. Some people are totally disgusted and walk away, horrified. Some are amazed.”

Emilie Mattson with her son, artist Karl Mattson. (Matthew Rivard/Contributed)

Mattson said she was first inspired to use the unusual artistic medium during calving season at her ranch near Rolla, B.C., more than 20 years ago. 

Helping to deliver a calf in her barn in bitterly cold weather, she slung the placenta over a light at the edge of the stall.

“We’re helping this cow because she’s having trouble, and I look over and with the light behind it, the placenta looks like stained glass,” she recalled. 

At the time, Mattson was running 300 head of cattle and raising a family on the farm, but was already an artist working in paint and sculpture. 

She soon began to experiment with adding preserved placenta to her repertoire. Preserved in a special brine, she says placenta dries like parchment or leather, preserving dramatic colours. 

Emilie Mattson on her cattle ranch near Dawson Creek, B.C. (Donna Kane/Contributed)

Calving season gave her a plentiful supply. While she said her neighbours in ranch country were dismissive at first, they eventually started saving the placentas of their own animals and “brought them over in buckets” to top up her supplies.

Even the local veterinarian contributed, she said. 

Mattson has since used placentas in many of her multimedia pieces. 

For the coffin-shaped work she calls The Treasure Box, which took her two years to make, she stretched placenta across a metal frame that’s held up by a well worn chassis.

Now it’s been given pride of place in a cannabis dispensary a 20-minute drive from her ranch. 

Dawson Creek Cannabis Company owner Matthew Rivard, who promotes local artists in his store, says Mattson’s artwork is “captivating, breathtaking, and with brilliant colours.”

Customers are curious about the ‘captivating’ art piece made from cow placenta, said cannabis store owner Matthew Rivard, who uses his Dawson Creek business to showcase work by local artists. (Matthew Rivard/Contributed )

He says the piece is eye-opening for locals who come in to buy a pre-rolled joint or THC gummies.

“You definitely see customers come in, people that are just getting off of work. Maybe they’re working down at the tire shop and they come in and they stop and they look at the piece and say, ‘Oh my God.’ Everybody has a reaction. 

“They think it’s stained glass, and then they take a closer look. They see a little fleck of straw in the placenta. Some are like, ‘Oh yeah, I can see life and death.'” 

Mattson’s art, including more conventional painting, has been exhibited in juried exhibitions for years. 

Her art has been reviewed in publications as wide ranging as Beef in B.C. — a B.C. Cattlemen’s Association magazine  and the culture periodical Espace Sculpture. 

“These brilliantly coloured afterbirths are both a symbol and a chore,” wrote art critic Paula Gustafson in Espace Sculpture in 2001, reviewing one of Mattson’s placenta pieces at the Artropolis 2001 show held at the CBC Vancouver studios.

“[They represent] … the miracle and mystery of birth and the sacred and violent act of labour.” 

For Mattson, the placenta, which nourishes the baby in the womb, is “the beginning of everything.”

“It’s life sustaining. … If it wasn’t for the placenta, we wouldn’t exist,” she said. 

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‘Amazing’ art, dance program a hit for local seniors (3 photos)

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The Orillia and District Arts Council (ODAC) has married dance, visual art, and art history in a comprehensive new arts program created specifically for local seniors.

The HeARTS (Helping Elders with ARTS) program is held every Tuesday and Thursday at St. James’ Anglican Church; the goal is to get participants’ bodies moving before trying their hand at various disciplines of art.

The 26-week program began in September after ODAC secured federal government funding earlier this year, and each lesson includes a dance component, supplementary lectures on the session’s artistic theme, and — of course — the opportunity to create art.

Organizers offer a wide-ranging variety of programming and artistic styles for the participants to learn about, ranging from Picasso-inspired self portraits, to re-creations of Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’, Japanese Suminigashi marbling, and more.

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An “intelligent” approach was brought to the program, organizers say, adding they hope to give seniors legitimate opportunities to explore their artistic sides, as well as the opportunity to self-reflect.

“It (isn’t) juvenile, like arts and crafts. We wanted to do something intelligent and fresh, and have something that seniors could be excited to come to weekly,” said HeARTS art facilitator Sukhi Kaur.

“They’re taken on a journey of self-reflection that they get to explore through different art techniques, and different artists and activities,” Kaur said. “By the end, they’ll hopefully create a small body of work that represents their time here, as well as connecting to the memories that the art prompts are supposed to bring up, and they have the opportunity to share that with new people.”

Each session’s programming is designed to tie into a specific theme, Kaur said, noting those themes are guided by participant feedback. For example, a dance session based in mirroring was included with a lecture on Picasso before participants painted their own self portraits.

A variety of guest artists — and even a harp player during the Vincent Van Gogh session — have been brought to the program to enrich its sessions.

Above all, however, the program offers the opportunity for seniors to have fun and socialize.

“We were hoping that it would be an opportunity post-COVID for seniors to socialize,” Kaur said. “They come here for art, and they come here for dance, but they get to talk about their week. There’s been some new friendships made here that I’ve got to watch flourish over the weeks.”

The idea is catching on.

“Our board made a decision some time back that we wanted to be more socially involved with vulnerable or underrepresented groups, and we thought seniors would be a good fit,” said ODAC board secretary Christine Hager.

“It was a slow start … but now it’s catching people by word of mouth. They are telling other people what’s going on here, and they’re having a lot of fun — that’s the main thing.”

So far, the program has been a success, with one participant celebrating it as “an amazing get together for seniors” that got her out of a rut through COVID-19.

“It gives us something to look forward to, shows us our cognitive abilities, and motivates us to do better than we thought we could do,” said Donna Howlett.

“I love the dance class — just hearing the music has brought me back to my childhood, and the art class is so interesting. I did not know that I had some talent there,” said Maryann Van Arem.

Miriam Goldberger, the program’s dance instructor, said she enthusiastically joined the program when she learned it would incorporate multiple styles of art, and highlighted the importance of movement for both physical health and creating the right mindset to engage with art.

“Movement and physical activity prevent serious physical and mental and emotional decline of seniors,” she explained. “It also really lubricates all the creativity and the social goals that happen with the other part of the program.”

“They’re relaxed, they’re comfortable with themselves, they’re feeling positive,” she said. “They’re open to new things.”

Beyond offering arts programming to seniors, the HeARTS program also serves as a placement opportunity for Georgian College Social Service Worker students.

Program volunteer Joan Berndt said the addition of these students is “incredibly beneficial” to breaking down stigma surrounding seniors.

“The addition of social work students is incredibly beneficial because they don’t get frontline experience when they’re in school,” Berndt said. “They learn about seniors, (and) there is a discrimination in some younger people, that they don’t want to work for seniors, but they’re meeting some fabulous seniors, and it’s working.”

The HeARTS program is offered to local seniors free of charge. It takes place at St. James’ Anglican Church, every Tuesday and Thursday, with a drop-in session from 11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., with dance and arts programming taking place from 1 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.

Organizers are hoping to secure funding to continue the program following its current 26-week run.

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