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At Toronto's Museum of Contemporary Art, director Kathleen Bartels aims for a sweet spot of popular but smart – The Globe and Mail

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The new director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Kathleen Bartels, in Toronto on Nov. 20, 2020.

Yader Guzman/Handout

There’s a new sheriff on Sterling Road. In person, Kathleen Bartels is relaxed and cheerful, but the veteran gallery director, who took over Toronto’s struggling Museum of Contemporary Art in April, is also firm and forthright: “Build a program, raise the profile, build the donor base, that is what you need to do,” she said in a (carefully distanced) interview.

Those tasks will be made harder by the pandemic – MOCA closed its Junction Triangle premises as the city went into its second lockdown last month – but Bartels arrived just after the start of the first wave, and even if she didn’t plan to switch jobs in the middle of a pandemic, she does know what she is getting into.

“It’s a good time to be here,” insists the director, who lead the Vancouver Art Gallery for 18 years. “I think the institution is poised for change. It’s been a rocky four or five years.”

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Those years included MOCA’s much delayed move to the renovated Tower Automotive Building on Sterling in 2017, and also the departure of two executive directors after less than a year on the job each.

Bartels, who oversaw great growth at the VAG but didn’t manage to get its new building built, makes it clear that her long experience with an institution four times MOCA’s size is going to bring stability. No more revolving-door management and no more letting the board run the place; developer Brad Keast took over as chair last year and Bartels believes in regular board turnover. Since her arrival, the museum’s landlord, Castlepoint Auto Building, has forgiven a $5.7-million construction loan, letting MOCA finally close the capital campaign for its new building. The museum also announced recently it had secured an anonymous donation of $1-million to spend on programming, and once it reopens will display work from the Flowers for Africa series by Kapwani Kiwanga, the Canadian who recently won France’s top art prize.

“I’m sure there has been a lot of talk in the community about MOCA’s financial sustainability These two [donations] are important because they show people want this place to keep going, to flourish,” said Bartels, adding that she is close to balancing a $5-million budget.

With MOCA on surer financial footing, Bartels and artistic director November Paynter can concentrate on getting the programming mix right. That has been another area where MOCA has struggled, lurching between accessibility and impenetrability. Lately, the mix has been getting smoother, providing the visitor with a more seamless experience over four floors of exhibition space.

Although the building stands in a wasteland of empty lots still awaiting long-promised residential and office construction, the first floor is intended as a community gathering place. It features free art along with expensive coffee and pastries thanks to a Forno Cultura café. (You only need to buy a ticket to access the upper floors.) Last winter, Portuguese artist Carlos Bunga made the most of the space by erecting a cardboard arcade; this fall, Bartels got Taiwanese artist Michael Lin to plan one of his site-specific installations in riotous floral motifs. His installation at VAG in 2010 was a huge success – he covered the entire classical Georgia Street façade in massive pink-and-red floral banners – and he was commissioned to bring a bit of that zing, albeit on a smaller scale, to MOCA. He worked remotely, with local artists painting seating platforms and flooring, but unfortunately visitors will have to wait to judge the effect. The painters were just finishing when the lockdown order came.

Still, the Lin commission summarizes one direction Bartels thinks the institution should be going: popular but smart.

“I think Michael’s work is accessible but I don’t think that takes away from its intellectual rigour,” she says of the artist, whose work has been hailed internationally for questioning the difference between high art and mass production by covering elite architectural spaces with commercial Asian textile designs.

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Meanwhile, on the upper floors, the current exhibitions stick with the formula Paynter had deployed with success last winter, stressing site-specific installations that speak to each other and to the Tower Building’s industrial history, demanding both an admission ticket and more intellectual commitment as you rise.

On the second floor, the programming seems to hit a sweet spot of entertainment and intelligence with an exhibition devoted to Mika Rottenberg. The New York artist’s loopy video installations – you walk through a small tunnel to view one; another reproduces a room where bags of cultured pearls are sorted – play off their equally zany content. Spaghetti Blockchain, the title piece, features a soundtrack provided by a Mongolian throat singer and images of brightly coloured slabs of some unidentified gelatinous substance being sliced like salami and melted on a grill. Like Cosmic Generator, another video piece by Rottenberg, which features startling images of Chinese wholesalers surrounded by their plastic wares, the film speaks about production and consumption, delighting in an “ooh gross” aesthetic even as it ponders the cultural implications of globalism.

Meanwhile, on the third floor, the art gets more demanding as Canadian artist Krista Belle Stewart meets Turkish artist Fatma Bucak. Stewart, who is Indigenous, is working on a project where she visits German hobbyists who enact fake “Indian” gatherings, complete with feathered headdresses and war cries. Her photography and video work painfully examines the trend but does not overtly denounce it. Bucak’s photos and videos are also about cultural juxtapositions, in the Middle East in her case, but they’re more opaque. Previously, she produced a video where she asked women to wash the ink from newspapers as a metaphor for Turkish censorship; it is represented here by an installation featuring row upon row of photographs of the blackened water that produced.

“There’s something for everyone,” Bartels said, “whether you want to sit on a pod and have a coffee or engage with Fatma Bucak.”

So how does this display of international contemporary art, with the occasional Canadian contribution, make MOCA different from the Power Plant, the contemporary art gallery at Harbourfront Centre?

“I have heard that question a lot,” Bartels said. She argues there’s room for more than one contemporary art museum in a city as large as Toronto, but she also sees MOCA as special. “I like that it’s in a unique place; it’s really grounded in a neighbourhood and that’s unusual for a museum.” The Power Plant – or MOCA Los Angeles, where Bartels was assistant director for more than 10 years before she moved to Vancouver – are located in central entertainment districts. On the other hand, the former industrial area around the railway junction in Toronto’s west end could only be called emerging: MOCA should be an institution more solidly rooted in the city and its arts community, Bartels figures.

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When she arrived at MOCA she took plans for an exhibition devoted to seven local artists and expanded that number to 21 to create a big Toronto group show that will be the main act in 2021. She also wants to see prominent Canadian artists such as Jeff Wall or Xiaojing Yan at MOCA.

The timing couldn’t be better since international artists can’t travel, but there’s also a certain irony to these plans. MOCA lost the second C in its name, which stood for Canadian, when it moved to Sterling Road with grand international ambitions. Now, this Toronto gallery is relying on an American ex-pat from Vancouver to be put the local back in its global.

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10 year-old uses art and music as emotional outlet during pandemic – CTV Toronto

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TORONTO —
The last 10 months haven’t been easy for 10 year-old Anushka Sabeshan.

“It’s been pretty hard. I get anxious about these things,” she told CTV News Toronto. “My classmate tested positive, my dad tested positive, so it’s just been like a whole rollercoaster for me. And I feel like a lot of kids around the world are feeling that way right now.”

The Markham, Ont. girl has been channeling her feelings and emotions through different artistic platforms, like painting.

“This art like shows like how I want it to be, or how it is now, or how it’s changed and they just really express my feelings,” Sabeshan explained. “I’ve also been creating music.”

It’s Sabeshan’s music that caught the attention of her teacher and classmates. As part of a school project, the students were tasked with creating a song about COVID-19. Sabeshan’s song, ‘Mayhem,’ was so well received that her family allowed it to go public. A production team also helped her put together a music video.

“My song is about a child through the pandemic, and it shows how this can affect kids, too,” Sabeshan said. “Not being able to see my friends and not being able to go out to restaurants and all that stuff, it sucks.”

Sabeshan’s younger brother Devin helped with the video The six-year-old says he shares many of his sister’s emotions.

“I felt really bad about COVID,” he told CTV News Toronto. “I wish it would go away.”

The siblings hope ‘Mayhem’ brings a feeling of calm to other young people during this difficult time.

“I think my music people will help other people just to reassure them that they’re not alone. Like, other people are feeling these feelings, too,” Sabeshan said. “It also is to create awareness for everybody to stay safe so we can get through this faster.”

“[Anushka] sings them a song to make them happy,” Devin says. “That’s what she does for other kids.”

‘Mayhem’ was put together with the help of Enliven Entertainment and Steve Cliff Valentine, who produced the music, along with Jeysan Sivakumar, who directed the video.

Sabeshan’s advice for other kids experiencing complex feelings during this time is to find something to do that makes them happy, or that they feel passionate about.

“I will definitely keep making paintings and making music,” she told CTV News Toronto. “And I encourage all people around the world to find things like what they like and just do them, just to take your mind off the pandemic.”

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Outdoor Gallery Stratford project brings art to life – The Beacon Herald

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Article content continued

“I want to flip that idea on its side and have the viewer engage in the evolution of the art piece itself – watching it change and seeing a bit of the creative process as it goes,” Dunnem said.

Dunnem used hot and cold water and soap to turn natural wool from a stuffing-like texture to fabric that wouldn’t fall apart. She used plant-based dye to colour the material and then cut more than 360 pieces that were affixed to the tree using its bark as a natural adhesive.

Peg Dunnem (Cory Smith/The Beacon Herald)

The project is similar to another soft sculpture piece Dunnem created in the summer that incorporated the gallery’s trees.

“I’ve always had a close relationship with nature and trees,” she said. “I spend a lot of time out in the woods and the forest. Even as a young child we spent our summers in a remote area where there were no other humans, so I adopted the trees as more than trees – as friends – and that’s been ingrained.”

After Dunnem has attached the last piece of wool Thursday, the project will live on – kind of.

“I think there is just as much beauty in the deterioration and in the decay as there is in the actual artwork,” she said. “The sun, the light, the cold, the hot will start to break down the fibres, and bugs and spiders and natural material will start to hold on to the fibres as well, and it becomes its own piece of art without human intervention.”

The project has garnered attention both in person and on social media for those who can’t make it to the gallery, including someone from Austria, Dunnem said.

Gallery Stratford closed its doors to guests Dec. 24, and Brayham hopes to reopen in early April. Until then, outdoor artwork like Dunnem’s is a chance to both engage the public and encourage mindfulness and physical activity.

“Many of us right now are spending so much time on screens,” Brayham said, “so being present with the environment and present with art and with your feelings is so important right now.”

cosmith@postmedia.com

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Outdoor public art exhibit of painted canoe paddles comes to downtown Peterborough in February – kawarthaNOW.com

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Carlotta James of Peterborough Pollinators with her 7-year-old son Salvador Haines, who painted this canoe paddle for the Painted Paddle art exhibit, which features 20 canoe paddles painted by volunteer artists on display at various locations in downtown Peterborough throughout February. Salvador says his paddle art, called The Elements, "represents the balance in nature with flowers blooming during the day and its roots growing by night, surrounded by the four elements: light blue for air, dark blue for water, red for fire and green for earth. Also, there’s a secret word painted in the roots, can you find it?". (Photo: Peterborough Pollinators / Facebook)
Carlotta James of Peterborough Pollinators with her 7-year-old son Salvador Haines, who painted this canoe paddle for the Painted Paddle art exhibit, which features 20 canoe paddles painted by volunteer artists on display at various locations in downtown Peterborough throughout February. Salvador says his paddle art, called The Elements, “represents the balance in nature with flowers blooming during the day and its roots growing by night, surrounded by the four elements: light blue for air, dark blue for water, red for fire and green for earth. Also, there’s a secret word painted in the roots, can you find it?”. (Photo: Peterborough Pollinators / Facebook)

A new outdoor public art exhibit featuring 20 canoe paddles painted by volunteer artists in the community is coming to downtown Peterborough in February.

Presented by the Downtown Vibrancy Project, the Painted Paddle art exhibit will be installed in street-front windows at various locations through the downtown area, including the Peterborough & the Kawartha Tourism Visitor Centre, Le Petit Bar, St. Veronus, Boardwalk Game Lounge, Sam’s Deli, Black Honey Bakery, Cork and Bean, B!KE, Watson and Lou, Cottage Toys, By The Bridge, GreenUp Store, Night Kitchen, Peterborough Downtown Business Improvement Area office, Meta4 Gallery, The Avant-Garden Shop, Sustain, Bluestreak Records, and Peterborough Social Services.

For those interested in taking a self-guided tour of the Painted Paddle exhibit, a map of all locations will be available at linktr.ee/LoveForTheBoro.

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“Art brightens the spirit and has a way of making people feel good,” says Tracie Bertrand, director of tourism at Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development. “The Painted Paddle art project will put a smile on people’s faces as they fondly reflect on their memories of being outdoors here in Peterborough and the Kawarthas.”

Some of the people and organizations who have contributed paddle art for the project include Peterborough mayor Diane Therrien, Hiawatha First Nation, Wiigwaas Hiawatha Store, Peterborough Police Service, Peterborough DBIA, GreenUP, Trent Gzowski College, Trent Veg Garden, Peterborough Pollinators, Princess Gardens Retirement Residence, Empress Gardens Retirement Residence, St. Anne’s School, VegFest, B!KE, the Art School of Peterborough, city councillors Kim Zippel and Kemi Akapo, mother-and-daughter team Eileen and Kendron Kimmett, local Anishinaabe artist Kyler Kay, and local artist Tiphaine Lenaik.

“The paddle creates a unique way to honour and acknowledge the original families in Treaty 20,” says Tim Cowie, lands and resource consultant with Hiawatha First Nation, one of many creative community members who lent their artistic skills to the Painted Paddle project. Cowie painted his paddle to look like a piece of birch bark (wiigwaas) and painted the clans (dodems) on his paddle to showcase the family ties of the Michi Saagiig.

Retired police officer Kelleigh Traynor-Hartnett paints a paddle on behalf of the Peterborough Police Service for the Painted Paddle art exhibit, which features 20 canoe paddles painted by volunteer artists. The self-guided exhibit will be on display at various locations throughout downtown Peterborough during February. (Photo courtesy of Peterborough DBIA)
Retired police officer Kelleigh Traynor-Hartnett paints a paddle on behalf of the Peterborough Police Service for the Painted Paddle art exhibit, which features 20 canoe paddles painted by volunteer artists. The self-guided exhibit will be on display at various locations throughout downtown Peterborough during February. (Photo courtesy of Peterborough DBIA)

Jill Stevens, economic development officer of Hiawatha First Nation, incorporated Michii Saagiig culture as part of their painted paddle installation.

“Having a paddle as the canvas was the perfect backdrop for the Hiawatha logo, which depicts someone paddling through manomin (wild rice) stands,” Stevens says.

The Painted Paddle exhibit will be on display in downtown Peterborough from Monday, February 1st until Friday, March 5th.

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Painted paddles from the exhibition will be available in a virtual auction beginning at 8 p.m. on Friday, February 19th and continuing until 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 4th, just before the March First Friday Peterborough art crawl.

Proceeds from the auction at www.32auctions.com/paintedpaddles will go towards the One City Employment Program, which provides meaningful work to those with barriers to traditional employment.

Salvador Haines at work on his paddle for the Painted Paddle art exhibit. The paddles will be auctioned off to raise funds for the One City Employment Program, which provides meaningful work to those with barriers to ?traditional employment.  (Photo: Peterborough Pollinators / Facebook)
Salvador Haines at work on his paddle for the Painted Paddle art exhibit. The paddles will be auctioned off to raise funds for the One City Employment Program, which provides meaningful work to those with barriers to ?traditional employment. (Photo: Peterborough Pollinators / Facebook)

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