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Like it or not, Hallmark holiday movies are an art form

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First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

Illustration by Erick M. Ramos

It’s a tale as old as time.

Or at least as far back as the year 2000.

Girl goes to a charming northern village. The exact location is never precise. It’s called something like Hope Falls or Angel Cove or something non-denominational like Spruce Valley. This main character may or may not have grown up there. She works for either a resort conglomerate or a toy manufacturer or for big gingerbread. She might have even been sent by her slick editor at a slick magazine to write an exposé on the charming village. Or she is there to shut down the mill or bulldoze the bed and breakfast or steal the family cookie recipe and sell it to the money-loving soulless suits back in the big city.

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These are minor expositions meant to last until the Act 1 break. Because before she can complete her mission, she falls into a romance with the mill’s chief lumberjack/surly hotelier/secret millionaire-turned-Christmas tree lot owner.

And how do I know all this? Because this is the North American art form known as the holiday movie.

The plots are as predictable as the seasons. As we know the leaves will change colour and temperatures will drop, we know that movie titles such as The Christmas Caper or Countdown to Christmas or Love and Christmas will deliver a happy ending. By the last act, the guy will get the girl, the small idyllic town that never bothered to diversify its industries will be saved and everything will culminate with a chaste kiss as the town lights its tree in the centre of the square.

Yes, it’s implausible. Yes, I have to suspend all disbelief. Yes, the whole thing is as saccharin as the hot cocoa the sweet elderly lady-type character will serve with a glint in her eyes at the beginning of Act 2. And yes, I might have a better time getting through one of these with an enormous helping of spiked eggnog, but the holiday television movie is, like it or not, an art form.

In much the same ways that cavemen adorned their walls with scenes of wildlife – probably exaggerated meadows full of stags, the artists at the Hallmark channel and other such movie makers are using their broad strokes to create a world that is only marginally more realistic than their cave-dwelling ancestors. I’m sure those watching Ug or Zog paint by firelight, called the endings of their masterpieces before they finished. “Now he’ll make a handprint,” one would say to the other. And they’d invent the synchronized eye roll.

But unlike those watchers, I don’t watch to be surprised. I watch because I know the rhythms. I know the premise. I know the ending before the movie starts.

I watch because there is beauty in these stories. And while it may not be apparent to the naked eye, once I watched a few hundred hours of holiday movies, I began to spot the intricacies of the master’s hand. As my eyes glazed over and my amygdala slowed its synapses, I began to immerse myself in their world.

In this world, everyone looks like they belong on daytime TV. Because they did, when daytime TV was a thing. Everyone has a familiarity to them – their facial shape is reminiscent of a 1980s sitcom star and the dim sparkle in their Botoxed eyes reminds me of a starlet of yesteryear (or another movie playing concurrently on another channel). Was that guy in the flannel shirt a guest star on Sex and the City? The answer is yes. And his presence is comforting.

You can’t call these rom-coms. Because they are not funny and because the romance in them is hardly traditional. Love happens as a by-product of planning a Christmas concert. It happens despite the motivations of the characters. The busy businessman or woman is way too focused on themselves or their career to see the other conventionally attractive lead opposite them as a potential suitor. In this genre, it’s completely feasible for Santa to exist and for adults to not question where all the gifts are coming from.

I was raised on these movies. Growing up in a house without a fireplace, we gathered as a family around the TV. I watched with a mother who loved the stilted sweetness and a group of ruthless siblings that delighted in pointing out every continuity error and lambasting every trope. Even my dad, between lamenting at having to watch but still neglecting to change the channel, couldn’t look away. In the silver glow of the TV, we accomplished what every character fighting to give her precocious child the perfect Christmas learns to do before the last commercial break – we started a new tradition.

These movies may not be nourishing, but they do sate a craving. While the critics decry that everything is a sequel or a franchise these days, the movie makers Hallmark and Lifetime and Netflix are cranking out original content by the shovel full.

Holiday movies aren’t stagnant either. They may not remake the wheel, but they roll it forward every once in a while. In the past few years, we’ve seen an evolution. While there is still work to be done, we have seen gay couples on screen. We have seen interracial leads. And buried under the powdered snow the dialogue speaks of small-town values and of the little guy battling the big corporation – is it just me, or does that ring anti-capitalist?

Holiday movies are where romance exists in its sincerest guise. Where two people fall in love without sleeping with each other (or at least sending each other nudes) first. Where opposites attract but in the least toxic way. Where people can decide to officially commit to each other over the course of a winter storm, or a cookie decorating montage.

It’s these contrary differences to the way the world works that make these movies so watchable. On the Hallmark small screen, characters are spared the lashes of modern life. So much so that a lead player can consider walking away from their corporate job – like they don’t have thousands of dollars owing in student loans or other societal pressures – simply to support themselves from the sales of one (albeit magic) ye olde ornament shoppe. In holiday movies, all the cast has to do is wish on a Christmas star. And isn’t that a realm worth visiting, even just for an hour or two?

Daniel Dalman lives in Saskatoon.

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Architects Embrace AI Art Generator Midjourney – Bloomberg

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Architects Embrace AI Art Generator Midjourney  Bloomberg

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7 Leading Curators Predict the Defining Art Trends of 2023 – Artsy

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Art

Ayanna Dozier

Jan 30, 2023 11:57PM

In 2022, we witnessed a rise in neo-surrealist art, NFTs, and textile-based art practices. These were trends that were bubbling to the surface by the end of 2021, but weren’t fully realized until the spring of the following year. Now, many other styles are emerging as key genres that may have their moment this year.

Artsy spoke to seven leading curators who lent their expertise and shared their insights on which styles and themes may newly emerge or continue to garner attention in 2023. Many anticipate that the sociopolitical climate will continue to inform artists’ practices, with some predicting a rise in more provocative art that critiques religion and systemic oppression.

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Other curators are looking to Latin American new media practices, and are excited by how artists like Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro and Xandra Ibarra use video and installation to create immersive environments that challenge the separation between the screen and the body. Meanwhile, others are intrigued by the possibilities and questions that AI will continue to raise in relation to authorship in the art world.

All the curators expressed an overall interest in artists who push the limits of their given medium, and continue to expand upon their practices in innovative ways. Overall, there is excitement and hopeful promise that 2023 will bring about a year of artistic risks.

Larry Ossei-Mensah

Independent Curator; Co-Founder, Artnoir

New York

Portrait of Larry Ossei-Mensah by Aaron Ramsey. Courtesy of Larry Ossei-Mensah.

Larry Ossei-Mensah predicts that abstraction by artists of color will become even more prominent in 2023. The genre, Ossei-Mensah believes, is essential to shifting the public’s belief that artists of color should only make representational work that is immediately legible. As an example, he pointed to the divisive reaction towards Hank Willis Thomas’s recently unveiled public sculpture The Embrace (2022). Ossei-Mensah also expects that abstract masters like Mo Booker, Raymond Saunders, Howardena Pindell, Emma Amos, Atta Kwami, and Barbara Chase Riboud will receive overdue recognition in 2023 as more institutions reexamine their bodies of work in relation to the younger generation they’ve inspired.

Ossei-Mensah anticipates that criticism by writers of color, specifically those who engage with abstract art’s relationship to cultural practice, will be particularly impactful on the art world. He cited the work of Hilton Als, Robin Givhan, Folsade Ologundudu, and Doreen St. Felix as ones to watch. Additionally, he listed the 2023 solo exhibitions of artists Chase Hall, Guadalupe Maravilla, Ming Smith, Tomashi Jackson, Frank Stewart, Amoako Boafo, Kennedy Yanko, and Anoushka Mirchandani as indicative of what’s to come this year.

Hans Ulrich Obrist

Artistic Director, Serpentine Galleries

London

Portrait of Hans Ulrich Obrist by Andrew Quinn. © Andrew Quinn.

Hans Ulrich Obrist is looking towards the work of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx artists who are rethinking notions of ownership, land, and the body in relation to futurity. He is particularly excited by immersive and interactive new media art, like video games. As he explained, “Video games are to the 21st century what movies were to the 20th century, and novels to the 19th century. Today, it’s much easier for artists to develop their gaming environments.”

Obrist referenced the work of Gabriel Massan at the Serpentine Galleries as a key example of an artist who is “uncovering new meanings on video games and phenomenology…that invites players to activate a fantastical and disorienting world populated with Massan’s digital sculptures, bespoke animation, films, camerawork, and sound developed by his collaborators,” he said. Obrist situates Massan within an incredible generation of artists from Brazil, including Jota Mombaça and Ventura Profana, who use technology to reexamine futurity and a sense of place while in dialogue with decolonial thought and practice.

Adrián Villa Rojas, Yinka Shonibare, and Otobong Nkanga, as Obrist noted, are similarly starting transnational dialogues that imagine a new future for us all. “As artist Ian Cheng often told me, at the heart of his art is a desire to understand what a world is,” Obrist said. “Now more than ever, the dream is to be able to possess the agency to create new worlds.”

Vivian Crockett

Curator, New Museum

New York

Portrait of Vivian Crockett by Ciara Elle Bryant. Courtesy of the New Museum.

Vivian Crockett is fascinated by what will emerge in the fields of new media art, film, and photography, particularly by artists of color from Latin America. In 2022, more opportunities arose for critical reflection on Latin American art and artists, as evident at the Whitney Biennial “Quiet as It’s Kept,” and the Focus and Platform sections of The Armory Show. This will likely continue through 2024 as Adriano Pedrosa mounts the 60th edition of the Venice Biennale’s international exhibition, becoming the first Latin American curator in its 122-year history.

When approaching Latin American art, Crockett emphasized that an understanding of the continent’s political landscapes is crucial. “There is an increased acknowledgement of white supremacist logic affecting Latin American countries, both historically and in the present moment, resulting in more explicit conversations around race, class, and Indigenous struggles for autonomy,” she said.

In terms of the media art that is attracting her interest, Crockett is looking forward to the transnational conversations that the Sharjah Biennial and São Paulo Bienal will provoke. Stateside, she is excited by the major video and media exhibitions taking place at MoMA and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth later this year, as well as Isaac Julien’s survey at Tate Britain and Ja’Tovia Gary’s solo show at Paula Cooper Gallery.

Eileen Jung

Curator, Bronx Museum

New York

Portrait of Eileen Jung. Courtesy of the Bronx Museum.

Eileen Jung predicts that land art, Indigeneity, and immersive art practices will take center stage in 2023. In particular, she pointed to artists who use conceptual art to navigate history and memory, including Firelei Báez, Chloë Bass, Maria Berrio, Andrea Chung, Joana Choumali, Sean Desiree, Abigail DeVille, Anaïs Duplan, Scherezade García, Guadalupe Maravilla, Daniel Lie, and Jodie Lyn-Kee-Chow. Jung added, “Each of these artists have unique perspectives and contributions, and through their work, they’ve introduced a level of newness and depth to the overall artistic zeitgeist.”

Jung further elaborated that artists who provide counternarratives to the dominant historical record, and push the boundaries of their medium across abstract and figurative painting as well as sculpture, will continue to set the trends. She specifically noted the practices of Derek Fordjour, Tomashi Jackson, Sara Jimenez, Anina Major, Natalia Nakazawa, Angel Otero, Kevin Quiles Bonilla, Amina Ross, Tariku Shiferaw, Jean Shin, and Saya Woolfalk. Jung added that the critical scholarship of Lisa Lowe, Anna L. Tsing, and Saidiya Hartman will continue to inform artistic pulses.

She remains excited for new rediscoveries in 2023, like how ceramics has been in recent years. “Another area that is often overlooked are those artists who are self-taught, often labeled as ‘outsider artists’ (e.g., those whose work does not reflect an overt influence from the mainstream art world), and are bringing a new energy to the field,” Jung wrote to Artsy.

Jesse Firestone

Curator, Montclair State Galleries

Montclair, New Jersey

Portrait of Jesse Firestone by Jenna Bascom Photography, LLC’s Associate Photographer Nelson. Courtesy of Montclair State Galleries.

Jesse Firestone is on the lookout for more genre-breaking art in 2023. In particular, they point to outsider art practices—like using humor or making provocative works with unconventional material and subject matter—as big trends for the year. “I think performance artists who embrace failure while taking their work seriously, but aren’t self-serious, will receive a lot more attention,” they said. “There is a lot to learn from this type of work and I think people are hungry to see how we can work with imperfection, messiness, and unpredictability. 2023 is a year of embracing risk.”

Firestone’s attention to risk comes out of crypto art’s tumultuous year in 2022. The incredibly rapid rise and subsequent fall of NFTs have demonstrated that, while artists will continue to innovate art with new technology, some trends might crash as fast and they rose. Firestone believes that artists will continue to learn from the market and reflect upon the failures of these experiences in their work. Because of the NFT crash, Firestone sees physical media art, or art that embraces the body, as major for 2023. This is work they actively support as a curator: “Ultimately I like being able to provide artists with the space to stretch, take risks, and succeed in those efforts,” Firestone said.

Rachel Vera Steinberg

Curator, Smack Mellon

New York

Portrait of Rachel Vera Steinberg by Inna Svyatsky. Courtesy of Smack Mellon.

Rachel Vera Steinberg is excited for a greater number of artists to further deepen the mystery of art production across sculpture and computer-generated art. She is inspired by artists who push the boundaries of the medium they are working in, as well as the space in which they exhibit. She cited the work of Emily Clayton, Tomi Faison, and Charisse Pearlina Weston as key examples. Steinberg also anticipates more conceptually driven work in relation to text- and discourse-based art, like K Allado-McDowell’s recent book Amor Cringe (2022), which was co-written with AI software.

Additionally, Steinberg predicts that last year’s challenges around systemic injustice will usher in artists addressing class and social equity in the art world. “One of the most impactful trends from this past year was the proliferation of AI image generators,” she said. “It’s hard to forecast this as a direction, but it has the potential to further call into question images as receptacles of meaning.”

Separately, Steinberg believes that more artworks inspired by religion will reach the fore in 2023. “I feel like we are entering a moment of reconsidering religion, inclusive of, but also beyond, its relationship to spirituality,” she explained. “I see this formally in visual symbols and materiality: For example, in the way an artist like Tammy Nguyen incorporates metal leaf to reference illuminated manuscripts, but also in other modes of production that are trending, such as a heightened interest in metal work.”

Zoé Whitley

Director, Chisenhale Gallery

London

Portrait of Zoé Whitley by James Gifford-Mead. Courtesy of Zoé Whitley.

Zoé Whitley is looking to painters who are embracing unconventional materials or pushing the limits of their painting practice to render something vibrantly different and new. “The artists who currently inspire me defy genre expectations,” she said.

Furthermore, Whitley is looking forward to artists collaborating more with nonprofit organizations. She hopes that these partnerships, and their accompanying resources, will support ambitious art practices and culminate into long-running exhibitions that a greater number of viewers will be able to see and experience.

These later points are greatly influenced by Tricia Hersey’s manifesto Rest is Resistance (2022) and Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (1997), which both argue for a process of slowing down with media materials to allow for their presence to be felt, haunting the audience.

Ayanna Dozier

Ayanna Dozier is Artsy’s Staff Writer.

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Tom Sachs Reveals New McDonald's Public Art – HYPEBEAST

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Over the weekend, contemporary visionary Tom Sachs took to Instagram to reveal a new public art piece.

Sachs is taking street art to the next level, showcasing the process of his “Enamel on Trailer” piece that he painted on the side of a red trailer in the middle of Connecticut. The post features a series of images of Sachs painting his own rendition of the McDonald’s golden arches and branding. The piece includes signage on the bottom right corner of the trailer and appears to be dated in 2022. A closer look sees that Sachs finds perfection in imperfection as paint leaves streaks from the dripping.

The caption of the Instagram also showcases the dimension as well as the location of the piece — Max Power Motors in New Milford, Connecticut, and is “on display 24/7.” The post also shows a Google Map zoom in on where Max Power Motors is located in the world, giving fans who might be interested or passing by, a chance to view the work.

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Take a look below.

In other art news, here is an official look at Jahan Loh’s Doraemon Sofubi toys.


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