Perfect weather helped to draw big crowds to Art in the Park at Willistead Park on the weekend.
“So much of the panorama experience is visceral and powerful, being transported in front of these massive works of art,” enthused James Fishburne, co-curator of Forest Lawn’s new exhibition Grand Views: The Immersive World of Panoramas. Fishburne spoke with me about this little-known but spectacular art form, taking me behind the scenes of the exhibition he co-curated in conjunction with the Velaslavasay Panorama.
Grand Views offers audiences a rare chance to immerse themselves in the fascinating world of panoramas. The show centers around Forest Lawn’s Hall of Crucifixion-Resurrection – which has displayed two enormous panoramas for decades – and it also offers other enormous works, like the Panorama of the Valley of the Smokes, made by artist Sara Velas in 2000. In addition, the show provides a rich assortment of broadsides, rare objects and ephemera from the 19th-century world of panoramas that help audiences truly get inside the creation and exhibition of these massive pieces.
Curating the show, Fishburne worked alongside panorama artist Sara Velas and writer Ruby Carlson, both of whom co-curate the Velaslavasay Panorama – a museum dedicated to panoramas located in nearby Los Angeles. According to Velas, her love of panoramas goes back to her early childhood, and getting to show her work in this exhibit alongside ephemera from panorama history is something of a full-circle moment. “I knew I wanted to make things since I was a child, and being in St Louis I learned about the 19th century panorama tradition. I went on this huge pilgrimage to Europe when I graduated college to try and visit as many of the panoramas as I could from this era. Remarkably, a lot of the artifacts and things we’re displaying in this exhibit are tied to things that I saw in that self-assigned pilgrimage.”
Carlson, who has served as secretary-general of the International Panorama Council and who writes on numerous subjects, including panoramas, realized she wanted to dedicate herself to panoramas during a chance visit to the Velaslavasay Panorama, where she had a transformative encounter with the massive Effulgence of the North. “Me and my friends were the only people there at the time, and we spent a good hour in the panorama itself,” she told me. “It was just an incredible atmosphere, unlike anything I’d ever been to before and spending that time with a couple of my favorite people just made it very magical. I spent a lot of time at the Velaslavasay Panorama that day, and as we were leaving, I thought to myself, ‘I want to be here more.’”
With Grand Views: The Immersive World of Panoramas, Fishburne, Velas and Carlson hope to help others understand just how wonderful this massive artform is, while communicating the long and rich history behind it. Due to the Covid-19 lockdowns, the curators had more time than expected to piece the exhibition together, letting them trace the rich web of connections between panoramas and much of Los Angeles history. “The fun part was the early stage, thinking about the connections we want to make,” said Fishburne. “There’s been so many incredible threads that we’ve been able to combine, since we got to let the whole thing marinate for an extra year-and-a-half during the pandemic. I think it really helped to enrich it.”
One of those threads is the history of Los Angeles film-making, which is woven into the history of panoramas in California. Grand Views exhibits a Hollywood backdrop, as well as numerous cinematic artifacts, letting audiences see how these massive artworks have contributed to the development and evolution of film. The exhibition also offers a sketch for a panorama made by Disney imagineer Herbert Ryman, who is celebrated as being the first artist to ever visualize Walt Disney’s aspiration to create a theme park. “It’s really fascinating that between Disney, Hollywood, Forest Lawn, etc there’s this sort of cross-pollination among these worlds. And the final product is different for each of them, but they’re all sort of these very powerful, immersive, moving experiences. For Grand Views, we took slices of panorama history that are also interwoven with LA history.”
A major piece shown in Grand Views is the monumental crucifixion panorama painted by Polish artist Jan Styka – at 195ft by 45ft, it is one of the largest paintings ever created. Simply titled Crucifixion, the work’s immense size and impressive detail give it a dramatic, cinematic air, heightened by the immense hall that Forest Lawn created to house it and the dramatic show it uses to present the work to viewers.
According to Fishburne, “Crucifixion is one of the only four surviving crucifixion panoramas in the world.” He went on to detail how, in contrast to the other three, which are exhibited in a circular format, Forest Lawn’s hall draws from LA inspiration. “You step into this building, which uses ecclesiastical architecture, but then it also uses very Los Angeles–inspired architecture. The panorama’s theater space is essentially a movie palace. It’s a panorama presented in the way of a cinematic format.”
Grand Views offers substantial context on the making of Crucifixion, as well as offering windows into the other three major crucifixion panoramas, all currently in Europe. “Through Sarah and Ruby’s contacts with the International Panorama Council, we were able to get artifacts and ephemera from the three others,” said Fishburne. “You get a really rich sense of the history surrounding these works. It’s the behind the scenes look at how these incredible artworks were created and presented.”
In a world where digital experiences are more and more becoming the norm, and where artistic innovations of the 19th century may seem as antiquated as the Pony Express in a world of text messaging, Grand Views offers viewers the chance to challenge their expectations and experience something both old and new. “What I really like about panoramas is that it frames the experience of going to see a painting more theatrically,” said Velas. “I think in particular it’s feeling very special right now because we’re spending so much time in this digital space.”
Perfect weather helped to draw big crowds to Art in the Park at Willistead Park on the weekend.
“We like to say summer begins with Art on the Park,” said the organization’s chairman Allan Kidd.
The event, run by the Rotary Club of Windsor (1918), is now in its 44th year and it continues to grow, he said.
“A hot day like this is perfect,” he said. “This is potentially another record crowd. We set a record last year,” with 27,000 paying attendees. “We’re on track to do that again.”
The annual show is attended by people from other provinces in Canada and Kidd noted one person who was familiar with Art in the Park when he lived in South Africa.
With 275 exhibitors and 15 musical performers, the event is a major fundraiser for the Rotary Club to support community projects around the world, Kidd said.
Last year, Art in the Park raised $80,000 to help with the maintenance and restoration of Willistead Manor, which itself provides the ideal setting for the event, he said. The Rotary Club also uses funds raised to support other causes.
“We’re a charitable group. We buy wheelchairs and we drill water wells and we build schools,” said Kidd , who noted people don’t realize the event supports charitable causes.
“There’s a disconnect in the public eye,” Kidd said. “I like to say this is our gift to the community. We have this festival, everybody comes (and) for a couple of bucks they have a ball. All of these people are philanthropists without knowing it.”
Solange Silivria of Windsor and friend Todd Mansell relaxed at a picnic table late Saturday. Silivria comes to the event every year.
“It’s something that I used to do every year with my mum and she has since passed,” she said. “I continue to do the tradition and come every single year and walk around. It’s something that she loved to do.”
Silivria’s mother, Charlene Evon, used to run Bart Evon Designer Furniture, in LaSalle.
“I always try to meet up with friends or bring friends and come and enjoy the lovely artwork and the amazing talent, and walk around and just enjoy the day,” she said.
Exhibitor Jasmine Samsair, a Windsor mixed-media abstract artist, put her work on display at the park for just the second year.
“I’ve always loved coming to Art in the Park,” she said. “I didn’t know there was such a market for abstract art. I thought why not give it a shot. I actually ended up doing really well last year and it was just so great meeting so many people.”
Art in the Park is a good opportunity to get artists’ work in front of the public, she said.
“Even if I don’t make any sale… the biggest thing that I find is exposure. I find that doing Art in the Park, the main thing was people discovering you, noticing your work and getting your name out there.”
It was a lovely weekend for a stroll in the park and more than 20,000 people had the same idea for this year’s Art in the Park at Willistead Park in Windsor, Ont.
The two-day festival features 275 different art vendors, food and ice cream trucks and music from a number of performing artists.
“It’s a wonderful thing because we see that our artists and our performers are being supported and that means a lot to us,” said Aggie Sarafianos, who hasn’t missed a single year of Art in the Park since it started back in 1979.
“The history, the atmosphere, the feeling that you get when you’re here is just second to none,” she said. “The camaraderie of the neighborhood is here, it’s very blatant.”
Vendors seemed quite pleased with the turnout, reporting strong sales this weekend.
“We’re told that it’s the best organized festival that we go to, so we love to hear that,” said Allan Kidd, the chair of Art in the Park, indicating they will try to squeeze in 300 vendors next year.
The event is put on by the Rotary Club of Windsor, with proceeds going to restoring Willistead Manor, digging water wells in Africa, and buying wheelchairs for kids in Windsor.
“Everybody that comes in here has a good time but they are all philanthropists because I can’t do it without them,” said Kidd. “Every dollar is put to good use cause we’re all volunteers. We’re grateful for the public and I think they love what we do too.”
To reveal what happens inside Tomás Saraceno’s new show for the Serpentine Gallery is hardly a spoiler. Nothing could lessen the impact. In galleries of pitch darkness, spotlights pick out an unfolding sequence of ethereal silver visions, all of them apparently floating in midair.
One spreads like the Milky Way – points of light gathering in cosmic drifts. Another hovers like spectral morning mist. A third has a gleaming upright disc at its centre, woven of what seems to be the most exiguous gauze of metal threads, held in place by barely visible guy lines.
They appear to be drawings in thin air; and yet they are also sculptures – silk structures so tremulous and fine they shiver in the circumambient air. To learn how they are made (and who made them) is still to know nothing at all of the mysterious workings of the artists themselves – none other than several rare species of spider.
Saraceno is the great spider man of contemporary art. Born in Argentina in 1973, he trained first as an architect, and one senses his profound appreciation of the way spiders create buildings as works of art. So much so that he has not boxed in their structures. There is no glass. Whisper ever so slightly and these webs move with your breath. The wonder they engender is exactly what stops you from reaching out to touch.
These spiders, who create such beauty, have very poor sight. They do not hear as we do either. Visitors can sit in a repurposed confessional box staring closely at a spectacular web that hangs where the priest would usually sit; through the wooden seat run occasional tremors. This is roughly what the spider senses of the world as it works. Saraceno’s marvellous installation is a form of synaesthesia as homage: you witness the web while experiencing intermittent vibrations and blinking through a filigree grille.
A riveting film, in another gallery, shows the spider diviners of western Cameroon at work with clay pots and cards made of distinctively incised leaves. These cards are effectively the answers to vital questions asked by local people (or perhaps even by you too, now that Saraceno has built the diviners a website through which you can correspond). The spiders move the cards to give their wisdom. It feels as strange and mythical as the Oracle at Delphi.
By now, having surrendered your mobile phone on entry to some charming artists who return it with a divination card on exit, you will have realised that webs are a metaphor for the way Saraceno works. The spiders have answers that no phone can give; no phone can capture the magical webs. And phones involve batteries that require lithium, subject of another of Saraceno’s art campaigns, and of a beautifully shot film screening in the central rotunda.
This concerns the Indigenous communities of Jujuy in Argentina who are fighting for the preservation of vital land and water threatened by the relentless mining for lithium to supply our wretched batteries. The narrative of words, images, protests and interviews is deeply absorbing. And, not incidentally, you will also see a flotilla of black balloons (sculptures, too, in their way) that are powered to fly across the sparkling white salt flats of Jujuy using solar energy. These are another of Saraceno’s attempts to find a way, as he puts it, “to levitate without any violence to the earth”. His flight in 2020 broke 32 records and was then the longest fossil-free flight in history.
One side of the Serpentine Gallery is entirely open to the green landscape outside. Animals of all sorts are welcome (there is a ladder for squirrels, a house for birds, welcoming sculptures of dogs, deer and hedgehogs). Children have their own secret gallery. The roof is laid with solar panels to supply energy. Pedal the bicycles outside and you power up the voices of Jujuy on headphones.
Saraceno’s work is as delicate and involving as the webs he displays. Artist, scientist, activist, philosopher, inventor, composer, he is a Renaissance mind for the 21st century. And what is so striking about this captivating exhibition, in all its generosity, is that Saraceno believes that everyone else is as curious and optimistic as he is: that art can have active agency.
It is 10 years since Tate Britain last reorganised its collection, a decade so turbulent even art institutions could not remain heedless. The new rehang embraces many more women and artists of colour, introduces much more historical context about patronage, society, race, class and politics, and stints (mercifully) on Bacon, Hockney, Freud et al, who scarcely need further enlargement. There are sufficient new names, overdue revivals and close-focus galleries – an electrifying William Blake, a fascinating room of one’s own devoted to Woolf-era women – as to educate the mind and eye and renew the experience.
The faults are many and obvious. Above all, this rehang treats artworks as documents. An 18th-century tea party allows for sermonising on tea (imperialism), sugar (slavery) and servants (oppressed), but the picture itself is atrocious. George Stubbs and Samuel Palmer are told off for ignoring rural conditions in their spellbinding harvests and twilights. Annie Swynnerton gets a whole room for her cloyingly awful art because she was a suffragist who painted Millicent Fawcett.
And for a rehang more interested in history than art, it’s oddly erratic. Thin on the English civil war, say; Waterloo, the welfare state, LGBTQ+ rights. As for the spelling: Magna Carter?
But the Duveen Galleries are terrific: Vong Phaophanit’s 1993 neon rice field in its mysterious glowing dunes; Rachel Whiteread’s mind-splitting cast of a double staircase, labyrinthine and vertiginous; Susan Hiller’s reprise of the walls of sudden and heroic deaths from London’s Postman’s Park.
The rooms are jewel-coloured and densely hung. All the old favourites remain – Turner, Gainsborough, Constable, the pre-Raphaelites – alongside sharp recent purchases: the haunting interiors of Iraqi painter Mohammed Sami; Zineb Sedira’s superbly wry films (early hit of the last Venice Biennale); Lydia Ourahmane’s haunting oil barrel installation – the first artwork legally to leave Algeria since it gained independence in 1962, with its redolent scent and its ghostly inner music, which finally reached here in 2014.
It will all change again – and quite possibly should, in much less than a decade this time. Some of the texts will have dated by then, some of the biases faded. But in the meantime, this rehang opens its arms to the present. The art can hold its own against the preaching any day, after all. Just look more and read less.
Star ratings (out of five)
Tomás Saraceno: Web(s) of Life ★★★★★
Behind Galactic Bars: Webb Telescope Unlocks Secrets of Star Formation
Why are mosquitoes so bad in 2023?
‘Diablo 4’ Patch Notes Bring Fast Barbarian, Druid, Rogue Nerfs, Necro Buffs
Toronto’s Future: A Crap Shoot.
Diablo 4 Received Its First Big Patch and It’s All About Class Balance
Can market veteran Simsek pull Turkey’s economy back from brink?
Canada’s largest solar farm, GDP growth and an immigrant jobs boom: Must-read business and investing stories
Apple prepares for game-changing WWDC 2023: Mixed reality headset and new features in the spotligh
Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.
Join the Conversation