by Janet Hethrington

Evan Penny's recent show Murray, Anamorphs and Body Forms is a cat and mouse fight between the viewer and scale, language, dimension and perspective. At one point his sculptures catch the moment of mid-flight between abstract and realist forms. From another approach the viewer sees the suspended moment between the material and the ephemeral.

Anamorphs - These pieces are a distorted representation of the human form skewed and stretched as long and languid late afternoon shadows reaching back beyond the subject. But it is the shadow that is the subject and the bright white poly-resin material brings the shadow into the forefront casting its own shadow upon the walls. The anamorphism may tip it's hat to Hans Holbein's 16th Century painting The Ambassadors, but the skew, as if performed by a computer, and the hint of dimensionality in the bas relief evoke the post-modern quality of reaching back toward a concrete materiality.

Evan Penny

Evan Penny

Body Forms - Through this series of relief and free standing three dimensional sculptures Penny cleverly toys with the viewer through scale and language. The familiarity and beauty of the Body Form pieces are immediate, they could actually be called first forms. Gargantuan in scale the Body Forms are actually the first forms made by the body - not of the body - the first body imprint upon the other. The hand print for the first sand castle is abstracted by its scale.

Evan Penny (right) at his opening

Murray - Dimension, scale and material details are also part of the dialogue with this piece. Highly realist, poly-resin free standing sculpture of any man - but it's not. The details, down to the fine hairs are all carefully and skillfully carved into the material, but the scale prevents the viewer from simply walking past the familiar. Proportionally correct, all familiar details are slightly off-putting by the scale - reduced by 25%, as if ordered on a computer. But it wasn't, there is nothing digital about this piece. Again, material and language play a large part. The white synthetic resin of this fully realist piece gives it a ghost-like ephemral quality, and although it appears to be an any man sculpture it is not - it's Murray.


Murray (detail)

Text by Janet Hethrington - Digital Photos by Bill Braithwaite

by Phil Anderson

In 1996 Toronto's independent artist collectives saw a flurry of activity and the emergence of more artist groups who work codependently, yet independent from the gallery system. There was the CIRCA 96 show in mid summer which featured a multigenerational group of artists, (Ron Bloore, Eugene Knapik, Sheila Gregory, Claude Breeze, etc.) The groups self-funded show was in a 10,000 square foot warehouse space, while at the same time the IMPURE Collective exhibited only blocks away. More recently there has been shows by PAINTING DISORDERS, PAZEROTTI FIVE, and THE SYDICATE.

THE SYNDICATE's show, their third, was titled SUPER DELUXE. For this show the ten artists rented a 5,000 square foot space in the midts of Toronto's fashion district, as the exhibition was to demonstrate a relationship between fashion and art. Shannon Wadsworth constructed four foot letters (made of candy) which read "SEXY", while Ingrid Chu had three large pictoral panels with "HYPE" written on them. Alon Freemans colourful wall assemblage was made of note paper. Marc Streifling used images of Japanese pornographic drawings taken from the internet for his work. Edward Squire constructed a jacket out of latex which was displayed over a life-sized manican torso. Underneath the jacket one could detect a pierced nipple, thus sexuality and humour were evoked. Edward uses clothing concepts in much of his work.

Alon Freeman beside his work

Edward Squire beside his work

Another group show occured in late October by the collective YELLOWHAT. This show, held at Bar Inferno, and aptly titled INFERNO, presented a visual approach to Dante's Divine Comedy. Kevin Kelly applied photo transfers onto metal sheets, Janet Bellotto used melted glass works to form haunting script upon the windows (Janet, like most of the artists in this show, have a connection to the Ontario College of Art and Design). The work of Ken Nicol used blurred burnt match images to a powerful effect.

Hopefully 1997 will also prove to be a productive year for Toronto's artist collectives.

David Jordon beside his work

work by artist Ken Nicol

Text and Photos by Phil Anderson

Uncommon Ground
by Shawna Gnutel

Ontario Association of Art Galleries Conference, Monday October 28, 1996

After attending the OAAG "Uncommon Ground" conference, hosted by the Art Gallery of York University, I came away feeling that curators and artist-run centres are seriously stressed about funding cuts and needed to really talk about their plight. How can they keep their funding and keep the public happy without compromising the art work itself? Good question. The Keynote Speaker, Blake Gopnik, Visual and Performing Arts Editor at the Globe and Mail talked about the audience first. He claimed what is needed is an "effect-centered" or psychological model for looking at art. The big question is: how can art institutions enhance ways to involve the public? Gopnik feels that since we're all humans we all have all something in common! That, yes indeed there is uniformity with an art audience. Some people felt he was a little misguided. What about differences in ethnic and cultural backgrounds, sexual orientation, etc? He also advised artists to be innovative and not to present the same stimulus over and over again. Gopnik says, "make it accessible but not easy." He maintained that ultimately, immersion into the artworld is the key to understanding art. "Take the plunge and have fun." His answer is to empower viewers by taking a psychological approach. Folks already have the tools to enjoy art. Skip the crummy text on the wall that explains it. Instead, go in and look. Really LOOK. You can enjoy art like fine wine and TASTE art rather than read it. Here's what to do: Wake-up to why you have impressions to a work. Ask yourself what the art does for you. Make looking at art more interactive. Spend less time reading enhancements and LOOK and LISTEN to your reactions. Talk about it if you like or contemplate the art piece. Don't be inhibited. Have fun and enjoy!

Jessica Bradley and Blake Gopnik

Gopnik said the audience is most often at fault by being lazy, cowardly and conservative. In other words, stop blaming the artists or the institutions if ya don't get it. Contemporary art can be difficult and it tends to anger people if they don't "get it" right away. It's important to remember that even though it's hard work to understand contemporary art, it's not impossibly hard work. It's simply not as easy as parking yourself on the couch to watch Seinfeld, that's all.

Another problem seems to be perceptions about enjoyment of art. If "art is more like sex than grade school" as Gopnik suggests, then why are people complaining about our cultural institutions? Gopnik claims that art educators have the arduous task of convincing audiences about the powerful effects of art and that such experiences are truly valuable.

One frowning woman asked, "why should the artworld care about audiences anyway?"

I thought to myself, "because they're tax payers numbskull" but at the break I overheard a few people complaining that this so-called empowerment of the audience stuff can lead to things such as the Art Gallery of Ontario putting the Group of Seven on wine bottles for the OH CANADA! exhibit.

During the afternoon panel discussion artist Magdalen Celestino told us how she exhibited a female anatomy sculpture in the lingerie department of a retail store and subsequently received complaints from head office that customers found her work "obscene." They demanded that the work be removed. Magdalen stood her ground to ensure her work stayed up but what does this say about Ontario's citizens? So much for getting art out to the public.

We all know it's impossible to please everyone but if art critics strip away the bogus elitist art-speak and generate enough excitement, people may become curious and comfortable enough to really experience and enjoy art galleries.

This article was written by Shawna Gnutel

by Shawna Gnutel

November 19, 1996. Co-Sponsored by Trinity College, University of Toronto and the Ontario Goethe Society.

What could an economist possibly know about art? Plenty I learned. Pouring through his hand-written lecture, Dr. Klaus Conrad, a Harvard scholar and Visiting Professor from Mannheim University, Germany, explained how art is a singularly different commodity from what we understand in a normal capitalist supply and demand system. To best illustrate his point, Dr. Conrad translated a German report of a "very prestigious consulting firm" which blantantly revealed the absurdity of "downsizing" a symphony. Read it and weep.

McKinsey Report on a Performance of the Berlin Philharmonic

The four oboe players do not have much to do for quite a long period. This part should be shortened and the work should be equally distributed on all members of the orchestra in order to avoid peak loads. The twelve violins play all the same melody. That is an unnecessary parallel work. This group should be made drastically smaller. In case a higher volume of sound is preferred this can be achieved also by an electronic amplifer. To play parts which include 1/32 notes requires a large work effort. It is recommended to condense all these notes to 1/16 notes. Then even students of music and less qualified musicians could be employed. In some passages there is too much repetition. The full score should in this respect be thoroughly revised - what is the use of it if the horn repeats a passage which has been played already by the violins?

If all those unnecessary passages are eliminated then the concert, which now takes up to two hours in time, will last approximately twenty minutes. This implies that the intermission can be omitted. If all these measures do reduce demand, then part of the concert hall could be closed which saves money for personnel, electricity, heating etc.

Dr. Conrad also caught my attention when he talked about the buying and selling of art. A book he recommended, The Economics of Taste by G. Reitlinger, tracked the highest and lowest rate of return of auction house paintings from 1639-1969. The big winner was Franz Hals "Man in Black" which was bought for five pounds in 1885 and sold at Sotheby's , London twenty years later for 9000 pounds. The big loser was a painting by John Singer Sargent. His piece "San Virgilio" was bought from an auction house in 1925 for 7,350 but sold a few years later for a lousy 150 pounds. Two years ago, Dr. Conrad spotted a Sargent painting in a German paper and told us he could not believe what he saw. In 1994, Sargent's "Spanish Dancer" was second only to Klimt (whose final auction price tag was around eight million) and was auctioned for a whopping two million and change. So the big lesson for art buyers is that so-called experts really can't forecast preferred style, although they do anyway! Dr. Conrad outlined the specific criteria art experts use to determine the price of a painting. Rule number one is that you really don't need to know the painting at all, just the style. In 1983, Joseph Beuys was ranked first, followed by Warhol, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg and Frank Stella. According to Dr. Conrad, experts use five or six different characteristics as a point system to predict the ranking of an artist. An artist receives a score for the number of one man shows, years since participating in a group show, technical variety of the artist, past prices, number of awards or art prizes, and their age (or years since the artist's death). Sculptors, painters and graphic artists are ranked highest along with the use of expensive materials and larger sized works.

Dr. Conrad cited another book, Muses and Market: Explorations in the Economics of the Arts, by Bruno S. Frey and Werner W. Pommerehne, which further advanced his thesis that experts can forecast a lot of things, but taste is not one of them. For example, in 1983 Pop Artist Andy Warhol was ranked second only to Joseph Beuys as an international artist and therefore was able to command big dollars on the market. So what happened eight years later? In 1989 Warhol's "Mao" sold for a healthy $440,000 but was auctioned for less than half at $150,000 in 1991. Even Jasper Johns, supposedly a very safe investment by expert calculations, turned out to be a very big investment loss. In 1989, a Johns' piece was sold for $210,000 and two years later auctioned off for a mere $45,000. Dr. Conrad kindly advised those of us who seriously wanted a truly safe art investment, to buy Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Monet, Matisse or Renoir. I'll remember to write those names down for my Christmas wish list.

This article was written by Shawna Gnutel