Art

Art Gawking at Aga Khan Museum, Toronto

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I’m lucky to be able to travel the world for work as a museum planner, but this sometimes means I don’t spend enough time checking out the cultural offerings in my own back yard. Last week I finally made the trek up to Toronto’s new Aga Khan Museum. The museum was designed by the low-key star architect Fumihiko Maki and his team at Maki and Associates. A couple years ago I worked with Maki and Associates on the Bihar Museum, for which they won the international architectural competition. Incidentally, I’m currently working with the amazing team at Moriyama and Teshima Architects (MTA) on a new museum in Dubai. It turns out that MTA were the architects of record for Aga Khan Museum – small coincidences that show how small this world really is.

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The architecture of the Aga Khan Museum is elegant, though we didn’t get a chance to explore the beautiful grounds as it was snowing like crazy the day of our visit. However, the building works well as a museum – a beautiful courtyard allows for natural light to permeate the space while the galleries are beautifully lit, with the exquisite collection thoughtfully displayed.

There are some awkward elements that a general public probably won’t notice or find disturbing such as the placement of a freight elevator that directly opens into the permanent collection gallery, or the location of ‘exit’ signs extremely close to wall mounted artifacts. Overall, though there is great attention to detail in terms of how the objects are mounted and displayed. Beautifully minimal glass vitrines, custom mounts and impeccable exhibit lighting (a combination of in case and ex case lighting) allow the collection of Islamic artifacts to really shine. A bit more interpretation around key artifacts would have been nice, but for a museum visitor like myself who just likes to wander around and look at stunning objects this was an excellent experience. As the winter chill sets in, I’d highly recommend spending a few hours wandering the galleries then getting a bite at the restaurant. It’s worth the jaunt up.

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Oh right, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

So I went to the VIP Preview exhibition, Seeing Through Light: Selections from the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Collection, a couple weeks ago. It was an exhibition of works on loan from other Guggenheim outposts as well as 19 pieces acquired for the permanent collection of the under construction Abu Dhabi version. I basically remember two things about the show – the long drive from Dubai, and Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room (below). This was the piece that caused all the long lines when a version was presented at David Zwirner Gallery in NYC in 2013.

Although I remember next to nothing of the other works on view (aside from the requisite Dan Flavin piece), Infinity Mirrored Room is definitely worth experiencing if you happen to be in the vicinity of Saadiyat Island. The only potential drawback is if you’re hoping for a moment of pause, wonder and contemplation, you might not get it. When we were there the security guards were yelling at people to keep on moving. Likely a result of it being opening night. My recommendation? Ignore them and soak it it.

 

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A feast for the senses at Art Dubai 2014

Well, it’s taken me almost three months to write my first post of 2014. Most of this year has been spent in Dubai living in a hotel room, working out of a construction trailer and eating cheap, delicious and plentiful Indian and Middle Eastern food in old town Bur Dubai. After slumming it for the past week I had the opportunity to attend Art Dubai 2014 with some friends for the Jumeira Patron’s Preview. March is a great time to be in the Emirate and Art Dubai is billed as THE EVENT OF THE SEASON (yes, you have to speak like this if you want to fit in). It was definitely a feast for the senses.

In between free flowing bubbly, foie gras and macaroons I managed to get some snaps of some interesting works of art. Unfortunately I got so carried away with people watching, chitchatting and sampling some of the finer things in life that I managed to miss an entire hall of art. Ooops. Still, no regrets so peep this!

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Lazy year end post – Sayonara 2013!

Well good people, the end is nigh and it’s time for bloggers to post their top whatever lists of whatever the hell to wrap another year. One such list is Co.Design’s 22 Videos We Couldn’t Stop Watching in 2013. Some really great vids/time killers on there so do get to it. It’s in the same spirit of sharing and reflection that I write this post.

But, since this is a lazy year end post I present not a list of agreeable things I’ve seen in 2013, but just one thing that I remembered. Filmmaker Marc-Antoine Locatelli’s Nuance. The first time I saw it I was totally mesmerized. Beautiful choreography, understated photography, and a totally blissed-out soundtrack. Let’s all agree to end the year and ring in the new one like a living version of this video — with nuance, poetry, beauty, and of course music.

 

Directors Collective at Nuit Blanche

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Nuit Blanche activates. Introducing the Directors Collective – Class of 6:51pm.

  Last night was the 2013 edition of the City of Toronto’s annual contemporary art festival Nuit Blanche. I’ve participated in past Nuits as a curatorial assistant in 2008, researcher in 2008/09, and solo artist in 2010. This time around I participated as 1/5th of The Directors Collective, staging a project at the Gladstone Hotel’s Fly By Night event called, Picture Day. In Room 214 we created a backdrop of an elementary school gymnasium complete with an actual gym bench (kindly lent to us by Ryerson Community School) and cubby holes made from milk crates. Visitors – friends and strangers alike – were invited to come and sit for a class portrait.

We were interested in exploring broad themes of commemoration and nostalgia through a re-staging of the classic annual school picture day which many Canadians can recall with either fondness or dread. I’m personally interested in the topic because for me, picture day was a pointless exercise that we had to go through every year. It was just another photograph to add to the archive of the self. But, I was soon to find out that picture day was actually a really significant event in people’s lives. Although picture day essentially commemorates nothing, the act of going through picture days, the rituals associated with preparing and sitting for the photographs, was what was significant. I’d never really given it much thought until now.

Regardless of my own perspective on the project it turned out to be a really fun night, which is saying a lot considering I didn’t get to see anything this year. The reactions of visitors was extremely positive. I was surprised by how enthusiastic the crowd was. Some couldn’t wait to finally sit on the bench having always been relegated to the back when they were in school because they were too tall. Others recalled the trauma of picture day and preferred to watch as their friends hammed it up for the camera. One of the more memorable conversations I had was with a lady who told me, “Whoa this is awesome! I always skipped picture day to get high.” I was surprised by this comment because I don’t recall school picture day happening beyond sixth grade so skipping picture day to get high really takes badassery to another level.

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Me looking deranged and ready for bed.

 

Picture Day was the first project I’ve ever done that was participatory and I gotta say, it was real pleasure to watch people perform and to chat with them about their memories of school picture day. It clearly meant a lot to them. For a first project with my fellow Directors, I’d say it was a success.

What do you think of picture day? Pointless? Dreadful? Good fun?

You can view class pictures from Picture Day on twitter at: @DirectorsCo with search terms: #pictureday #snbTO

Return to The Square

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A few weeks ago I saw a film at the Toronto International Film Festival called The Square, a new documentary by Jehane Noujaim. It’s about the Egyptian Revolution as experienced by those who occupied Tahrir Square. The footage takes you from the start of the revolution up to the very recent events that happened after the downfall of Mohamed Morsi — the President elect who was deposed by the Egyptian military in July 2013. I could not believe how recent the footage in the film was. It seemed like news items I saw a week or two prior was edited into this beautiful, moving, and at times heart-stopping documentary. The film is, in a word, extraordinary.

I’ve been following the Egyptian Revolution on and off since it started back on January 25th, 2011. I still remember sitting in my Arabic lesson in Dokki on January 24th struggling to make my tongue work with the alphabet. Some co-workers had told me earlier that I should stay home the next day because there would be some protests happening on National Police Day. I had wanted to hang out downtown since it was a public holiday. I remember asking my teacher Ahmed if he thought there’d be trouble and if I should stay home. He smiled and told me it was just rumours, and that there’s always whispers of agitation but nothing really happens. A few people might try to step up, but those few usually get put back down. He told me to practice the alphabets over the week and that we’d pick up our conversation the following Monday. The next day all hell broke loose.

I never made it to Tahrir Square during Revolution Part 1. I was on the other side of the Nile in Giza when it all happened. The days were strangely quiet. The sun shone bright as ever with not a cloud in the sky aside from the plumes of black smoke rising in the distance. Twilight falls and I’m locked down, windows covered, eyes glued to CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera. Then, tired of the news and unable to reach friends downtown, I’d lie awake listening to the gunshots announce the night.

We were evacuated February 2nd the infamous Day of the Camels. We’d eventually return after Mubarak resigned, and I’d make it to Tahrir, “The place of pilgrimage” a friend would tell me.

 

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As I sat watching The Square, I was reminded of how powerful a place can be. The truth of physically occupying a space together, especially one as iconic as Tahrir, can be overwhelming and you can’t help but be moved by it. But, as the film manages to capture, so beautifully and brutally, the truth of being together in a place can change. Tahrir, a beacon of hope, a promise of solidarity, and shelter from the shadows of the streets can be corrupted. It can be perverted and violated. There’s a scene in the film when Ahmed Hassan, the young revolutionary, decides to walk in the middle of the street of downtown Cairo, exhausted and I think a bit heartbroken.

That scene underscored the power of Tahrir, because if the sanctity of the Square can be broken, then what the hell is the point of walking on the sidewalk? Space would no longer have, or need to have, meaning. The pacing of the film was perfect. The story carries you along as you meet each individual united by Tahrir. It manages to capture the rage, the pain, the sorrows and the hope that keeps the revolution going. In the end, although Tahrir can be taken and physically transformed, it’s the spirit of Tahrir that keeps people standing tall. I loved this film. And I’m so happy it won the People’s Choice Award at TIFF.

If you’ve read this far then please, go see this movie…and invite me because I’d definitely see it a few more times.

 

Collective Eating & Scheming

Summer isn’t just about biking, patios and illicit park drinking. It’s also about sitting around with like-minded people plannin’, schemin’, sweatin’ and dreamin’. Last night was one of the first official meetings of the Directors Collective (of which yours truly is 1 of 5 Directors). Spanning Vancouver, Toronto and Washington, D.C. it’s been a long time coming. Stay tuned as we prepare to launch our site and brand and make stuff. Suffice to say, it’s going to be a busy summer! Hope your summer is as fun as mine. MORE! MORE! MORE!

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Speedwalking Through the VAG’s Grand Hotel

If you know me then you’ll know I’m not good at sitting still. You’ll also know what a relief it was to finally deplane after 5ish hours of sitting in the middle seat from YYZ to YVR. The saving grace of yesterday’s journey, aside from the ramen and izakaya eats, was my whirlwind visit to the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG).

For a museum planner I’m notorious for getting museum fatigue really really easily. Maybe this makes me super sympathetic to museum-goers, especially the 5 year-old kid who’s bored to tears at any given moment at any given museum in this wide world. My capacity for boredom and fatigue also accords with my inability to sit through a plane ride. Anyways, I had 30 minutes to breeze through the permanent galleries which is often plenty of time. Needless to say I was astonished when I found myself wanting more time to explore the Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life exhibition that is currently showing.

Road Trip Gallery detail

Road Trip Gallery detail

Road Trip Gallery Detail

Road Trip Gallery Detail

 

I won’t go into details here (though I really want to) simply because, as I said, I breezed through the show and it really deserves a proper write-up. However, it’s a super engaging theme and the curators were pretty expansive in their approach to the topic touching on such sub-themes as culture, the social, travel and design. I’d say the show broadly addresses the question: How is modern life understood differently through the phenomenon of the modern hotel?

I found the ‘culture’ exhibits particularly interesting — it’s a lot of text and poring over documents, mixed with screen-based experiences of movie clips and music from the period. For me it was super interesting because it explores the hotel as hub or retreat for cultural creation (think Ginsberg and the Beat Hotel in Paris). Normally the amount of reading involved would be a deal-breaker (it’s really not that much text, but it’s me), but everything in the show is assembled with care and purpose so I want to give it a proper go.

If I can swing it in between meetings and client dinners I will definitely go back and take my time.

Sitting in my hotel room right now, trying to deal with a fit of insomnia, I feel a tinge of regret. Regret because I didn’t have more time at the VAG to immerse myself in the world of modern hotels. Even more regret because the the hotel room I’m sitting in as I write is bland and it’s doubtful any sudden bursts of creativity will be forthcoming.

Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life runs from April 13 to September 15, 2013.

Getting Lost in the Memory Palace

Friday and Saturday was spent gawking at art. I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario to attend the opening of Janet Cardiff’s and George Bures Miller’s exhibition Lost in the Memory Palace on Friday night and then went back for more on Saturday.

Lost in the Memory Palace is the perfect title for this survey exhibition as it really does feel like your going on a journey. After swooning for a while at “The Forty Part Motet” I roamed round and around on the forth floor checking out each installation multiple times. The new piece they created for the AGO, “Experiment in F# Minor” was pretty awesome. If it’s packed, I’d recommend just lingering in the room until it empties out so you can play with it on your own or with a few friends.

One of the oddest things I saw a little girl activate “The Killing Machine”…so weird, and it turns out it was Janet’s and George’s daughter which made the experience even more strange.

If you’ve not seen it yet all I’ve gotta say is get your ass down there NOW! It runs until August 18th.

Cardiff & Miller: Media Art Magic

Long lost University of Alberta alumni meet for the first time!

Long lost University of Alberta alumni meet for the first time!

 

“We’re getting old, so there’s a lot of work”, said George Bures Miller. This opening line was the start of what was a great talk by two of my favourite contemporary artists last night at the Art Gallery of Ontario. For a bit over an hour they walked us through the body of work they created over the years.

What I love about their work is how intensely personal so much it feels. And yet, when an audience member asked about their relationship to the viewer and whether they create with the viewer in mind? Janet‘s response was simple, “Not really, if we’re really into it, then we’re ok”. This simple and truthful answer comes through in the work. I think if artists create for themselves in an open and honest way then the works will connect to viewers. This is particularly true of Cardiff & Miller’s work because our bodies, our senses and how we perceive and know the world is ultimately what makes their creations so so compelling. The starting point of much of what they make is the body (their own bodies and sense perceptions), and as Maurice Merleau-Ponty noted, “The body is our general medium for having a world.”

 

Cardiff & Miller during question period.

Cardiff & Miller during question period.

 

It was really great to hear them talk about their creative process and you realize just how long they’ve been doing this. The two of them on stage together seems to make perfect sense. It’s hard to imagine one without the other and the audience sighed in satisfaction when they agreed, “We make each other’s art better”. If you’re familiar with their work then you know that we were all chomping at the collective bit for more, More, MORE! MORE Cardiff & Miller!

Luckily, a survey exhibition of their installation work, Lost in the Memory Palace, opens tomorrow night at the Art Gallery of Ontario. More info here.