Gord Peteran at the University of Toronto Art Centre
Until Dec. 5, 15 King's College Circle, Toronto; http://www.utac.utoronto.ca, 416-978-1838
A glance at its title, Gord Peteran: Furniture Meets its Maker, could lead you to assume that this fresh and bracing exhibition, drawn from the past 15 years of the Toronto-based sculptor/craftsman's work, probably has something to do with destruction, with the merely wanton dismantling of the furniture idea. As in "Furniture Buys the Farm." Or "Furniture: the Last Hurrah."
But given that the maker in question is the astonishingly gifted Peteran - whose prodigious skills as a cabinetmaker and joiner are co-opted by his visionary restlessness and murderous wit - the show's title has a great deal more to do with transforming furniture than it does with destroying it.
The exhibition was organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2007 and, after having touched down at the Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., the Long Beach Museum of Art in California, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York and a number of other prestigious venues, is now at the University of Toronto Art Centre.
Glenn Adamson, who was curator of the exhibition while still in Milwaukee - he is now deputy head of research and head of graduate studies at London's Victoria and Albert Museum - notes in an exhibition statement that Peteran "usually starts with a found object: a rickety ladder-back chair, scrap wood from a dumpster, a pencil or a heap of twigs...[he]will take one of these things and operate on it in some way, creating an artwork while leaving the thing itself more or less intact."
See for example how, in his Electric Chair from 2004 - shown here - the artist has done almost nothing to the tubular steel frame of a scruffy, found Marcel Breuer-style chair but thread an electrical cord through it and crown it with a "eureka!" light bulb. Peteran thinks of the work as a drawing in space ("My whole life is nothing but drawing. I have a billion drawings. That's what I do."). You could also think of it as an illustration of the act of sitting and thinking.
Adamson notes that Peteran sees pieces of furniture as found objects in their own right, allowing him the freedom to operate upon them conceptually. "At Peteran's hands," he notes wryly, "furniture dies a fascinating death, without ever quite going away."
But the abjectness, the downright funkiness of Electric Chair scarcely demonstrates Peteran's virtuoso craftsmanship. Other works do. His exquisite Musical Box (Glenn Gould Prize) does. This beautifully odd little instrument-object, made of two kinds of oak, ebony, steel, brass, copper, aluminum, leather and plastic, was created as the prize given by the Glenn Gould Foundation in 1996 for outstanding contribution to the world of music. The box, which looks like a tiny Victorian in the shape of a fan, makes, as Peteran puts it, "seven stupid sounds, all different."
There are 22 of Peteran's gorgeous, lunatic works in the exhibition. You won't want to miss his touching Prosthetic (2001), a wrecked Shaker-style chair Peteran brought back to life by metal braces, or his A Table Made of Wood (1999), a shaky dream of a classical "demilune" table made entirely of outlaw scraps of various woods. The exhibition is studded with wonders like these - furniture that meets its maker and is benighted by the encounter.
K.M. Graham at Miriam Shiell Fine Art
$5,000-$30,000. Until Dec. 19, 16A Hazelton Ave., Toronto; http://www.miriamshiell.com, 416-925-2461
Painter K. M. (Kate) Graham died on Aug. 26, 2008, at the age of 95. She didn't even begin painting until she was nearly 50, but when she did finally begin, she headed into what was still to be a long, productive career.
A tireless traveller, the Toronto-based Graham journeyed to the Arctic, spent part of each summer and autumn at her cabin in Algonquin, explored the Laurentians and drew inspiration from trips to British Columbia, Newfoundland, Bermuda and Costa Rica. The paintings she made, flushed with radiant colour and inevitably simplified to near-abstraction (though always maintaining their landscape origins), had a lovely openness and innocence that owed something to the painters she admired (Jack Bush, who was her mentor, and Milton Avery, David Milne, Matisse and certain "colour-field" painters such as Morris Louis and Jules Olitski). They owe even more to a clarifying vision that took colour from the world around her and reworked it for her own purposes. Painter Paul Fournier recalls in his catalogue essay the delight Graham took, during a visit to the Channel Islands between England and France, in "a large yellow, rectangular field of daffodils next to a gorse-filled moor," a delight that fuelled her subsequent Field and Moor series.
This small memorial exhibition at Miriam Shiell is most welcome. It is also remarkably refreshing, Graham's paintings now appearing surprisingly guileless in a guileful time.
Matilda Aslizadeh at the Pari Nadimi Gallery
Prices on request. Until Dec. 26, 254 Niagara St., Toronto; http://www.parinadimigallery.com, 416-591-6464
This richly intelligent exhibition, beautifully installed by the Vancouver-based artist herself, is made up of two complex video installations and a suite of five photographs.
The most ambitious of the videos, a two-channel work called In a dark wood, is a panoramic, double-screen, wall-sized projection of a stand of B.C. trees, eerily and artificially spaced like Greek pillars. The stalwart trees are frequently "sorted" (the sound is like a card-file being flipped or a roulette wheel turning) and come to rest again holding between them (like a film screen set up in the woods) short bursts of archival, black-and-white film footage culled from British Columbia's history.
The second two-channel video work, Of our sons and daughters, makes riveting use of found footage from YouTube, serving as background (in searingly intense colour) to two young people commenting on Iraq and its problems.
Adjacent to all this video action are five astonishing photographs in which the portrait busts of her subjects live in a coal-black light. What illumination there is, pale as moonlight, falls from behind and turns each of them into something like a sculpture made of polished ebony. Are they witnesses to something, carefully concealing their identities? Or are they identities without dimension, without location, out of time?