Giving is easy. Successful giving is an art. By successful, I do not mean expensive – quite the opposite is often true. By successful, I mean knowing how not to inflict your own tastes onto the recipient of your generosity. To give is sometimes to be absent.
Thus, every year, I get asked the same question: Should I give art for Christmas? My answer remains the same: Yes, but do your homework. Don't give a person whose home is garlanded with floral watercolours a minimalist sculpture. Don't give a fussy, conceptual photography collector a folk-art cow painting. And don't buy glass art for clumsy people.
Luckily, the "holiday show" – an assortment of smaller and/or more affordable works from a gallery's stable of artists – is as reliable a Toronto tradition as seasonal affective disorder. Here's a list, in no order of preference, of a few holiday shows that offer a variety of objects and prices. (By the time you read this, Open Studio and Mercer Union will be just about ready to close shop, so run!)
Household Notions at the Telephone Booth Gallery
Until Jan. 28, 3148 Dundas St. W., Toronto
Junction mainstay Telephone Booth Gallery offers Household Notions, a series of deftly fabricated textile works that employ everything from crochet to porcelain, glass to paper-burning.
Lizz Aston's embroidered and scorched paper sculptures tingle with fragile life, and her potato chip-thin layers of porcelain look like slivers of glacier peeled off with a cheese plane. Pam Lobb recreates familiar plate ware via precisely printed Japanese paper, while Amanda Parker and Dorie Millerson deconstruct "women's work" with their off-kilter replicas of doilies and kitchen knick-knacks.
The neat trick in Parker's work, one that easily fooled me, is that the doilies (plus a spidery pair of gloves) are actually made via the pâte de verre process, wherein a paste made of fine glass particles is mixed with a fixative and/or paint and fired or dried in a mould. Talk about reviving timeworn table top craft practices – pâte de verre was invented by the ancient Egyptians.
Telephone Booth Gallery director Sharlene Rankin, while keen to disabuse me of the idea that Household Notions is a Christmas show, admits that Parker's glass doilies remind her of snowflakes, and that she likes to focus on the home this time of year. And, she adds, "I enjoy helping out a secret gift buyer when their partner is in the next room. It is important to mark the seasons and there is something special about the rituals."
Annual Holiday Show at Parts Gallery
Until Dec. 24, 1150 Queen St. E., Toronto
On the other side of town, Parts Gallery is showcasing works that range in price from $50 to $500, with a focus on Gary Clement's thoroughly nutty ink-on-paper musings.
The static equivalent of a stand-up comedian, Clement alternates between broad stroke (literally and figuratively) parodies of contemporary mores to quieter, sad-sack-with-a-grin jabs at human frailty, hubris, and the lumpy resignations of adult life. Underneath all his giggling, however, Clement is an assured draftsman, an artist who knows when to zero in and when to spin outward, pinpoint or relax focus. If only he would do a line of cards, he'd make a fortune.
1/1: A One Off Photo Exhibition at Bau-Xi Photo
Until Dec. 17, 324 Dundas St. W., Toronto
While many venues offer artist's multiples for gift sales (especially good old Art Metropole, where every day is Christmas for the multiple buyer), Bau-Xi Photo turns the concept on its head by offering single-edition, 1/1 photographs – works never displayed before, one-off creations by the gallery's regular exhibitors.
Among the highlights are Toby Smith's eye-popping photo of a Yangzhou barge at night – decorated with brightly coloured, enormous lanterns shaped like flowers – plus Barbara Cole's shimmering, Plexiglas-mounted image of a pair of nubile legs submerged in rippling, crystalline waters.
Adam Makarenko's spooky Shipwreck, an occluded, purple-blue recreation (via, I suspect, some ace model-making) of a sailing ship trapped in the ice, would not be out of place on the cover of a Jack London novel. What's Christmas without a tall tale of misadventure, icy tribulation and cannibalism?
Christmas Spice at Paul Petro Contemporary Art
Until Dec. 24, 980 Queen St. W., Toronto
The granddaddy of the holiday shows is Paul Petro Contemporary's annual Christmas Spice, now in its 15th year. Part office party, part Santa's Village, the show, Petro says, is "predicated on the idea that anyone can own an original work of art." It features not only small, nicely priced works by stars such as Amy Bowles, Sadko Hadzihasanovic, Janet Morton and Ho Tam, but also commissioned printed mouse pads by the collective FASTWURMS and a tree decorated with porcelain chains and eyeball ornaments fabricated by Maura Doyle.
Full disclosure: I have decorated the Petro tree in the past, and I can attest that this exhibition is always full of weird surprises. Last year, for instance, Sandy Plotnikoff crafted a tree full of beautiful, reflective ornaments made out of bread-bag ties. Doyle's eyeballs on the boughs sound as dementedly Christmassy to me as five rum eggnogs and an Ativan.
Be of good cheer!