Christian Giroux and Daniel Young at Diaz Contemporary
$4,500-$33,000. Until May 15, 100 Niagara St., Toronto; 416-361-2972, www.diazcontemporary.ca
The work you see here is titled Jjimjilbang. According to Christian Giroux, one-half of the art duo that made it, the title is a Korean word that means spa, drop-in centre or community hangout.
I am cudgeling my brains to figure how this sleek, mute assemblage of powder-coated aluminum boxes, and what looks like a sort of mutated Ikea table, could possibly evoke a Korean social club. So, I phone Daniel Young, the other half of the duo. "Don't worry," says Young. "It's a totally obscure reference. It has nothing to do with the work at all."
Jjimjilbang is one of the four major works making up Beta Boole, the third solo exhibition for Giroux and Young at Toronto's Diaz Contemporary. Other pieces include Brave New Waves, a square, freestanding wall of grey aluminum cubes, some hunks of which have been sheared away, leaving the structure with geometry-compromising bites. The other two sculptures, The Terrorizers and Andersson, seem to owe something to the bland presence, at their cores, of Ikea stools or tables - now shot through with bright orange aluminum beams and axes and armatures.
The coolly hybridized structures generated by Giroux and Young bespeak the artists' interest in the history of contemporary modernism. They have drawn fruitfully upon the work of such disparate progenitors as the early modernist sculptor Constantin Brancusi and the postmodern guerrilla activities of the late Gordon Matta-Clark (who used to slice houses in two). They've also tapped into advanced trends in architectural thinking, including the projects of the Japanese architectural enterprise SANNA (Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa), winners of the 2010 Pritzker Prize.
Everything Giroux and Young make is born in the computer - of which they both seem to be adepts. "Dan calls me poststudio," Giroux tells me, "but I'm really not. I'd prefer to make sculpture out of balsa wood and drinking straws. I acquire software skills gradually and at great cost."
This might be a useful time to explain the Boole of their exhibition's title. A Boolean operation, Giroux tells me, occurs in the realm of modelling software, where two disparate forms are digitally welded into one - a cube into a sphere, for example.
The duo's Diaz exhibition is Boolean with a vengeance.
But what about all this Ikea material? Giroux and Young insist they are (relatively) innocent of any cultural critique aimed at Ikea's rampant democratization of the modernist program. For me, Ikea represents the almost demonically perfect coming together of modernist idealism and the triumph of late capitalism. Giroux and Young think so, too. But it's also more basic than that. "We are interested in approaching abstract sculpture," says Giroux, "and when we wanted to approach the idea of composition, Ikea's tables established a 'palette' for us - and gave us edges to play with."
Lauren Hall at Peak Gallery
$2,400-$8,500. Until April 24, 23 Morrow Ave., Toronto; 416-537-8108, www.peakgallery.com
Lauren Hall's way of moving wittily and persuasively between the realms of representation and non-representation - drawing upon each, but committing herself to neither - is uncanny.
She's as Canadian as the devil (all those mountain tops!). And she's as new as the deadpan visual punning she perpetuates when she uses materials such as pallet wrap, polystyrene, bubble wrap, aluminum and, in the case of one work, a "polystyrene parabolic louver with lighting panel" as simulacra of rock, snow and ice.
Take her piece Now dark - now glittering - now reflecting gloom (whose title comes from the Percy Bysshe Shelley poem Mont Blanc). Here, 15 sleek turquoise triangles, made of Styrofoam and aluminum trim, lean against the far wall of the gallery like a distant mountain range.
They should seem crass, but they don't. They should seem funny, but they aren't. Not quite, anyhow. What they are is pointed (and I don't mean in the geometric sense). They are, I guess, mountains for our time; the mountains we perhaps deserve.
Romas Astrauskas at LE Gallery
$1,200 each. Until April 25, 1183 Dundas St. W., Toronto; 416-532-8467, www.le-gallery.ca
You gotta love an artist who quotes a plummy passage from Proust on his invitation card: "I felt that these celestial hues indicated the presence of exquisite creatures who had been pleased to assume vegetable form.…"
Proust or no Proust, the paintings making up Romas Astrauskas's exhibition, Zanatarash, are so astoundingly dumb, so profoundly un-Proustian, that they actually fall into place as a suite of the most innocently appealing, absurdly beautiful paintings I've seen in a long time.
Astrauskas seems to have more-or-less accidentally come upon an eccentrically shaped piece of brown cardboard that apparently seemed to him a shape fit to receive rows upon rows of ritual dottings of pigment. The paintings - which all share the same format, but which differ in their paint dots - glow like muted jewels: softly but with authority.
The longer you stare at them, the more resolutely they refuse to give up their secrets. Why do they work so well? Why are they such a pleasure to look at? It's almost impossible to say. They're just so ravishingly dumb.