Ron Loranger at Galerie Glendon
Until March 10, 2275 Bayview Ave., Toronto
A dozen years ago, Canadian playwright/author (and old friend of mine) Sky Gilbert published a memoir. Embedded in that recollection is a theory of art and its relationship to audiences that I find myself still quoting today.
Here's the reductive version: There are two types of art/audience relationships, the charming and the ejaculatory. Charming art seeks to reaffirm what an audience already knows, operates with the consent of the viewer and provides comfort. Ejaculatory art seeks to disrupt an audience's expectations and create anarchic spaces wherein comfort is the least likely outcome.
Three exhibitions currently on view provide excellent examples of this dichotomy, or, in the case of the second exhibition, the best of both worlds.
Ron Loranger's Blobettes, Plus – on display at Galerie Glendon – is ejaculatory in both presentation strategy and within the trajectory of Loranger's career. Not to push the label to impolite extremes, but these mixed media works even look, well, post-coital, like no-tell motel bed sheets on Sunday morning.
Loranger has been making his signature Blobettes – tiny pools of intentionally muddied watercolour manipulated with anything from cigarette ash to body fluids until they become jewel-like baubles ever-so-slightly raised from the paper – for as long as I've watched his career, and I expected, this time out, more of the happy same.
Instead, Loranger is now working large, very large, dappling dinner-table-long sheets of creamy paper with multiple, densely coloured Blobettes and then further layering his scrolls with playful graphite illustrations (of tools, cars, animals, male members) plus breezy reworkings of logos and found text.
Thus, where once the Blobettes sat on the paper like objects under a microscope, the amoeboid forms now bounce about, and dominate, entire floating worlds – turning Loranger's practice from one based on close study and introspection, crystal gazing, so to speak, to one based on exuberant, wide-ranging exploration. The former studious gem cutter is now merrily tossing carnival beads from his balcony.
Not to say that the works are any less considered – Loranger's patient layering, a technique that makes each Blobette a flecked microcosm, is evident in every iteration. But they're looser and more agreeable to accident, which often translates into Blobettes that less resemble polished opals and look more like, um, generative proteins expelled in romantic abandon.
Loranger's new works embrace the propulsive half of the Gilbertian dynamic on a figurative (he has kicked his career several rungs up the ladder with his new Cinerama style) and literal (fluids, liquids in flight) level.
And that's as much as I can say in a family newspaper.
Douglas Coupland at Daniel Faria Gallery
Until April 7, 188 St. Helen's Ave, Toronto
Meanwhile, Douglas Coupland's new collection of sculptures and paintings at Daniel Faria Gallery confidently and gracefully straddles the charming/ejaculatory divide.
Douglas Coupland is, of course, best known as a literary powerhouse, but he has always enjoyed a thriving parallel visual-art practice, one that is fuelled by the same buoyant populism (nicely salted with a deep suspicion of pop culture) found in his books.
Visitors to the gallery will find nothing on the walls or standing upright that they cannot immediately comprehend. The paintings include a series of large QR codes, rendered in black and white and muted colours, replicas of Group of Seven arctic landscapes recreated with grey-on-grey blocks and patterns poached from Atari-era digital design. A wall of printed panels, again in interior-decor-friendly muted tones, bear Coupland's futuristic musings. The wall works are accompanied by three spire-shaped sculptures made of rings of lacquered maple, in Fisher-Price colours.
That's the charming part. The unexpected, disarming element arrives on closer inspection.
If you have a phone that reads QR codes, the paintings will direct you to websites bearing cryptic, sometimes menacing messages. The landscapes are less an homage than a suggestion by the artist that perhaps, through overexposure, we have drained the Group of Seven canon of all meaning. The cheery slogan-bearing panels offer unnerving proposals, such as "In the Future We'll All Be Shopping from Jail." And the pretty maple towers are so heavily lacquered they look like plastic – plastic that will outlive, by thousands of years, any tree.
In Coupland's playhouse, all the shiny toys have sharp edges and are decorated with toxic paint.
Annie MacDonell at Mercer Union
Until March 10, 1286 Bloor St. W., Toronto
Finally, artist/professor Annie MacDonell's multimedia exhibition at Mercer Union is calming charm incarnate – at least for its intended, exclusive audience.
A high-academic meditation on the role of the mirror, doubling, and the cult of originality in art production, the exhibition is a master's student's erotic dream – all theory, almost no action.
MacDonell fills the achingly white, severe Mercer main space (or should I say empties it?) with just two tall studio lamps, a small collection of found and then copied (multiple times) pictures of people interacting with mirrors, and a mirrored cube.
One can enter the mirrored cube and listen to a Mr. Bean-ish gentleman deliver a rambling lecture on art-making and its traumas. I was initially engaged, until he started prattling on about the writings of French cultural theorist Gilles Deleuze.
I have nothing against Deleuze's ideas, but Canadian artists quote Deleuze the way Pat Robertson quotes scripture. And the smug, we're-all-in-agreement-here tone is, strangely enough, un-Deleuzian in its blind supposition of hegemony.
(One could argue that MacDonell's vacuous display is, in fact, a critique of the bland sameness and secret-handshaking that pervades contemporary art, the copies of copies of copies … but I doubt such an insider view would register with most gallery visitors.)
To me, MacDonell's assembly is not an exhibition, it's a concretized seminar. Her students will be charmed.
In other venues
Lisa Steele & Kim Tomczak at WORKshop
Until Feb. 18, 80 Bloor St. W., Toronto
Last chance to catch Street of Heaven, a beautiful embroidered recreation of Yonge Street's varied topographies. When was the last time you heard Yonge Street and beautiful in the same sentence?
Michael Dudeck at Pari Nadimi Gallery
Until March 24, 254 Niagara St., Toronto
Dudeck's ongoing project investigating messianic cultures, via a cult created by and starring himself, is both operatic and intimate, mysterious and inclusive. Where do I sign up?
Laura Kikauka at MKG127
Until March 10, 127 Ossington Ave., Toronto
Kikauka hoards thrift-store "amateur" art and reworks it into art that merrily skips along the border between gawd-awful and awful good. Further proof that accepted notions of Art and Value have always been, at best, questionable. But Art and Value Village.…