It's the time of year when material concerns can overshadow what's really important, right? So, as we head into the holidays, I offer something more meaningful: art. These ongoing shows are recommended if you have some time over the holidays – or, even better, make seeing art part of your routine in the new year. Perhaps even a resolution?
The Marvellous Real: Art from Mexico, 1926-2011 at the Museum of Anthropology
This ambitious exhibition unfolds in beautifully constructed temporary galleries – their walls made of fabric stretched taut over metal frames – and blooms from the philosophies of the 20th century Cuban novelist and ethnomusicologist Alejo Carpentier. Inspired by a trip to Mexico in 1926, and particularly the mural art of Diego Rivera, he used the term "marvellous real" to describe a distinct form of magic realism underlying the arts – and everyday life – in Latin America. Where, just as the name suggests, the extraordinary is mixed with the ordinary, to create the unexpected – "all that is terrible can also be marvellous" (one of the phrases from his manifesto on the sliding doors as you enter). And so in this exhibition we have Sandra Cabriada's Calzado de alta resistencia (Footwear of High Resistance), 2001 – stacks of footwear in acrylic boxes, where a delicate white baby shoe sits atop a heavy black boot with brace, and next to a beach flip-flop. Frida Kahlo's Mi vestido cuelga aqui (My Dress Hangs Here), 1933, serves as a criticism of American society and values, with her colourful, traditional dress hanging on a clothesline strung between a gold trophy topped with an eagle, and a toilet. In the background are New York's skyscrapers, smokestacks and the Statue of Liberty. In the foreground collage: troops marching; men in heavy coats lining up, presumably for jobs.
This is the first exhibited in Canada of a substantial part of the FEMSA collection – more than 1,200 works from Latin America.
Until March 30.
Glenn Brown and Rebecca Warren: Collected Works Rennie Collection at Wing Sang
Both have been nominated for the Turner Prize, and they're old friends, but this is their first dual exhibition – and their first show in Canada. Glenn Brown is a celebrated painter whose work references art history and popular culture – from the old masters to science fiction illustrators. Collector Bob Rennie was so taken with Mr. Brown's enormous The Ever Popular Dead (after 'Jupiter Cloudscape' 1982 by Adolf Schaller), 2000, that he sold a full set of Andy Warhol's soup can prints to buy it. That kind of story makes you think, "Really?" until you are standing in front of the painting: a massive, swirling green and blue outer space landscape that both beckons and terrifies with what appear to be bits of bodily matter, sea creatures, and eyes peering out at you. (Mr. Schaller illustrated Carl Sagan's bestseller Cosmos.) Eyebrows have been raised at Mr. Brown's methods – openly appropriating other artists' work as he plays with scale and subject matter – but you can't argue with the mastery demonstrated in these powerful, colour-rich works, which marry classical with kitsch.
In a separate gallery, Ms. Warren's sculptures of unfired clay are white and deliberately haphazard and lumpy – but also rich in cultural references – ranging from Edgar Degas to Robert Crumb – and alive with humour.
For this show, you'll have to wait until 2014; the Rennie Collection resumes guided tours Jan. 9, for which you must sign up. Show closes March 29.
Kimsooja: Unfolding at the Vancouver Art Gallery
The South Korean artist is probably best known for video performance, but her fabric works – often described as painting with fabric – are fundamental to her practice, and make up a large part of this exhibition, which is the first comprehensive survey of her work. These include the visually arresting, large-scale Portrait, 1991, made of fragments of her late grandmother's clothing, a work she sees as a portrait of her. Look closely – you can see the wear and tear, the stains, something that was important to the artist. For a Vancouver version of her installation Bottari Truck, 2013, Kimsooja insisted the bottaris – bundles of clothing tied up in bedcovers – on the back of the truck be local, and she sorted through mounds of Salvation Army donations at the VAG. In A Mirror Woman, the visitor walks through brightly coloured fabric hung with clothespins, with mirrors at either end. In the multi-channel video installation A Needle Woman, 1999-2001, Kimsooja imagines herself as the needle perforating street life in eight major cities. With her back to the camera, and her hair and dress identical in each shot, she stands still, silent, facing the crowds coming at her – and the camera. It's fascinating how people react – she's ignored in New York and an attraction in Lagos – and fun to guess which city she's in before it's revealed onscreen.
Until Jan. 26.
And, while you're at the VAG, don't miss the new exhibition Emily Carr: Deep Forest. It features more than 40 forest paintings, most from the VAG's permanent collection. If there's one place I can think of to get away from the holiday madness, it is in these galleries, surrounded by these lush, contemplative works.