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A show thick with visual allusions Add to ...

Adam Matak at the Beverly Owens Project

While it cannot be easy to paint inattention, indifference and self-absorption, that is, nevertheless, what Adam Matak has painted in his brilliantly amusing, caustic and sometimes enraging exhibition, The Lookers, now at Toronto's Beverly Owens Project.

The Lookers is all about looking at art - or, more to the point, about not looking at art. Or about trying to look at art and failing to do so. Employing the decisive, graphically crisp line of a comic book artist - the kind of line that outlines, captures and cleanly delivers the goods with lethal pointedness - Matak skewers the lazy eye of the casual gallerygoer and also makes some disturbing pronouncements about culture at large.

His paintings are crowded with cultural allusion - sometimes blatantly, sometimes very subtly. In his The Physical Impossibility of the Death of Painting - one of the blatant ones - a businessman (suit, tie) has caught his identically-dressed companion as the latter appears to be fainting dead away in front of Matak's version of Jonathan Singleton Copley's famous Watson and the Shark from 1778 (which shows a young boy being rescued from the jaws of a marauding man-eater).

The blue-green in which Matak has bathed the painting recalls, he points out in a gallery statement, the blue-green of the huge, formaldehyde-filled vitrine with dead shark therein, which made British bad boy artist Damien Hirst famous (and the title of which was The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living). Clutched in the hand of the fainting businessman (whose attitude replays those of the falling, fighting, contending businessmen in certain works by American artist Robert Longo) is a copy of a famous article from 1981 by American critic Douglas Crimp called The End of Painting.

Other Mataks show other modalities of perceptual failure as well. In The Critic, a man in a blue suit (presumably the art critic), stands on a stepladder before Manet's The Dead Toreador, gazing pointlessly at the wall above the painting, where, as Matak reminds us, there once was a top section to the work (known as The Bullfight) - which Manet removed (perhaps Matak's painting might have been better titled The Art Historian). In Philistine, a bored gallerygoer yawns convulsively before an icy-blue depiction of the Venus de Milo, while in Liberation, a second yawner ostentatiously turns his back on a severely cropped and curiously algae-green version of Delacroix's hectic, politically urgent Liberty Leading the People.

Most outrageous of all, perhaps, is Matak's The Age of Arrogance (shown here). The painting - which depicts a young man leaning (horrors!) directly upon Goya's Saturn Devouring his Children - explores, as Matak puts it, "the idea of "contemporary cultural irreverence as fashion and the recurring arrogance of each new generation." Harsh words! But probably not ill-chosen.

Mark Gomes at the Leo Kamen Gallery

Mark Gomes's exhibition, TBD, is up to the usual high standard of the veteran Toronto-based sculptor's always impeccably conceived and cleanly fabricated work. The show is a morphological meditation on the physical and, inevitably metaphysical, qualities of what Gomes calls those "in-between places" in museums, galleries, preparation and staging areas, and other such places that are, in the artist's words, "empty of activity and suspended in time."

Gomes's ruminations on these in-between, peripheral places, take the form of photographs of the stillness in rooms, the enigma of a closed door, beckoning stairwells and such architecturally poignant spatial leftovers. The photographs are not mounted as inspectable photographs per se, but are folded into sleek, wall-mounted constructions (which employ Gatorboard, plastic, Corian and Dibond) to make faux-spaces that meet the viewer halfway. In Gomes's skillful hands, his orphaned spaces "lack significant moments, but," Gomes writes, "one presumes they will recover."

David R. Harper at MKG127

  • $250-$9,800. Until April 17, 127 Ossington Ave., Toronto; 647-435-7682, www.mkg127.com

Noblesse Oblige, by artist David R. Harper - who is a recent graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) and is now pursuing an MFA at the Art Institute of Chicago - is a farrago of sly wit and aesthetic restlessness in the service of what the gallery calls "object collecting, crypto-zoology and historical perceptions of the curio."

Central to this destabilizing exhibition is the work actually called Noblese Oblige - a kind of table-top vitrine, or at least it would be a vitrine if a vitrine could be made of lacy gauze embroidered with a frieze of heraldic crowns. On the gauzy, insubstantial faux-vitrine stands lightly a supine, knitted white bear (with its great jaws agape) - a sort of bloodless, mannered, high-aristocratic version of a bear-rug. The effect is that of a tepid diminishing - for the sake of decorative delicacy - of the vigour once embodied, somewhere in the aesthetic past, by real vitrines, real curios, real patronage, real collecting and real bear rugs. Noblesse Oblige is a really quite impressive, inventive exhibition - albeit an almost terminally arch and overrefined one.

 

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