This new exhibition at Toronto's Susan Hobbs Gallery of the work of veteran photographer Arnaud Maggs is really a kind of catch-up show, an opportunity to think back over the long trajectory of the Toronto-based, 76-year-old artist's distinguished career. Although the exhibition is not inclusive enough to constitute any sort of retrospective, it does, however, provide an opportunity to revisit some of the work that helped make his international reputation.
It is an oft-told story, indeed it is one of the legendary rebirth stories in Canadian art, how Maggs, who had garnered his first reputation as a successful magazine art director, suddenly, at age 47, gave it all over to become an artist. Most of the pieces in the current Hobbs show date from only a few years after this momentous change of direction.
What lent Maggs's early photo-work a good deal of its power and distinction was, first, the utterly unflinching examination, by camera, to which he subjected his subjects and, second, the fact that this examination was normally carried out in an ongoing, serial way. His Liz Magor, 36 Frontal Views from 1981, for example, samples his subject's comely visage in an almost encyclopedic manner, adding photo after photo of the famously elusive artist until she accumulates into a multiviewed, composite vision of herself. The way the 36 head-and-shoulder views are arranged (four rows high, each nine photos wide), you find yourself scanning through all the variants until something untoward happens. In the second photograph over, third row down, for example, Magor's eyes suddenly look heavy (it must have been uncomfortable posing for such a protracted session) and she looks suspicious, for an instant, of the whole enterprise. Then, the sang-froid resumes. In the end, you feel almost prurient, searching out the momentarily particular this way in Maggs's ongoing relentlessness.
Check out as well, on the second floor, the maquette, for Maggs's brilliant portrait of the great photographer Andre Kertesz (1894-1985). Here, in the course of 144 serially arranged, head-and-shoulders photos, the venerable Kertesz appears to revolve slowly, photo by photo, as if he were on a turntable -- until he is back, spatially speaking, where he began. $2,500-$25,000. Until March 15, 137 Tecumseth St., Toronto; 416-504-3699. Charles Goldman at Robert Birch The title of the refreshing Birch Gallery exhibition by Charles Goldman, who lives and works in Brooklyn, N.Y., is PTGS, which, I guess, is a compressing of the word "paintings." Goldman is currently represented, as well, by Infinitely Intersecting Orbits, his winter-long installation at the Toronto Sculpture Garden, a couple of blocks west of the gallery.
Both of these incarnations of Goldman's sensibility trade on the artist's fascination with the measurement and layout of spatial configurations. His Sculpture Garden work consists of a grid of 15 metal tetherball poles, three metres high. The ball, tethered to each pole by a two-metre length of rope, is attached there to a rotating caster so that, unlike with the normal game, the ball doesn't coil itself around the pole when struck, but instead keeps circling. What does happen, though, is that when several balls are struck, their orbits (which are positioned to intersect) form infinity symbols in space. Watching this is a lot more absorbing than merely watching your ball twist tightly onto its pole.
Goldman's paintings (or "PTGS") are equally diverting -- in just as open and simple a way. Well, deceptively open and deceptively simple, then. He calls them Distance Paintings. And while each looks at first like a gathering of curving bands of colour randomly arranged -- either blue, white or red on monotonal or shiny metal grounds (in configurations that look sort of like slot-racing track layouts) -- the truth is that these paintings are carefully proscribed, their baroque twists and turns measuring out a previously decided-upon length: 50 metres, 60 metres, and so on. (In this regard, they align themselves with the conceptual rigour of paintings by Halifax conceptualist Gerald Ferguson.) And no matter how spatially convulsive the twists and turns of Goldman's bands of colour are, all the bands ultimately connect, end to end: a closed system. This apparently vagrant energy, now brought to closure, really heats things up along the way -- resulting in an expressionist fervour accelerated first by the drips and gobs of pigment and muss that get onto the backgrounds and then by the graphic strain you can feel in getting the bands to join. Cool though they might seem at first, these paintings are really hot little pressure cookers of frenetic activity. $1,200-$2,800 (U.S.). Until Feb. 22, 241 King St. E., Toronto; 416-955-9410. The Toronto Sculpture Garden runs until April 15.