In Vancouver this January, some important moments in contemporary art: A Canadian artist’s Turner Prize-nominated work has its North American premiere; collector/real estate guru Bob Rennie mounts his most complex show yet at his own gallery; and Brian Jungen returns to his seminal source material – sneakers. Western arts correspondent Marsha Lederman walks us through three essential events.
Winter 2015/2016: Collected Works at the Rennie Collection
Since Vancouver real estate marketer Rennie opened his own gallery in 2009 to show works from his astonishing contemporary-art collection, most of the exhibitions have featured a single artist. The show opening this weekend breaks new ground – the museum’s first survey and the first Rennie himself has curated. Nearly 60 works by more than 40 artists offer commentary on these chaotic times – racism, gun violence, wealth inequality.
The exhibition also invokes a feeling of chaos as you move through, greeted first by John Baldessari’s large-scale installation Camel (Albino) Contemplating Needle (Large). The 2013 work references a biblical passage about it being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven – conjuring one-per-centers (and a chuckle, when you consider Rennie’s own wealth).
Upstairs, the enormous Animal Farm ’92 (after George Orwell) by Tim Rollins and K.O.S. features pages of George Orwell’s classic marked up with drawings of animals affixed with heads of political leaders of the day – Brian Mulroney fronts a dog (with devilish ears); Nelson Mandela a raven. Installed nearby is Brian Jungen’s Nike Air Jordan raven mask and Ai Weiwei’s Coloured Vases – seven Han Dynasty vases dipped in industrial paint, offering a commentary on China’s complexities.
Hank Willis Thomas’s 2004 work Priceless, which Rennie hung in his office after the fallout from the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., feels painfully contemporary: “3-piece suit: $250. New socks $2. 9mm Pistol: $80 … Picking the perfect casket for your son: priceless.” Thomas J. Price’s 34-inch bronze is a black man with a cellphone in one hand while the contents of his other hand are a mystery inside his hoodie pocket. Rennie bought the work last month for this show.
Other grim works include Sophie Calle’s photographic gravestones – Mother, Father, No. 37 and Baby – installed on the floor rather than the wall – and General Idea’s Black AIDS (prototype).
And on the building’s top floor, a single work – Rennie’s first art purchase: Norman Rockwell’s gushingly optimistic On Top of the World.
“We were promised that this was life – a boy and girl sitting on top of the world,” says Rennie, standing next to a Kerry James Marshall work referencing lynching in America. “We were all led to believe that it was going to be Norman Rockwell. And this is what we got.”
Winter 2015/2016: Collected Works is at the Rennie Collection until April 23 (renniecollection.org).
Brian Jungen at Catriona Jeffries Gallery
It’s been more than 10 years since Jungen ended the series that made him a darling of the art world and beyond. Prototypes for New Understanding (1998-2005) saw the B.C. artist disassemble Nike Air Jordan running shoes and reconfigure them to resemble Northwest Coast aboriginal masks. Red, white and black, the sneakers were even the right colours for Jungen’s smart, whimsical investigation of identity and appropriation, influenced by his own First Nations heritage.
The series was always meant to end at 23 – Michael Jordan’s number – although Jungen did produce two additional masks: one for philanthropist Michael Audain and the other for Jordan himself, at the athlete’s request. “I couldn’t say no, right?” Jungen says.
Now, in a major development, Jungen is returning to the source material and making new work with it. Five of his new Air Jordan sculptures are installed at Catriona Jeffries Gallery for an exhibition that opened Thursday. (A sixth – actually the first work in the new series – is installed at the Rennie show; an all-black mask-like sculpture reminiscent of the KKK or Abu Ghraib that serves as a sort of marker separating Prototypes and the new works.)
The new sculptures are entirely different – more open and abstracted. Gone are direct references to the First Nations masks – although suggestions can still be found. Unlike the first series, these new sculptures include laces and soles. In one piece, 13 are stitched together, creating the illusion from certain angles of one giant sole.
The new works have been influenced by Jungen’s new circumstances. He has left Vancouver and bought a ranch outside Vernon, B.C., where he has a large studio and powerful machinery – a saddle sewing machine, a band saw – allowing him to work with the shoes in a new way, using the same kind of tools that were used to manufacture them.
Brian Jungen is at Catriona Jeffries Gallery until Feb. 27 (catrionajeffries.com).
DOUG at the CAG
“I knew this guy once named Doug. Man, did he have some luck.” So begins Janice Kerbel’s chronicle of the misadventures of her accident-prone protagonist. DOUG began as an online project and ultimately became a performance.
“I wanted to try and find a way … to describe an event using sound,” says Kerbel, who is from Toronto, is now based in Britain, and whose previous works include instructions for robbing a bank (Bank Job), a radio-play love story between plants (Nick Silver Can’t Sleep) and a play for stage lights (Kill the Workers!). “I wondered if it was possible to write an accident, to compose an accident.”
It was more than possible. The world premiere of DOUG in Glasgow in 2014 was said to have been a knockout.
Six vocalists across the vocal range (bass to soprano) perform a song cycle recounting nine catastrophic events, such as falling down a flight of stairs, being struck by lightning, drowning and choking.
The work, composed in collaboration with Laurie Bamon and Philip Venables (with their help, Kerbel figured out a method by which she could write music), was nominated for Britain’s prestigious Turner Prize last year. It’s having its North American premiere at Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery on Jan. 29, performed by vocal ensemble musica intima – part of a week of performance art programmed by the CAG. Five other Canadian artists will also bring innovative, experimental performances to the gallery (and, in Cindy Mochizuki’s case, to a boat).
“An important thing for us was really to give them that space,” CAG curator Shaun Dacey says. “A lot of times, performances within an institution can be thought of as sort of secondary to a major exhibition. We really wanted to empty out the gallery and offer carte blanche to these artists.”
Six performances by Canadian artists are at the CAG from Jan. 26 to 31 (contemporaryartgallery.ca).
Follow Marsha Lederman on Twitter: