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ROBERT YOUDS AT DIAZ CONTEMPORARY

$1,500-$36,000. Until June 20, 100 Niagara St., Toronto; 416-361-2972

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Most artists, given the chance, will recount for you the heady adventures of their immersion in advanced theory, and will do it until your eyeballs ache. Not Victoria-based Robert Youds.

"I'm like every other fool," he says disarmingly, as we walk through his exhibition, Jesus Green Tofino Sunset at Diaz Contemporary. "I read theory," he continues, "but I want it to be experiential. Theory is a kind of poetry. But one can say too much, thereby complicating subjectivity."

Youds's insistence on theory as experience is refreshing. Equally so is his resulting desire to keep his work visually urgent and emotionally insistent - fuelled, but not scuttled, by theoretical ideas. Youds's conviction that the viewer's subjectivity should not be "complicated," that is, encumbered, by art theory is everywhere in evidence in this exuberant exhibition.

Hovering somewhere between painting and sculpture, the works making up Jesus Green Tofino Sunset are a brilliant fusing of two unlikely preoccupations: the purity of constructivism; and the rather less pure, and highly personal, matter of time and its nature. "The whole show is a contemplation of time," Youds says.

In a work such as l ook out your window/TIME MUST HAVE A STOP, for example, there is a layered, window-like structure (made of painted aluminum and Plexiglas) affixed to the wall. The structure is loosely tethered, by a stylized chain, to two spun-aluminum stools. You are presumably invited to sit on these stools and gaze upon (or through) the "window" - though you might be hesitant about doing so: The seats of the stools are roughly covered with coloured swirlings of felt marker, and might therefore be considered to be shards of something precious. As it turns out, it is okay to sit.

And if you do, what do you see? First, a structure of aluminum slats, painted in greys, burnt oranges, lime greens. This looks just enough like an actual window that you are drawn back and forth from a contemplation of the satisfying exactitude of the structure as structure (the constructivist part) to its equally compelling insistence on being a window.

As the former, it is a purely meditative object that is only about itself - pleasingly, relaxingly self-referential. When it is a window, it inevitably starts to gather bits of narrative about itself. What window? Whose? When? On what vista does it open?

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Youds says the exhibition is "a contemplation of time." And here you have two kinds of time: the timeless sort provided by pure structure in space; and the time-worn, time-fraught kind furnished by windows. No wonder the two stools (one for each kind of response?) are chained to the work. They almost announce that the work is, though delightful, also demanding, and you have to stay with it.

The rest of the show is equally joyfully intense. For Everyone a Window is a big "picture window" (with guiding digital-signboard arrows) that takes you, in six minutes, through a week of life - with changing colours and day/night alterations in tone and mood. And the exquisite Jesus Green Tofino Sunset is a leaning plank of translucent material that seems to contain at its cool, cloudy vitals a slowly changing LED array of stripes of colour. Given that it constantly melts out of reach, it seems partly real and partly just a matter of faith - like the heart that nestles improbably in your body and goes on resolutely beating.

RAMON SERRANO AT THE CORKIN GALLERY

$2,300-$25,000. Until May 31,

55 Mill St., Building 61, Toronto; 416-979-1980

Four years ago, I wrote in a column about a stunning suite of paintings, by this gifted Cuban painter, of the Hotel Habana Libre (transformed, by Fidel Castro, from a Hilton) that dominates downtown Havana. The way Ramon Serrano painted the gigantic building, it seemed imminent but imprecise; I referred to him transforming it into "a gridded modernist mirage."

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For this new exhibition, Ideales, Serrano - who in 2005 was dean of the Instituto Superior De Arte at the Universidad de las Artes de Cuba, and is now an exile in Canada - has provided another suite of paintings. This one, like the hotel paintings, is in grissaile (blacks, whites and greys).

His new subject is ruins: views of historic sites and structures in Cuba now come to dissolution. Ideales, according to Serrano's artist's statement, describes his approach to "the ideas of high romanticism in the light of certain historic locations which have served as stages for the conflict between ideas and reality. ... To me, utopia represents a model of society in which the concept of the future has been so diminished that it now exists only as a thing of the past."

And what of the paintings? Ghostly, fogbound structures looming out of the gloom with the iridescence of rotting fish on the shore, or broken shards of masonry (as, for example, in his brilliantly disturbing Estructuras paintings) are piled in the silvery darkness like remnants of a civilization a thousand years old.

ANDREW WRIGHT AT PEAK GALLERY

The installation is priced at $32,000. Until May 30,

23 Morrow Ave., Toronto 416-537-8108

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Water moves as continuously as air. It is part of Andrew Wright's inventive perversity that he is given to building his work on the basis of water made still. Like a 19th-century photographer whose photographs of water look (because of long exposure times) like photos of milk, Wright's waterworks have all the solidity of crystal.

For this exhibition, Still Water, Wright has pushed watery stasis into the realms of the architectural, producing a series of five dark, narrow steles that curve up from the floor and ascend almost to the ceiling. They look identical at first glance, but you soon come to see there are photo passages of hurtling, splashing water at the foot of each tower-like structure, each of them different. It's like looking down over a dam at night (Wright took the photos at falls on the Grand River near Cambridge) - a dam momentarily frozen solid by darkness and the inhalation of time.

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