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review

From provocative video installations to engaging virtual-reality exhibits, Kate Taylor takes the pulse of the visual-arts scene across the country

Best Exhibition

I am Here: Home Movies and Everyday Masterpieces at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto

Mary Pratt’s Split Grise, 1979.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The pandemic put the international blockbuster on the endangered-species list and yet, in Canada, 2022 featured impressive home-grown exhibitions. At the Art Gallery of Ontario, this show of home movies, family albums and artists’ ephemera offered the year’s most intriguing curatorial concept. It was assembled by AGO publishing manager Jim Shedden and prints and drawings curator Alexa Greist with Rick Prelinger, a U.S. filmmaker who collects home movies. Juxtaposing the banal and the remarkable, it looked at how professional artists record the everyday and how everyday people record their lives.

Best Retrospective

General Idea at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa

In an era where the visual arts are filled with earnest sermons, General Idea’s work about the AIDS crisis reminded viewers that AA Bronson, Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal kept their satirical edge to the bitter end.Courtesy the artist

Revisiting the career of General Idea, that cheeky trio of the 1980s and early 90s, proved to be the year’s most refreshing experience. In an era where the visual arts are filled with earnest sermons, GI’s work about the AIDS crisis reminded viewers that AA Bronson, Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal kept their satirical edge to the bitter end. Meanwhile, their earlier assaults on art world celebrity proved as pertinent as ever.

Best Exhibition Installation

L’heure mauve by Nicolas Party at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

A portrait of the Lawyer Hugo Simons by Otto Dix is hung on a mural of a cave by Nicolas Party. Jean-François Brière/Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Why should museum walls be white and blank? In a collaboration with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Swiss neo-surrealist Nicholas Party rehung pieces from the permanent collection against his own bright murals or alongside his unsettling still lifes and landscapes. His flattened trees and animated rocks met Lawren Harris and Tom Thomson, while the museum’s prized Otto Dix, the red-toned 1925 Portrait of the Lawyer Hugo Simons, was hung against pale blue stalagmites and stalactites.

Best Homecoming

Stan Douglas 2011 1848 from the Venice Biennale at Vancouver’s Polygon Gallery

Stan Douglas Venice Biennale exhibition 2011 ≠ 1848 appears at Vancouver’s Polygon Gallery.Stan Douglas/Courtesy the Artist

One of the best innovations on the Canadian art scene in 2022 was the National Gallery’s cross-country tour of the Canada Pavilion exhibition from the Venice Biennale. Considering the power of social anger, Stan Douglas’s 2011 ≠ 1848 featured staged photographs of 2011′s international street protests, and a pair of videos in which London and Cairo rappers performed a randomly generated call-and-response airing their frustrations. Before the show had even closed in Venice, second editions of these works were running at Vancouver’s Polygon Gallery.

Best Revisionism

Image? The Power of the Visual at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto

Coronation from the Underground series by Samak Filizadeh.Aga-Khan Museum

Forget the notion that Islamic art forbids the human image. This show of both historic and contemporary art from the Islamic world curated by Marika Sardar featured multiple exceptions from photo portraits of Gulf state royals to sharp new political twists on traditional styles and media.

Best Discovery

South American artists in Artic/Amazon at the Power Plant in Toronto

Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe, a Yanomami artist from Venezuela, creates an art of pointed restraint with works like Kamie ya uriji pi jami Parawa ujame theperekui uriji ter- imi thepe komi kua (Where I live in my jungle and in the Orinoco river all these animals also live).Courtesy Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros

The Arctic/Amazon show at the Power Plant in Toronto introduced Canadian audiences to powerful South American artists who link their Indigeneity with environmental and spiritual themes. The highlights included the precise geometric grids of insects and trees drawn on handmade paper by Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe, a Yanomami artist from Venezuela, and the work of the Indigenous Brazilian artist Uyra, forest photographs in which they disguise themselves as animal spirits.

Best VR

Heaven’s Gate by Marco Brambilla at the PHI Centre in Montreal

A still from the six- minute video loop Heaven's Gate by artist Marco Brambilla.Marco Brambilla/Phi Foundation Montreal

This six-minute piece by the Italian-Canadian London-based artist and filmmaker Marco Brambilla outshone most cumbersome attempts at VR art. Heaven’s Gate leads viewers through a vertical landscape populated by dinosaurs, primordial jungles and ancient civilizations. Then, piling GIF upon GIF (in both VR and video versions), it culminates in a giant crystal palace where it launches an apotheosis of scenes from classic Hollywood.

Best Video

45th Parallel by Lawrence Abu Hamdan at the Mercer Union during the Toronto Biennial of Art

Jordanian Artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan uses a story about how gun runners benefited from this location as his starting point for a provocative rumination on state power and frontiers.Toni Hafkenscheid/Courtesy the artist

A 15-minute video entitled 45th Parallel, presented at the Mercer Union in Toronto with a stage and painted backdrops, visits an intriguing site: the Haskell Library and Opera House, located on the Canada-U.S. border. Pick up a book in one country and check it out in another. Jordanian Artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan uses a story about how gun runners benefited from this location as his starting point for a provocative rumination on state power and frontiers.

Best Multimedia Installation

Ed Pien’s Present/Past: Future at the Art Gallery of Ontario

Artist Ed Pien at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.Galit Rodan/Globe and Mail

In an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Ed Pien’s video interviews with Cuban seniors proved deeply touching as the aging retold triumphs and tragedies. The Toronto artist then amplified that poignancy by placing the monitors amidst a collection of second-hand furniture, evoking the precious belongings and unnecessary baggage accumulated over lifetimes.

Best Shoe

Luigi Bufarini Calzature di Lusso wedge heel in Obsessed: How Shoes Became Objects of Desire at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto

A wedge heel from the 1930s, before stilettos were invented.Handout

Affordable luxuries flourish in tough times: The 1930s invented the stylish yet comfortable wedge heel. The best example in the Obsessed show at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto was a pair designed by Luigi Bufarini Calzature di Lusso featuring an upturned toe, rich gold applique and a wedge stacked like an ocean liner.