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R.M. Vaughan: The Exhibitionist

Building on architecture's unabashed virility Add to ...

Eric Glavin at Birch Libralato Until Oct. 16, 129 Tecumseth St., Toronto; www.birchlibralato.com

Eric Glavin is having a midlife crisis. Or Eric Glavin's art is having a midlife crisis. Either works for me.

I've seen rather a lot of Glavin's work over the years, and most of it has been very formal, very careful, and fuelled by a phonebook's worth of architecture theory. Glavin is renowned for his still, subtle and arguably severe examinations of modernist and postmodernist architectural ornamentation, as well as his ability to closely observe, and celebrate, the most seemingly mundane elements of any given structure. He turns cladding and window casings into subjects for high art.

Heady stuff, but always beautiful, always made with a genuine fondness for the interior dramas Glavin saw enacted in built environments.

Brasilia 02 (2010), by Eric Glavin

Well, so much for that. Glavin's new suite of collages at Birch Libralato, entitled I'm New Here, are messy (by which I mean kinetic, allowing for accident, and abundantly playful), zany, giddy and just plain weird. I love them. As one of my many shrinks said to me years ago: Don't think of this change as a breakdown; think of it as a breakthrough.

Mounted directly onto the gallery walls with wallpaper paste, the collages, all black-and-white, have an improvised, photocopied zine feel. The rough cutting and pasting and overlapping of images, done with a kind of precise abandon, reminded me of Terry Gilliam's early animations.

And the image-culling is no less strange: Glavin juxtaposes cityscapes and landmarks from Rio De Janeiro, Hong Kong and Mumbai against posturing (and fighting) photos of kick-boxers, action-movie stars, jazz genius John Coltrane, telecom workers, and streams of trams and buses. I warned you about the weird.

This work is about manliness, manifested not only in the obvious sporting and athletic imagery (there are a lot of bare-chested toughs on display here) but also in the phallocentric drive of monumentalist architecture: looming skyscrapers, pointy towers, acres-eating stadiums. Conversely, I counted only about a half-dozen cutouts of female figures in the whole collection, all smallish.

In his artist statement, Glavin talks about the sources of his new works - everything from Dadaist collage to Internet trawling - and offers the helpful, apt phrase "extravagant chaos" to describe his madcap mashups. That's all fine and correct, but I think Glavin has overlooked, or been too shy to mention, the works' punchy sexiness, the unabashed virility that leaps off the walls.

The day after I saw Glavin's collages, I found myself at a suburban barbeque. A gang of young dads played bocce on the front lawn. After a particularly good throw, one guy turned to the others and boasted, "How do you like that monkeyjuice."

I can't think of a better tagline for Glavin's rambunctious new groove.

Y.M. Whelan at Fran Hill Gallery Until Sept. 26, 285 Rushton Rd., Toronto; 416-363-1333

A change of tack is also evident in Y.M. Whelan's new series of paintings at Fran Hill Gallery, but the shift is far less startling (though no less lovely).

Whelan has always been a painter's painter, and her colour-soaked, Rothko-dreamy abstracts, comprised of overlapping horizontal and vertical rectangles of layered acrylics, are prized for their vibratory power, their interior magnetism.

Hua Qing Palace (2010), by Y.M. Whelan

However, her latest works in this ongoing series convey an intentional uncertainty, via a freer flow between shapes and a more translucent, sometimes transparent, application of paint. While Whelan's signature block-on-block patterning remains, the way she marks the transitions between the shapes is looser, prone to instability, and crafted with a lighter, feathery touch.

Mystery and ethereality dominate where once a dedicated concreteness (but never rigidity) reigned. It's as if, like Glavin, Whelan is letting herself roam across the canvas, expecting the unexpected.

The resulting works are both emotional and mathematical. A delicious semi-coherence, akin to the feeling one gets after coming out of a particularly deep sleep, is communicated by Whelan's loosening of her own technique, by her showing us her fluid brushwork. I think I even saw a drip!

On the other hand, Whelan's colour choices are so fastidious - her banana yellows never veer toward common mustard; her pomegranate reds are exactly purpled, never ketchupy - you come away feeling you have just observed an algebra formula worked out with pigments and washes.

Rhythmically complex as ever, Whelan's new work embraces the tactile and the logical in equal, gorgeous measure.

The Dazzle: A Cabinet of Wonder at Narwhal Art Projects Until Oct. 17, 680 Queen St. W., Toronto; www.narwhalartprojects.com

Here is a small sample of what you will see when you visit The Dazzle. Take a deep breath.

Glinting fake meteorites and crystal balls. Creepy outsider art-style paintings of freaks and mystical figures. A taxidermy baby unicorn. A giant wooden rosary music box and portraits etched on toasted bread. Paper prayer rugs and hand-carved multisided dice, to be used in a game nobody knows. Hand-knitted plants and bacteria. All kinds of dead animals stuffed and mounted in all kinds of unholy ways. Aboriginal medicine-spell circles and yarn caterpillar nests.

All that, plus more dead things.

The Dazzle installation at Narwhal Arts Projects

Designed to replicate a 17th-century wunderkammer (the precursors to today's natural-history museums), this tidily displayed hoard of freaky artist multiples could be culled from British occultist Aleister Crowley's study or some forgotten basement at the Royal Ontario Museum.

And although the exhibition screams of nuttiness for nuttiness's sake, once you begin to follow the show's vaguely demonic interior logic, a compelling account of Western culture's collecting mania unfolds - especially as manifested by our never-ending search for the novel and the authentic (itself a questionable goal).

A bottomless loot bag of visual treats, The Dazzle has enough wunder in its kammer to reward repeated, leisurely, and, um, enhanced visits.

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