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More spectacular than modest Add to ...

MODESTLY SPECTACULAR

AT KATHARINE MULHERIN

CONTEMPORARY ART

PROJECTS

$300-$35,000. Until July 13.

1086 and 1080 Queen St. W., Toronto; 416-537-8827

Given the playful ambitiousness of its current exhibition, which bears the cheerfully oxymoronic title, Modestly Spectacular, Toronto's Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects appears to be already working up to a big celebration in the fall (with a show called Decade) of the gallery's 10 years in business.

Modestly Spectacular, which is certainly more spectacular than modest, is spread over both of the Mulherin gallery spaces - at 1080 and 1086 Queen St. W. The space at 1080 houses three large installation works: Rob Hengeveld's Staging the Gap, Annie MacDonell's Death by Landscape and Clint Griffin's Dolly Ring. 1086 offers a witty and engaging (even endearing) group show of smaller works by Griffin, as well as pieces from Jared Lindsay Clark and Shaun Morin (who exhibits under the name "the slomotion.")

First to the 1080 works: The most spectacular of them (though arguably "modest" in its beautifully grubby, ad hoc kind of construction) is certainly Hengeveld's Staging the Gap - a model concert stage replete with coloured lights (programmed by a mercifully inaudible CD playing Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody) and continual puffs of smoke of the kind used to swirl about the ankles of rock musicians. A "virtual but performerless show" (as the Hengeveld's gallery statement puts it), the stage is dark, cave-like, smoky and silent - except when you clap on one of eight audio headsets hanging along the front of the stage, whereby you can listen to one of the show's audio tracks, a diverse collection that ranges from atonal music to folk. The point of all this, according to the artist, is that "the audio frames our understanding and perception of the visual" - which is a complex way of suggesting that, as with radio, we people the stage with phantoms born of our auditory imaginations.

You reach Annie MacDonell's Death by Landscape by climbing up a ladder and then looking down upon a small, dazzlingly magical room full of mirrors and fibre-optic trees. And Clint Griffin's Dolly Ring is a room-sized boxing ring that may once have been square, but now has been squeezed by the room's proportions into a diamond-shaped ring. (Why are they always called rings? They were never circular). The dolly of the title comes from the fact that the ropes of the ring are supported, at each corner, by freight dollies. The floor of the "ring" is covered by little square weavings of popsicle sticks ("like a parquet floor" says Griffin, who sees the squares as an emblem of the ring's "fragility.")

Over at 1086, there are a few wickedly inventive and mordantly satirical table-top assemblages by Jared Lindsay Clark which look at first like original porcelain sculptures but which result from the artist fitting together kitschy little department-store figurines. (The brilliant Thank Goodness for Unicorns III is an amalgam of inverted puppy, inverted garden gnome, two unicorns and a kneeling Jesus.)

And there are wonderfully diverting paintings and drawings by the slomotion (his paintings, The Helper and Saviour, albeit a little Philip Guston-like, are both raucous and exquisitely painted).

What stands out for me, though, are Griffin's three small boxing rings. Boxing Ring No. 3, reproduced here, is typical of them: The thick, chunky "ring" itself, which is now supported on dolly wheels, is just a board that was once a staircase step. The ropes - in red, white and blue - have each been carefully hand-painted. The thing about the rings, for all their abject, arte povera qualities, is that they are so unremittingly noble. For Griffin, the boxing ring - which he sees as "one of the most beautiful shapes in the world," is not at all a highly charged place of confrontation, but, rather - more benignly - a "space of possibility."

SADKO HADZIHASANOVIC

AT PAUL PETRO CONTEMPORARY ART

$800-$9,000. Until July 19,

980 Queen St. W., Toronto; 416-979-7874

Sadko Hadzihasanovic was born in Bosnia and earned both a BFA from the Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo and an MFA from the University of Belgrade. He came to Canada in 1993, in the early days of the war ("I was uninterested," he once told me, "in perpetuating nationalistic hatred between peoples"). Here, he has set about lavishing his rigorous academic art training upon an in-depth exploration of North American pop culture and politics, exploring, in his paintings, the nature of media-manufactured hero-worship, the inanities of runaway consumerism and, in particular, the trials and vagaries of the rites of passage from childhood to adulthood - specifically the passage from boyhood to manhood.

This new exhibition, Some Other Country, is made up both of new works and works from the nineties, much of it involving Hadzihasanovic's trademark employment of sheets of wallpaper, upon which he draws and paints and which he almost always annotates. Some of these paintings are understandably pretty caustic: The beautifully painted Balkan Boy, for example, is a vast but deliberately sketchy study of a surly boy on a bicycle (positioned against an idyllic baby-blue ground), where the kid sports a cigarette and listens to his "I-Pod" (the object is carefully labelled "I-Pod" so there's no mistake). In Bosnian Folk Songs, the lad carries a machine gun.

Sometimes Hadzihasanovic's paintings mutter darkly with sociological discontent. Occasionally, he gets out-and-out snarky - as in Tito Likes Me, where the Hadzihasanovic boy is smiled down upon by the beaming Croatian-born, Yugoslavian despot (who died way back in 1980). Hadzihasanovic worries constantly about boyhood. One of his subtlest but most telling paintings is called How to Impress My Friends, where the eternally vulnerable Hadzihasanovic kid merely practises pumping up the muscle of his right arm - which, in Hadzihasonovic's vision - seems a vaguely reprehensible act.

ROBERT GIARD AT THE STEPHEN BULGER GALLERY

$3,200-$5,700 (U.S.) Until Aug. 2, 1026 Queen St. W., Toronto; 416-504-0575

This is the first exhibition by the Stephen Bulger Gallery of the work of the late American photographer Robert Giard (1939-2002), whose estate the gallery now officially represents. Both a remarkably gifted landscape photographer and a maker of fresh and memorable photographic nude studies (of both women and men), Giard's reputation is nevertheless based on his portraits of gay and lesbian figures from the literary community (Giard himself studied literature in university, not the visual arts).

The portraits in this exhibition have been drawn from those making up the anthology, Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published in 1997 by the MIT Press. My favourite is a delightful portrait of a very earnest-looking Allen Ginsberg who has been photographed holding his own photo of William S. Burroughs - worlds within worlds.

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