Although her Wall Works are clearly sculptures, rather than anything else, I have always thought of veteran Toronto-based sculptor Judith Schwarz as a maker of drawings.
Her four new pieces, now at Toronto's Sable-Castelli Gallery, for example, are, as with her other recent works, complex configurations in metal (three are made of aluminum, one of steel) that are hung like pictures on the gallery wall. They are flat (being only as thick as the thin metal they are cut from) and graphically ornate, like big idealized doodles.
Schwarz has tended, over the years, to predicate her sculptures on the simplest of all optical illusions, and one central to the making of art since the early Renaissance: that what first appears to be three-dimensional is, in fact, only two-dimensional. So that with her charming if duplicitously named work Coupling, for example, a baroque muster of ovals appears at first to be as interlocked as the stems of a daisy chain, but is not. The various oval shapes are obviously not interlocked because, as a second glance will make clear, they are part of one, vast flat metal drawing or plan, cunningly devised merely to look woven and knotted.
Similarly with Slip Stream and Ornate: In both of these works, a vagrant (though symmetrically arranged) wandering line of metal seems to be supported, like a rosebush on a trellis, by a system of sterner, less playful vertical and horizontal metal pieces. You'd swear the sterner system were supporting the playful one. But again, no. Everything you see is cut from one flat matrix of metal. Any depth, any apparent weaving of a metal line over and under another metal line is just pure illusion. And so is the apparent shallow "space" the interacting lines of metal seem to create. The space is virtual, not real. It is we who must provide the sculptures with a sense of depth and movement when none are really there.
This is why I tend to think of Schwarz's sculptures not as sculptures at all but as big metal drawings. Sculptures have mass. Schwarz's pieces do not (not really). Drawings, on the other hand, furnish fictitious volumes (vanishing points, ersatz spaces in which, say, bowls of oranges appear to sit firmly on a tabletop, and so on). And so it is with Schwarz's "sculptures."
Now all this optical game-playing of Schwarz's ought to get irritating, and sometimes it does. But what lends it the satisfaction it seems ultimately to provide is that Schwarz's configurations are basically knots. And knots represent the idea of pure connection. Comparable to the net and the braid, the knot, in the words of J.E. Cirlot, in his indispensable Dictionary of Symbols, is "generally expressive of an unchanging psychic situation." Which is a comfort in an age of extravagant flux and mutability.
$1,500 -- $20,000. Until Oct. 16, 33 Hazelton Ave., Toronto 416-961-0011.
at Luft Gallery
This smart show by this smart young Toronto-based artist is called Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda & Two Notions of Necessity, a title that goes some distance in emblematizing Partheniou's obvious fascination with the predictable vagaries, or the vague predictabilities, of actions in a series and processes in a system.
This is one of those exhibitions that looks far simpler than it is.
For one work, a number of transparent, plastic beach balls are hooked up nozzle-to-nozzle into a closed ring in order to create, as the artist notes, "a self-determined form." When you look at the work, lying half-breathing (or so it would seem) on the gallery floor, you are privy to the whole sprawling overview of flaccid balls, and yet it is almost impossible to focus your attention on any individual ball, now that it is incorporated (by its own shared "breath") into the collective.
Other works seem equally as canny: One features a long series of badminton birdies, sewn together in groups made by gradually adding additional birdies to the previous arrangement. This accumulation of birdies results, in the end, in some elaborate, unlooked-for, rather theatrical, summary bird-like shape; in another piece, a Rubik's Cube, the colours of which have now been reduced to a series of grey-scales, makes the ultimate, maddening, colour-matching problem (Partheniou notes that "there are 45 quintillion possible solutions to the cube") not only easier but, waggishly, more chic. Art-making has always been a kind of enlightened game. Partheniou is simply, and elegantly, making the game-playing more visible.
$50 -- $900. Until Oct. 3, 63 Ossington Ave., Toronto; 416-535-6958.
at Katherine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects
This exhibition, bearing the wonderfully resourceful title Denial of the Fittest, is a big breakthrough for the former Toronto painter, now living and working in Brooklyn.
Maybe living somewhere else has served to further hone the wit and sharpen the perceptions of this already witty, perceptive young painter, but Griffin's new work is his best yet. The new paintings are as collaged and as aggregate as they've always been --the painter was always big on incorporating little details, figures and vehicles and such, into his pictures, and scratching little texts and legends into the paint -- but now the collaging is larger in scope and much more pointed in its purpose.
Now Griffin is "collaborating with unknowing artists", as his gallery statement puts it. Unknowing and unknown. In a masterful new painting like from the sea and not the hear (Griffin relentlessly rejects the use of capital letters), for example, there are no less than four plundered landscapes, or pieces of them, harvested by the artist from horribly bad paintings he found somewhere or other (all of "Canadian" scenery) and assembled into one overall painting, now unified by fields of Griffin's increasingly assured brushwork. In this particular painting, for example, there is a meadowscape, a raw pounding seascape (at the top of the painting), a serene if mawkish view of a quiet lakeside inlet and an exceedingly banal view of a reach of farmland.
The four views, which are locked together by Griffin's having collaged into the mix a tiny prone figure of a naked girl, now wearing a newly added and discreetly painted red bathing suit, and a perky seagull, all work like a picture-in-picture TV, where you can travel at will from one view to the other.
These four landscapes are relentlessly inept, and you might well ask why they'd be worth looking at in the first place. Well in the first place, they aren't. But in the second place, by the time Griffin has locked them together into his fantasia on landscape painting and the delicate art of sentimentality and sentimentality narrowly avoided, they are. So the show progresses, from satirical strength to satirical strength.
The thing to notice, however, is not merely Griffin's way with critique, but also the delectable lushness and inventive organization with which each painting is imbued.
$350 -- $3,600. Until Oct. 3, 1086 Queen St. W., Toronto; 416-537-8827.