I hereby declare 2011 the Year That Toronto Stops Apologizing - for being the biggest, for being the smartest (okay, not so much with the voting), and for being the largest, most vibrant art engine in Canada. There, I said it.
Since I started this job, I've had multiple conversations with curators who tell me that they feel pressured to not be "too Toronto" in the shows they compose, or in their institutional scheduling. This is crazy talk. No other city on the planet worries about being too much like the actual city it is. But Torontonians are constantly overcompensating for the inferiority complexes of other Canadian cities, and our curatorial class, in a demented act of art world penance, will go to great lengths to exclude quality work right under its nose.
Co-dependency is unhealthy, for both sides. Furthermore, all we do when we exclude our own is drive them to other cities (and then, perversely, once they are celebrated in said other cities, we ask them back, offer them the big rooms, because they've been de-Torontoized). Why not break the cycle?
Here are a handful of shows happening right in your neck of the not-woods, all within the next year. Stop apologizing and start patronizing (in the good way).
Edward Burtynsky Oil Royal Ontario Museum, from April 9 to July 3, www.rom.on.ca There will be lineups.
People at Queen Gallery
April 21 to May 10,
St. E., www.queengallery.ca
Three Iranian-Canadian artists, Ali Kamran, Gohar Dashti,and Aydin Matlabi, in participation with the annual Contact photography festival, present a series of portraits of Iranians unlike any presented by mass Western media.
The people in these images are not angry protesters (for or against the Islamic Republic government), nor wholly veiled, orientalized and abject women, nor unforgiving, stern mullahs.
If anything, they are rather ordinary, lovely in an un-hyperbolic, easy-to-miss way.
The second aim of the exhibition is to reclaim the Iranian landscape as a place of peace and of startling natural diversity, not merely as a place of conflict and tension. As 2011 seems poised to be the year the U.S. and Iran stake their varied military claims, Landscape, Revolution, People is a well-timed reminder that Iran is not a monoculture.
Kim Dorland at Angell Gallery
Jan. 22 to Feb. 19,
12 Ossington Ave.,
Local mad genius Kim Dorland is back with a new series of crashing, banging, booming, screeching, and possibly feather and glitter dappled paintings. Lately, Dorland's stretching (via a Jaws Of Life-like, raw and ripping style) of the boundaries of good taste (whatever that is) have made some of his dearest fans wonder what on earth he's up to - witness the deliciously baffled, controversial reaction to his new works at the 2010 Art Toronto fair.
But one thing is always certain with Dorland: He aims to please. All that aggression, all that rough, unmixed paint, all those applied-with-a-hammer gobs of oil (not to mention the thumbed-on bits of glass, string, and helpful screws) are there not to elicit shock, or revulsion (although his hot bile colour combos may argue otherwise), but to give the viewer a full, and full-bodied, sensual experience.
If you don't walk away from a Dorland show rubbing your eyes, you must be wearing Yoko Ono-style wraparounds. Better lurid than lulling.
Teri Donovan at Redhead
June 22 to July 16,
Suite 115 - 401 Richmond St. W.,
One of my favourite painters has her first Toronto show in two years, after sending her work across the province, much to the delight of the locals.
Donovan's style benefits from emphasizing everything that Dorland's style benefits from ignoring - the patient application of paint, a nearly worshipful approach to the materiality of her canvases, and a palpable internal rigour. Both artists, however, are ultimately epicureans - Donovan's themes are more mature, especially so in her portraits, but she is no miser. Her paintings are liquid, twilight dreams, dreams dappled with sharp, pointed moments of figurative realism (to keep us on our toes) and no end of delicious decorative flourishes.
A controlled reveller, Donovan gives her paints a drink or two, then sits them down for a hard talk.
Centre for Incidental
Activisms at the Art Gallery
of York University
Jan. 19 to March 14,
Featuring works by veteran film/video artists Deanna Bowen and Elle Flanders, the cheekily named group show (CIA, get it?) brings together a cell of practitioners of what we might safely label "the new agit prop." Not that agit prop ever went away, it just got a graduate degree. This is art with something to say, but not to preach.
Bowen and Flanders are both too smart, and too seasoned, to just plop a plateful of unhappy on the viewers' laps and then say, See? See? Both artists know that unless their art is in and of itself provocative, articulate, and yes, entertaining, any messages the works carry, buried or hollered, subtextual or typed in all caps, will be lost on the passersby.
Incidental my foot.