Kevin Yates at Susan Hobbs Gallery
$2,200-$15,000. Until March 15,
137 Tecumseth St., Toronto; 416-504-3699
Kevin Yates's art is an art of demonic miniaturization.
Blessed with what seems to be an almost supernatural skill at model-making, the young, Toronto-based artist appears capable of constructing more or less whatever he wants. And for this latest exhibition of his work - titled Hot Hail - at Toronto's Susan Hobbs Gallery, he clearly wanted some pretty peculiar things.
For a work called Tecumseth Street, for example, Yates has built a detailed and accurate, disturbingly convincing hydro pole - which is only 124 cm tall. Made [remarkably]of cast bronze, aluminum, cedar and an LED fixture [for the tiny working streetlight] the Lilliputian hydro pole features the requisite transformers and all that, plus, for some reason - for a further dollop of realism, I suppose - a cluster of black, cast-bronze garbage bags nested around its foot. Should anyone doubt the accuracy of Yates's rendering of this diminutive hydro pole [and its garbage bags] the real one is just outside the gallery - where you can easily take a look.
Also on hand is a convincingly modelled mattress (23 cm long). The mattress is virtually a Kevin Yates trademark, having appeared in his exhibitions for the last five or six years. It, too, is piled with little bronze garbage bags [an equally well-trod Yates image]
I remember once taking Yates to task in this column, for producing pieces that, though they looked, in their weird verisimilitude, as if you were peering through the wrong end of a telescope, that's all they seemed to be about: just miniaturization for miniaturization's sake. They seemed too much like parlour tricks in wood and bronze.
For Hot Hail, however, Yates seems to be employing his outlandish modelling skills to more meaningful ends. It's hard to buy the thesis offered by his artist's statement, though. He says the title, Hot Hail, comes from the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, where the evil Emperor Ming has "disaster buttons" at his disposal for the ruination of mankind - including this hot-hail possibility.
Yeah, so? Well, Yates goes on to say that for this new exhibition, he "set about to create detailed intimate miniature objects alluding to mementos from the end of the world ..." if Ming were actually to unleash his "disaster scenarios," which include tornado, drought, hurricane, typhoon, meteor storm, volcanic eruption and tidal wave, in addition to hot hail.
I just don't get this at all. What I do get, however, is Yates's having been able to build into his exquisite little objects a certain sense of atmospheric loneliness and dread. The hydro pole looks sort of wet and derelict.
And there's a rather brilliant work called Sorry, where the presumably neon word "sorry" is held high atop a big black generator - but is obviously not plugged in [the cord lies curled on the gallery floor] The brilliant part comes when you notice that the whole construction -which is as black as soot - is made of cast bronze. The "neon" word, the transformer, the cord, the plug, everything This looks like the end of the world to me.
But possibly the most subtle of Yates's new pieces is his Pearl Street. Here, what looks initially like a railroad modeler's trackside house - grimy, cardboard-like, wall-mounted model bungalow - is lifted out into the viewer's space by a copse of bronze model trees [and a light standard] The eerie thing about the house [which has been artificially weathered by Yates's sandblasting of it]and the trees is that they are made to look as if they are completed by their own reflections. But the geometry is all wrong for that. And so you are left with a sort of half-house, nestled in a thicket of half-trees - and waiting for the end of time.
at the Olga Korper Gallery
$9,500-$14,000. Until March 5,
17 Morrow Ave., Toronto; 416-538-8220
Angela Grauerholz's latest photographs are exceedingly handsome and satisfyingly resonant with intangibles such as memory, history, emptiness and dreaming. The photos are richly textured - the veteran Montreal-based artist has frequent recourse to falls of fabric [ Red Curtain] poetically distressed rugs [ Flowered Carpet] evacuated rooms [ Chairs with Mirror, Wedding Cake, Wallpaper] and moments of lyrical remoteness [ Hommage to Atget (Tulleries fountain)] Almost everything looks, in fact, like a still from Alain Renais's masterfully emptied-out 1961 film, Last Year at Marienbad.
Nothing wrong with any of this, of course, except perhaps for the way one finds oneself growing a tad restless at all this untethered loveliness. Grauerholz's new photographs are technically masterful and, more important, intensely imagined. But they are also, unfortunately, awfully close to sentimentality. Like all sentimental experiences, these photographs tell you how to feel - but never why. [The best definition I ever heard of sentimentality was that it was "unearned emotion."]That's what seems to be going on here.
For me, this new body of work simply activated my pleasurable memories of Grauerholz's superb Privation from 2001, her study of burned books, the result of a fire that incinerated her library, and to her excellent and intellectually ambitious Reading Room for Working Artists from 2004.
These new photographs are lovely. But not much more.
Holly Farrell at Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects
$1,900-$13,000. Until March 15, 1086 Queen St. W., Toronto; 416-537-8827
Toronto artist Holly Farrell is apparently self-taught.
Perhaps this means that nobody has ever told her how it's impossible to paint the things she paints the way she paints them and so, not knowing that she can't make pictures like this, she goes right ahead and makes them. To call Farrell a high realist is like pointing out that Picasso was a womanizer or that Salvador Dali was a paranoiac. Her oil and acrylic paintings of Apothecary Bottles, or Juice Cups, of a wall-mounted telephone ( Phone), of bow ties and shoes and a couch and other bits of everydayness, are so hair-raisingly "real" you feel you can reach out and touch them. If you want a painter to capture reflections in glass, the sheen of leather or rubber or satin - then Holly Farrell is the artist for you.
But the question - and I feel a bit ungentlemanly asking it - is why bother? The gentle answer, I suppose, is that it must give Farrell pleasure to make them. And I'm sure her paintings bring a lot of easy delight to people who are bowled over by raw technical ability so lavishly expended. Alas, I am not one of them.
For me, Farrell's tense little paintings are momentarily diverting novelties. Try as I will, I cannot get them to be more.