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Bubble & Squeak

at P/M Gallery

$3,000 -- $28,000. Until January 13. 149-1159 Dundas Street East. 416-937-3862.

Although the phrase Bubble & Squeak --which is the title of this lively exhibition at Toronto's P/M Gallery -- usually denotes, in the annals of English cookery, a frying up of last night's mashed potatoes and leftover vegetables, the only similarity between that homely dish and the current show is that they're both English and they're both an unpredictable mix.

The exhibition, which has been organized by London-based curator Shai Ohayon, is subtitled "A mishmash of British contemporary art" -- which is jocularly self-effacing, given the overall freshness and inventiveness of the work. The seven artists chosen by Ohayon, the gallery points out in its press release, have all exhibited at London's MOT Gallery, their work being "inherently British."

It's always difficult to decide what is inherently anything.

What's inherently Canadian, for example, in Canadian art? Tepidity? Tastefulness? What, in American art, is inherently American? Roughness? Vastness? Nothing meaningful ever really fits into these categories.

Ever since a clutch of zeitgeisting exhibits with over-confident titles such as Brilliant: New Art from London (at Minneapolis's Walker Art Centre in 1995), and Intelligence: New British Art (at Tate Britain in 2000), Young British Art has sought to knock the viewer's socks off with its rude vitality, vulgarity and aggressive off-handedness. (One thinks of the art of now-aging enfants terribles Damien Hirst, Gillian Wearing, Tracey Emin and Cornelia Parker.)

This doesn't seem quite the case, however, with Bubble & Squeak. Not that it's not an enjoyable exhibition -- it is. But the participating artists do seem remarkably well-behaved.

The most striking piece here is certainly Simona Brinkmann's Life Sized (2005), a large, three-dimensional, mirrored zero (or "O"), which is keyed to the artist's measurements, its height of 163 centimetres being exactly Brinkmann's height. The work seems simple (even simplistic) at first, and merely elegant, but it generates meaning fast. And its meaning flows two ways at once. First, it can't be too pleasant having a big zero as a surrogate. But if you see it as the artist's utterance, as a big mirrored vowel, you could interpret it as Brinkmann's statement about the narcissistic emptiness of the society she lives in -- along with the rest of us.

The rest of Bubble & Squeak, though not as spectacular as Life Sized, is intelligent, witty and, for some reason, hugely labour intensive. Ami Clarke's shiny black acrylic wall-mounted geometric plaques, which employ and modify traditional Islamic decorative patterns, use their carefully cut and finished reflective surfaces to affect the anarchic reintroduction of human presences -- as reflections -- into once-proscribed fields of pure design. Nicholas Symes's equally exhausting work, Stirling, involves his making (the work is still in progress) an eight-foot-by-four-foot (2.4-metre-by-1.2-metre) sheet of plywood from matchsticks. As with Brinkmann's zero, the work's extended meanings pile up obediently enough if you give yourself a minute or two.

Punch 3 at G+ Galleries

$800 - $2,500. Until Jan. 31.

50 Gladstone Ave. 416-840-5549.

This is another vividly interesting group show, curated by Holly Lee of G+ Galleries and Natalie Matutschovsky of The Walrus magazine. This one, the third of the Punch shows since 2002, is a vast and vital assemblage of the work of 10 young artists working with photography. A lot of it is pretty hot.

Among the highlights are the Portraits from her El Presidente series by Davida Nemeroff: head-and-shoulders studies of what appear to be -- because of their witty and wicked employment of the cultural accessorizing that has come to identify them -- certain infamous political leaders: Mao, Fidel and others. These larger-than-life figures are here played by smaller-than-life stand-ins who wouldn't remind us of Mao and their ilk if they hadn't been equipped by Nemeroff with the right mustaches, hairstyles and other clichés of adjacent meaning. Each character, by the way, sports a realistic-looking stuffed squirrel on each shoulder.

Miles Collyer's chromatically brilliant and sculpturally forceful series of TrackTops Masks -- big, bright, head-and-shoulders self-portraits -- show the artist wearing examples of what are apparently "over 300 balaclavas and 45 tracksuit tops" he has collected. You can't really tell who it is gazing back at you through those two slit-like balaclava holes; it's Collyer, but it could be any number of sports figures (of either sex) or, as Collyer points out in his gallery statement, even the distant echo of pop culture's superheroes. Whoever they are, these hotly coloured, winterized figures pack a lot of punch as presences.

I also liked Tim Salterelli's Lineographic Drawing for William Higinbotham and Arthur Granjean (Higinbotham being, as Salterelli's notes will tell you, the inventor of "tennis for two, the predecessor of Ping-Pong." Granjean is the inventor of what would be marketed as the Etch A Sketch. Salterelli's "drawing" (in an edition of six) seems to be of a length of ribbon-like magnetic tape which is made to spell out "What goes around goes around," which is more endless and delightfully tautological than the usual, circular "What goes around comes around."

Vid Ingelevics

at the Convenience Gallery

58 Lansdowne Avenue.

This initially almost unnoticeable piece by photographer, writer and curator Vid Ingelevics is nevertheless one of this protean artist's most devastating, caustic, bleakly funny and sociologically acute works. It's called Inconvenience Store, and consists of a slow, filmed crawl, up the plate-glass window of the Convenience Gallery -- which was once a convenience store -- of a list of familiar, corner-store items which, unhappily, are not any longer available at this particular "store."

You stand there on the street -- the work is best viewed, says a notice on the front door, "from dusk till midnight" -- watching this dispiriting list go by: "No gum," "Out of licorice," "Out of popsicles," "No AA Batteries," "No Bottled Water" and so on. It's funny at first. You feel sort of superior to the now-disappointed people who want all that junk. (No licorice, indeed!).

But then you start to see the store as the locus of the shut out, of non-compliance, of deprivation. At which time, the piece turns darker and begins to read like a commentary on abundance and its withdrawal, on dependence and its fragilities.

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