Friday, February 12, 2016


A valentine from the artist Hadley+Maxwell.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Who Am I?

I went to art school, where I gravitated towards design. Upon graduation I opened a design studio, but I did not abandon contemporary art and its systems, its ideas and its materials, but rather sought its integration through what I do as a businessperson and as an artist. After securing a studio space, I came to know the building's owner, but also those who own the buildings around it. From this knowledge, another system, an older one based not on private ownership for material gain, as in speculation, accumulation, but on bettering the conditions of those marginalized by those for whom accumulation is the object; buildings owned and operated by communities that formed societies whose stated purpose is benevolence, the greater good, instigated by those who came to this country, who in fact paid a tax to work here, to help build its infrastructure, and after that brought their families, whose children produced new families in a part of town that was now their own, a ghetto, as some have called it, whose parents and grandparents began their lives there, as I began my business there, a part of town that was soon patronized by those who lived outside of it, who ate its food, bought its pots and pans, its souvenirs, took in its colours, its differences. I could go on, but the point is that those who started these societies and purchased these buildings have grown older and are in fact dying, and with no one to replace them, with fewer people moving in from where they, their parents, their grandparents and their great grandparents came from, well, that’s where I come in, because I see parallels between these benevolent societies and the artist-run centres that are so important to this city’s cultural ecology, so much so that I decided to make a space for a new artist-run centre in the very space where I started my business, and have since expanded my interests to include other buildings, picking up leases and subdividing their spaces to house older artist-run centres and provide studio spaces for artists who are in need of them, eventually expanding to other parts of the city through contacts made with those who own the building I first leased space in, to the point where some might think of what I am doing as an addiction, this amassing of leases and subdividing of spaces, but hey, I am not the enemy, because I have helped those before me, those who started these benevolent societies and artist-run centres, and yes, my desire to take on more spaces has created conflicts with artists and designers who have told me about spaces available in the buildings where they hold leases, where their landlords, who have accepted my higher-than-what-they-were-getting bids on available spaces, have now raised their rates on those who told me about them, forcing them out, which has allowed me to take over their spaces, their former spaces, which I have plans for, to continue my work, which I must say I have a knack for, am good at, and why stop at that, why stop at what I am good at if I am making things happen for those with whom I have something in common? I am not an agent of real estate, but one of change, and change is good, because the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Study in Petulance

At the bottom of this post is a recent piece. Like last week's "Criticism In Search of Its Critics", it is drawn from expeditions in the Art World.

I am posting the piece here because the publication in which it is to appear did a messy job of assigning quotation marks to its speaking parts. As well, the publisher supplied a sub-header that compromises the gender-neutrality of the piece (to say nothing of its insertion of the masculine pronoun "He" in what is now the second sentence of the third paragraph) -- and in doing so revealed the very assumptions that inspired the piece's gender-neutral attribution strategy.

For those interested in seeing the piece in its hard copy form, with excellent illustrations by Walter Scott, you can find it in the next issue of Mousse (#52). 

Thank you to Mousse Editor-in-Chief Edoardo Bonaspetti for allowing me to post the piece in advance of its hard copy publication and to artist Carolee Schneemann, whose Interior Scroll (1975) photo-documentation appears up top.



The artist’s assistant, who makes the artist’s rebus-filled thought balloons, says to the artist, Can I surprise you with a work of yours, for fun? and the artist says, By all means. With this agreement in place, the artist’s assistant then asks the artist when would it be a convenient time to use the artist’s studio to make the work, and the artist says, Never, and the artist’s assistant says, But you said, By all means, and the artist says, Figure of speech, and walks off.

The follow day, with the artist in the studio reading Kant, the artist’s assistant strolls in with a rebus-filled thought balloon, the sight of which causes the artist to sit up and say, Hey, that is so something I would do! and the artist’s assistant says, It’s yours. But is it something you can sell? and the artist says, No way – it’s a gift -- I love it! Great, says the artist’s assistant, but it’s not really a gift because I would like to recoup the cost of my materials.

The artist looks puzzled, looks back at the work, then back at the artist’s assistant. There’s, like, five dollars worth of materials here, says the artist, and the artist’s assistant says, Up the street they make the best pho tai for five dollars, and that’s what I’d like more than anything else in the world right now – a bowl of their pho tai. O-kay, says the artist, now more incredulous than puzzled, but the studio pays for your lunch, so I don’t see why you would want to pay for it when you’re getting it for free. I don’t know, shrugs the artist’s assistant. You pay me for my labour, but just once I’d like to get paid for my materials.

Fine, says the artist hurriedly, let’s sell it then, but I’ll add the material costs on top of the usual price. But that will look stupid, protests the artist’s assistant; none of your dealers will go for it. That’s the point, says the artist, I want it to look stupid, so when collectors ask the dealer, Why is it twenty-thousand-and-five dollars? the dealer will tell them it’s for material costs. And when they say, Don’t you usually include those costs in the price of the work, then round it off, I’ll get the dealer to say, Yeah, but the artist’s artist’s assistant wanted it that way, and that’s when things will get interesting.

The artist’s assistant understood what the artist meant by things getting interesting, that whoever asks about the price could then say to the dealer, Does the artist always take instruction from the artist’s assistant? to which the dealer could say any number of things, variations of which would position the artist closer to dog-rolled-over vulnerability, a humble position, but ultimately a phony position because whoever is asking will no doubt challenge the artist’s sincerity, after which the artist, as the artist’s assistant knows the artist all too well, will get pissy and back off, insisting that this is the artist’s true nature -- fearless, top dog, dominant – like those who line up to collect the artist’s work.

Which of your dealers do you trust to make things as interesting as you think they will get? asks the artist’s assistant, knowing full well how little the artist thinks of the dealers who represent the artist’s work, to which the artist says, Well, I could script it, with different responses based on the predictability of the questions it’ll generate. Sound’s complicated, says the artist’s assistant adding, Not really your style, is it, to be complicated? And what is that supposed to mean? asks the artist, more than a little perturbed. Well, says the artist’s assistant, when I started working here, you said anything that requires too much thinking is not worth finishing, and because that seems to have worked for you all these years, why mess with it? Because it’s time to change things up, that’s why, says the artist, slamming the door on the way out.

The artist’s scheme and how it unfolded continues to be talked about today, not only among those who asked about the price of the work, but among those to whom it had spread; all of whom – other collectors, gallerists, artists, curators and directors – have added their own tonal flourishes. But for all its variations, for all its speculations and moral judgements, one thing is agreed upon: that the artist’s attempt to make something more of this work (not just five dollars more) did nothing to make it more desirable. In fact, the opposite held true. But it gets worse, because not only did no one want the work, they wanted nothing more to do with the artist. Soon, the talk was not of the artist but of how poorly the artist’s work was selling at the auction houses – until not even the auction houses wanted it. As for public institutions that hold the artist’s work in their collections, none have shown any of it since.

Monday, February 8, 2016

A small room inside a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

The support on which my latest reading materials sit is a stack of 1970s artscanada magazines I picked up at a garage sale a couple weeks back. The quality of writing in artscanada is higher than what passes for a lot of art criticism today (better sentences, though at its worst it is equally connoisseurial), while the artscanada writer I take delight in, more than all others, is Joan Lowndes.

In her 1972 introduction to the work of Haida artist Robert Davidson (whose work debuted at Vancouver's Galerie Allen earlier that year), Lowndes describes the artist as: "… a spiritual grandson of Max Ernst, who paints monster birds in a sinister no-place lit by pale suns." Such poetry!

Funny our tendency to describe those in relation to others. Just the other day I described Kwakwaka'wakw artist Beau Dick to an Austrian art historian as "our Joseph Beuys." I did the same in an upcoming catalogue essay on Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, where I spoke of the artist's more recent painting phases in relation to modernists like Lorser Feitelson and Robert Ryman.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Claire Bishop and Joan Lowndes

Apropos of yesterday's post, Chris wrote in with Claire Bishop. Indeed, who among us has not read Bishop's 2004 October magazine critique of "Relational Aesthetics"? Bishop's latest book is Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (2012), where we are reminded more than once of Sartre's oft-quoted line about "other people."

Another critic not on's list is Joan Lowndes, who, like me, was curious enough about Vancouver to remain here, watch it grow and fester. Lowndes was a long-serving art critic at the Vancouver Sun, and through her writing gave us not only an aesthetic history of the city, but a social one as well. Thank you Reid for reminding me of Joan Lowndes.

At bottom is a 1972 piece that Lowndes contributed to the country's largest visual art publication, artscanada (what later became Canadian Art). Up top is a picture of Jytte Allen, a gallerist mentioned in Lowndes's article (thank you to arts reporter Kevin Griffin at the Vancouver Sun for posting Allen's picture and its accompanying text).


Joan Lowndes

New Galleries in Vancouver (1972)

artscanada, early autumn 1972 pg.101.

A mild form of future shock is affecting the citizens of Vancouver. Pleasant homes are suddenly knocked down and carted away in trucks, to be replaced by high rises. Boutiques and cafés open continuously in Gastown, the former Skid Road now purged and prettified by real estate interests. There is a sense of bustle. Money is available for the superfluous or for a new kind of investment, as word has got around that art, THINGS maybe, are safer than stocks.

On this cresting affluence galleries, too, have proliferated. But they know the score. The money is for established artists: prints by Picasso, Mirô, Chagall or a big glowing painting by Shadbolt. Risk capital is scarce. It is in the hands of a few professional people, like chartered accountants or architects, not business tycoons. Even the most idealistic galleries realize that to pay their rent they must sell names. Only then can they afford to support young unknowns.

This is not to denigrate the expanding scene, which makes for welcome variety, but simply to state an economic fact. The opening of the new Bau-Xi Gallery — the most important still — in premises on South Granville Street at the edge of a wealthy residential district, is a symbol of the thrust to capture the non-connoisseur. The original Bau-Xi has an atmosphere of discreet luxury with its golden wall-to-wall carpeting and white walls, but the informality generated by Paul and Xisa Wong and the Bau-Xi babies remains.

Another new gallery of extreme elegance, though small, is Elizabeth Nichol's Equinox, strategically located on busy Robson Street. It has entered the field with a determined professionalism and money for advertising. It handles the work of around 35 artists including such prestigious figures as Albers and Soto, top Canadians like Jack Bush, and a smattering of B.C. artists. So far its emphasis has been on graphics but it also shows paintings and sculpture. Its Summer Stock, featuring serigraphs by Segal, Trova and Bayer, is stunning.

The Galerie Allen, in spacious quarters in Gastown, opened two years ago but only recently achieved any prominence. Jytte Allen, who ran a gallery for eight years in Copenhagen, tried at first without success to introduce lesser known Europeans. However, through international contacts, she has since organized some handsome shows, such as that of Vasarely's silkscreens and multiples. At the same time the drop in level to her local stable can be brutal. An exception was the one-man show by Robert Davidson, a spiritual grandson of Max Ernst, who paints monster birds in a sinister no-place lit by pale suns.

Forced out of fashionable Gastown by rising rents, the Mido Gallery, directed by sculptor Werner True, and Marion Fuller, took itself to Main Street. It is located in a former warehouse for scrap metal, with high ceilings and brick walls. Trucks rumble by and a cement factory is nearly opposite. But many people come in off the street in what is another rapidly changing part of the city. The Mido's initial show was Victoria Perspectives, from which Pat Martin Bates easily emerged as the most impressive artist. Work dating back to 1962 formed a retrospective in miniature of unfailingly imaginative élan. Her latest manifestation, a wall piece in vacuum-formed plastic (Arctic Castle Circle #5), constitutes her first big scale attack on sculpture as opposed to her bibelot-like Plexiglas cubes. The Mido Gallery also intends to carry tapestries by local artists.

Pioneering in the field of photography are the Mind's Eye in Gastown and the Gallery of Photography in North Vancouver. Mind's Eye, upstairs in an old awning factory, is run by two young couples: Randy Thomas, photographer and filmmaker with his wife Kathy and photographer Art Grice with his wife Emily. They combine with the gallery a bookstore on photography and are also screening films made by Canadians on both coasts. In their loft situation they can display well over 100 photos, as they did for the one-man show by Robert Minden, an ex-sociologist now tenderly exploring people from behind the camera.

The Gallery of Photography, more modest in setting, has nevertheless shown work of quality, such as Image 3, in the series put out by the Still Photography Division of the NFB.

Perhaps one should end this ramble at what is the focal point of our loose West Coast system: the Vancouver Art Gallery. Because private galleries must exercise caution and also charge some sort of exhibition fee, there remains an uneasy feeling that many promising artists are barred. The VAG has therefore set aside two small rooms called Exploratory Space and Free Space. The former is designed 'to reflect the advancing edge of sensibility and discovery' in month-long shows screened by the Gallery. Free Space, on the other hand, is pot luck: 25 artists whose names were literally drawn out of a pot by the president of the VAG Council. They may use their space for one week only but they do get exposure. The first show was an unassuming one, mainly of photos, by Norm Silwanowicz.

artscanada, early autumn 1972 pg.101.

Text: © Joan Lowndes. All rights reserved.

The Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art
The Canadian Art Database: Canadian Writers Files