Thursday, December 23, 2010

Prairie Artsters: Year End Distillations*

As the top-10 lists start piling in on the best albums, films, books, etc of the year, I too have been compiling my own top-10 art-related residues of the year. Boiling them down to moments rather than any specific shows, here is what I will remember as an art critic from 2010:

• The opening weekend of the new AGA. There was excitement in the air, no matter what you thought of the new building. Everyone on the dance floor was from Calgary, and at the end of the night I found myself sitting with David Janzen and Peter von Tiesenhausen, two established Alberta-based artists I respect. At one point, we all looked up from the belly of the building, and I suddenly felt a wave of wariness over the future of homegrown artists in this space, and I wonder if there had been a collective sigh in that moment.

• My first Winnipeg studio visit was with Aganetha Dyck, possibly the nicest and loveliest human being in all of Central Canada.

• Snide attitudes in artist-run centres. Lots of examples to choose from, but the last time I was at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver, I asked the front-desk attendant which artist was responsible for a particular work. He told me it was "so-and-so," and that it was "all pretty clear" if I look to the panel I had been pacing back and forth from for over 20 minutes. Then the only other person in the gallery piped up and said, "Sorry to interrupt, but actually, that work is mine. I'm some-other-name." And while we all shyly smiled and went our separate ways, I realized that this was not such an uncommon experience in artist-run culture and totally acceptable behavior. Strange.

Image credit: Josh Holinaty and Luke Ramsey
• Driving with a friend westbound on 100 Avenue, crossing 105 Street, we both exclaimed at the same time, "Did you see that?" The giant illustrated mural by Josh Holinaty and Luke Ramsey on the East side of the John Howard Society building was a new public art project that, frankly, didn't suck. Hopefully it's just the beginning for Edmonton's Public Art Council, which has a mighty task ahead of it to change one's expectations.

• My first visit to The Mendel in Saskatoon. For years all I heard was "The Mendel's the best! It's what a public art gallery should be." I didn't fully realize what that meant until I got there, and realized that it was a beautiful little building with an adjoining planetarium nestled along the riverbank and that it was free all the time, and therefore accessible and welcoming to everyone. Seeing a congregation of individuals and families from all sorts of backgrounds, I was surprised by my own surprise at this observation, realizing then that intimidation and exclusivity are so deeply rooted in art institutions that in lieu of such behavior I was confused as to where I actually was.

• And the number one art memory of this year: getting to hear Lucy R Lippard speak about her relationship as a critic and curator to artist Eva Hesse. The entire talk was invigorating, but what lingers still is knowing that, with time, writing does not get easier, but that language itself will expand and contract to distill thoughts and instincts into coherent expressions. That night, I heard phrases of thought that up until then were words I would never have put together on ideas that I barely had a grasp on. It was an important moment for myself personally to hear the possibility for such clarity of thought through language spoken from the mouth of someone who has been doing what I want and try to do for over 40 years.

*First published in Vue Weekly

1 comment:

Daver said...

Right on, Amy!
Aganetha Dyck is a wonderful person, an excellent, fascinating artist and she is....the bee's knees.