Even if you don’t go to the swanky preview party at the Art Gallery of Ontario, even if you don’t make it down to Metro Convention Centre at all, you will feel Art Toronto in the city this weekend. The biggest art fair in the country, it will accommodate some 100 galleries and 20,000 attendees (watch them stream in over land, air, and water!) and prove, as always, a crucial moment in the yearly calendar of artists, their handlers, and the patrons who feed, clothe, and make stars of both. Knowing the city will be crawling with art enthusiasts before, during, and after the main event, galleries typically trot out their best in the days and weeks around it. It’s a good time to be in Toronto.
Being a resident of this city and therefore obsessed with diversity, I will dedicate this Art Toronto article to three very different — and very worldly — shows. First, representing Canada: Katie Pretti, “Swoon,” at Neubacher Shor Contemporary. I was first introduced to Pretti’s work about three years ago when a local Bonham’s auctioneer described it to me as a “sound investment.” Based in Toronto, where she completed her art school studies in 2004, Pretti is an abstract artist in the most explosive, exuberant sense; the fourteen new canvasses in this show, variations on a theme (palette: pink, blue, black, white; size: four-by-four feet; materials: acrylic, oil stick, pastel, graphite), each revolve around a central point — a hub of dark, chaotic activity, like an electrified cloud, from which the rest springs. I feel like I’m looking into a nightmare, or a struggle, or a witness’s rendering of either one.
Dominic Nahr, Untitled, From Fracture, Chromogenic Print, 2012, 32 x 48 inches / Print Edition: 2, 16 x 24 inches/ Print Edition: 5, Sudan, Nuba Mountains, 2012. An SPLA North soldier walks into caves along the frontline with SAF positions to take cover from bombers.; Courtesy of the artist.
Dominic Nahr’s “Fracture, South Sudan’s Independence” at O’Born Contemporary (also on view at Art Toronto, booth #1306), is exactly these things, but more ordered: images of the new nation of South Sudan shot with the compositional rigour of neoclassical painting. Nahr — raised in Hong Kong, educated in Toronto, based in Nairobi — is a twenty-nine-year-old member of Magnum, the world’s premier photojournalism agency and a notoriously tough nut to crack. This makes Nahr a Wunderkind. The last time I spoke to him he was in Mombasa, Kenya, covering riots that followed the killing of a Muslim cleric there in August. From such turmoil he habitually produces work that is visually beautiful if contextually awful — big, colourful documents of violence that don’t seem out of place on an art gallery wall, though I still find the juxtaposition a curious and uncomfortable one.
Geoffery Pugen, Rainbow Falls, 2012; Courtesy of the artist.
By comparison, the exhibition at Narwhal is strikingly art-like, and concerned with a world closer to home — or, rather, two worlds: our real American/Canadian one, and the digital one. A group show featuring Bea Fremderman and Josh Reames of Chicago and Geoffrey Pugen and Tibi Tibi Neuspiel of Toronto, “A Cast of Something Else” assembles photography, painting, sculpture, and animation to explore these realities and how they interact. This is a great and important idea, but whether these are the works that best address it I’m not sure — some, Fremderman’s beautiful Kafka Office, for example, seem more relevant to the theme than others. But maybe any excuse to bring them together will do for the moment. The thinking during Art Toronto — and any art fair, really — seems to be, if it looks good, if it looks new, if it looks saleable: get it up. The city wants art, and Narwhal would hardly be one deny it.
(Image on top: Katie Pretti, 4th Pathway 5, 2012, Acrylic, oil stick, oil pastel, graphite on canvas, 48 x 48; Courtesy of the artist and Neubacher Shor Contemporary.)