The overlap between artist and curator has a long history in Toronto – perhaps because of a lack of regional support, a need for more established art institutions, schools, and non-profits that hold curatorial positions, or the subsequent absence of a collector base for young artists – and this can sometimes sometimes prove problematic. A current exhibition by Micah Lexier, One, and Two, and More Than One, at The Power Plant comes the closest to what I have seen as striking a working balance between the two positions.
The plurality cited in the title refers to the method in which the three-exhibitions-in-one are constructed – work by Lexier himself, a series of collaborative pieces with poets and other artists, and a curated “group show” of nearly 200 works by 101 Toronto artists. The exhibition tries to do a lot, and all at once.
While the regionalism can be somewhat suffocating, the massive room of vitrines that makes up More Than Two (Let It Make Itself) posits an interesting slant on curatorial projects – essentially a portrait of curatorial efforts toward homogeneity. Featuring small, either monochrome works or de-saturated palettes, the premise seems to be toward a certain aesthetic: that of the designed object, the prototype, the working drawing – in a word, preparatory. Within such small parameters, Lexier displays not only his own aesthetic, but also the persistent sense of imposition, and what it takes to make meaning around a certain framework with regard to other artists’ work. Far from “making itself,” as the title suggests, the artist rather literally encases the scope of production from a sample group – a diagrammatic approach that quite nicely balances with museological modes of display, or natural history dioramas.
But what happens when we are told too much? Directly outside this gallery is Self Portrait as a Wall Text, a floor-to-ceiling corridor installation that faces the large south windows picturing the lake. The text explains itself, as if a third person narrative of the work was referring to its own content – a constant that remains throughout the exhibition. While the scale is certainly impressive, calling to mind Kay Rosen’s wall paintings, or Lawrence Weiner’s witty and deadpan text installations, Lexier lacks the play with language and form that pieces like these have. As a viewer, the sense of being instructed is overwhelming.
Such is also the case in Working as a Drawing, held in the gallery to the left, a display of over 450 drawings and sketches from Lexier’s notebooks and journals from the last thirty-two years. Grouped like windowpanes on the wall to occupy the entire space, the white frames add a similar feel of standardized content that permeates the other galleries, reducing the idiosyncratic gestures and improvisational marks to something more ubiquitous, calm, and measured. As a whole, the exhibition tries to do too much, with far too many voices, though Lexier attempts to flatten the disparities through the aesthetics of display.
Despite this discrepancy, the north galleries hold two very successful pieces: one a large-scale vinyl wall installation entitled Two Equal Texts, where two identical lengths of text occupy their respective halves of the wall, the text itself explaining that one was written out by Lexier as is, and the other deliberately rearranged by poet Christian Bök, so that every letter of the original sentence is used. The anagram itself is not so compelling, but the didactic content in this case, in contrast to the overwhelming directness in the first floor galleries, serves to illustrate a back and forth between similarity and difference that would otherwise be missed in the subtlety of the white text on a light grey wall. Directly across from this piece is I am the Coin, a wall that holds twenty thousand custom minted coins, arranged so that the wall glimmers like chain mail – a solid silver scrim on the surface, that changes and glistens with movement. The text reads like an elaborate word search; like Self Portrait as a Wall Text, it hints at an expected preoccupation with language, but just misses by being too overt.
Overall, the disguised conceptualism relies too much on the forced notion of chance – the institutional critique, tired and tried. Though the impression for interpretation exists, it is possible that we are instead being dealt identical sides of the coin.
(Image on top: Micah Lexier, Installation view of I am the Coin and Two Equal Texts; Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid.)