Histories of Art
Histories of Art, is an exhibition of work by four of the gallery’s artists: Shannon Bool, Chris Curreri, Mark Lewis and Elizabeth Zvonar.
Each of these artists shares an impulse to directly implicate art history in the process of addressing the contemporary. Through collage, film, photography, sculpture and textile, they review, dissect and reshuffle specific antiquated sculptures and paintings, presenting well-known historical works of art as deeply vulnerable.
Bool’s MEC V (2015) extends her interest in ornamentation and handwork and its place in the contemporary. This work is part of the artist’s ongoing Madonna Extraction series. The starting point for this work is Bool’s interest in early attempts at perspectival representation by Northern artists during the Renaissance. Italian artists are well-known for their accurate representation of perspective, while Flemish and German artists are known for their ability to meticulously depict materials and decorations. Using Photoshop, Bool juxtaposes two renderings of the same oriental carpet in paintings of the Madonna and Child by Jan van Eyck and Petrus Christus. In order to draw the viewer’s attention to the oriental carpets, Bool removes the mother and child from the images. Rather than replacing the absent figures, Bool marks the absent bodies by what is now, in our contemporary digital culture, a checkered Photoshop transparency grid. Fabricated in conjunction with Anatolian weavers, the carpet speaks to handmade craftsmanship, contemporary digital applications and rigorous analysis. For many artists who work digitally, applications (such as Photoshop) function as studio spaces; places for experimentation, observation and where revisions and amendments become possible. Fragmenting these Renaissance paintings and rendering them as they exist in an editing application redirects our focus from the finished to the unresolved. Furthermore, Bool offers audiences a sharper lens from which to approach these classical works.
Curreri’s new body of work brings the museum’s conservation space into the public realm. These new photographs present Old Master sculptures in unsettling circumstances, ones that are typically kept out of the museum audience’s view. In the spring of 2014, Curreri was taken on a tour of the conservation department at the Art Gallery of Ontario, where he first encountered the Saint Sebastian ivory carved by Jacobus Agnesius. Found lying on its side in a plastic cart, its body rests on cushions of foam and fabric heightening the object’s vulnerability, more so than its polished and highly determined position in a gallery space. The object captured horizontally and in a place of non-display, appears to be in pain or ecstasy. Curreri sees the conservation room as a restorative space, much like the operating room of a hospital; within this context, the grey plastic cart is transformed into a gurney. Curreri continues to work from the Art Gallery of Ontario’s permanent collection, photographing works—such as the Bernini Corpus – while they were being prepared for display.
Zvonar’s work, History of Art (2009), is a series of porcelain sculptures and hand cut collages based on images of H. W. Jansen’s ubiquitous textbook of the same name. The sculptures are made from slip cast replicas of an index finger, focusing the viewer’s attention to the power of the index finger throughout the history of art. The pointing of the index finger was used as a visual code, often indicating the presence of something unseen in a painting, or to direct audiences’ attention to God. Based on iconic paintings, Zvonar has arranged groupings of cast index fingers into abstract compositions referencing famous pieces such as Raft of the Medusa, or The Dance. The fingers in Zvonar’s sculptures are ornamentalized by the use of glazed porcelain, accented by gold, silver, and opalescence – bringing the work into a feminine decorative space, juxtaposing art historical references that were created by male artists. Of note, is how the grandeur and weight of these iconic works of art is also transferred into delicate bodily compositions cast from the artist’s own hand. In this way, one could observe the humanization of these art historical icons.
Lewis’s recent film, Boy with a Spinning Top (Auguste Gabriel Godfroy) (2014), deepens the artist’s commitment to the history of moving images and optical analysis. Produced during a period of research at the Louvre (Paris), Lewis turns his lens toward paintings and sculptures from within the museum’s collection; specifically artworks that capture an impulse to document movement. By slowly and intimately scanning Chardin’s painting Boy with a Spinning Top, Lewis draws the viewer’s attention to cinematic insight that predates cinematographic technologies. Here, one recognizes that as early as the 18th century, artists were sensitive toward reconciling the distance between motion and representation. Lewis proposes that the origin of film lies not in the advancement of technology, but in the eye of the observer.
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