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Istvan Kantor makes art out of smashing cars

Posted by Lauren Pincente / November 26, 2012

Istvan KantorWalking into the clearing across from the abandoned WWII munitions factory at 163 Sterling Road on Saturday afternoon, it was a surprise that the Toronto police hadn't been called. A crowd of 40 stood in a semi-circle around a broken down red Pontiac as the beginnings of a faux riot commenced. Most of the audience was armed with heavy-duty cameras, but some were people who simply came to see what SMASHING, the performance art piece involving a live, hour-long car destruction, was all about.

smashing art torontoSponsored by vintage shop Smash, Saturday's performance art gala was the work of renowned Hungarian-Canadian artist Istvan Kantor, a man with silver teeth and bleach blond spiked hair who spent the event switching roles between electric guitar player and master destructor.

smashing art event torontoJoined by Estonian performance art group Non Grata, who have been growing in popularity in the New York art scene for several years now, Kantor's fête of ruin was to take place over the course of the day in two venues, beginning with the demolition of a vehicle on Sterling Road.

smashing performance art torontoThe hour-long "smash" involved performances by the characters of Non Grata, such as a young dark-haired girl in a flowing white dress, who began the afternoon by lighting the car on fire with a flaming stick.

istvan kantor torontoAnother anonymous member of Non Grata walked the grounds in a black balaclava with two small balloons attached to the head--a criminal Mickey Mouse--with a sign that read, "Smash it, baby, smash it" while a second girl in a long black lace gown casually presented observers with weapons such as sledgehammers, mallets, hammers and a pickaxe, inviting them to destroy the car.

istvan kantor torontoMiraculously, no one caught a pickaxe in the eye as the group stood for an hour, taking turns at shattering glass, stabbing rubber and, eventually, flipping the car on its hood. At one point, I overheard someone say, "This is so fucked up." It's not, really, when you take into account that it was a pre-arranged art piece. Add in a desensitized crowd, and it was almost funny.

The fucked up part came later in the night.

istvan kantor torontoAt the end of the hour, once the car had been flipped and destroyed, Silver Teeth (as Kantor could be dubbed) had dropped the electric guitar. He hopped on top of the belly-up car with his red flag, smiled and rebel yelled. Anarchists win, his gesture seemed to say, with consumerism (as embodied by the car) having been effectively smashed. The revolution had begun (for the day).

non grata art torontoThe two-part event continued three hours later at The Theatre Centre Pop-Up (1095 Queen Street West) with local performance and video artists such as Wesley Rickert and Jubal Brown playing music and mash-ups as accompaniment to violent video components that flashed on the southern wall of the venue. The same anonymous Non Grata characters from earlier had also returned to close out the night with the pièce de résistance that they have become famous for--a performance piece known as STORM GENERATION.

non grata art torontoNon Grata has performed the piece worldwide, relying on their "floating" membership which allows artists to drift in and out of the group depending on their location. The group's motive to recreate real art is realized by allowing artists to experience complete immersion in their roles through anonymity. STORM GENERATION takes that anonymity to a new level, calling for the breakdown of capitalism through a controversial cult-like initiation ceremony that involves human branding. Yes, branding.

non grata art torontoWith Kantor back on electric guitar, Non Grata's Mickey Mouse Balaclava man stood in the center of the room, shouting in heavily accented English through a megaphone, "We are the Storm Generation. Do you love the Storm Generation?" The woman in the white dress from earlier circled the room repeatedly with a blowtorch, heating up an S-shaped rod of iron, a staple of the piece. A member of the troupe was pulled from the crowd--the young girl in the black lace gown.

non grata art toronto"Oh God, are they going to brand her?" I whispered to my friend, as the blowtorch and the iron rod made its way back to the centre of the room. It's important to note that at each of Non Grata's performances of STORM GENERATION, participants are willing; occasionally, even people who are unaffiliated with the group volunteer.

I covered my eyes and could only hear the electric guitar. When I looked back up, the girl proudly smiled an unsettling smile, the symbol of Non Grata's Storm Generation on her arm.

non grata art torontoAnd with that, Non Grata had left their mark, and a strong message, on Toronto.

Photos by Christian Bobak. Top photo by Andrew Williamson.



mike in parkdale / November 26, 2012 at 08:36 am
I wonder if there's a Canada Council for the Arts Grant behind this?

and if they get one, can I have one too?
Rich / November 26, 2012 at 09:13 am
Dear Istvan;


Ford4ever / November 26, 2012 at 09:36 am
At least for part 1: Been there, done that, seen it done many times before. Would have been a more poignant smashing of consumerism if they'd destroyed everyone's digicams.

Part 2 looks a bit more interesting.
Kyle / November 26, 2012 at 09:44 am
Wasn't this an episode of the Simpsons? And wasn't it a parody of the "Art World"?
Ed / November 26, 2012 at 09:47 am
Very productive and not eco-friendly. All those parts coul dhave ben recycled and now they are scrap. Get a full time job
Moneesha / November 26, 2012 at 10:09 am
Wow! Finally, my day has come! BlogTO readers have come to understand why taxpayers (via gov't grants) should not be supporting the arts!

Sheesh! Finally, ppl have woken up.

PS-Taxpayers also supported Kantor's shtick about vials of blood in his anus. Great use of my money. Thanks, Gov't of Canada!
farts / November 26, 2012 at 10:13 am
Can they smash up the Kensington "art" car? That thing is an eyesore.
Me / November 26, 2012 at 10:51 am
If they wanted to make a atatement, they could have just crushed their stupid cellphones they're all enslaved to.
So... / November 26, 2012 at 11:03 am
Did they clean up the mess they made after?
James / November 26, 2012 at 11:24 am

Can't help but think that this was more practice than an exhibition.

James replying to a comment from mike in parkdale / November 26, 2012 at 11:33 am
The spectacle was sponsored by a store, not by government grants.
hoser poser / November 26, 2012 at 01:11 pm

Istvan is actually Karl Lagerfeld's less-succesful younger brother, who couldn't make it in Europe so has colonized the soporific and gullible Toronto "arts" scene...

"Let's destroy capitalism, but please don't destroy my designer shades...."
mobo / November 26, 2012 at 03:01 pm
B O R I N G.... Istvan Kantor has been on this anarchist tirade a little too long now (25 Yrs). pouring blood on paintings, humans pretending to have sex with computers, destroying works or art, smashing cars, etc. Looks like he really doesnt have anything more to say.
James Fowler / November 26, 2012 at 03:03 pm
This is a swindle.

Counterculture movements and manifestos focus on what they are against and it's time they get a facelift. It has traditionally been a young artist's game to say 'f*ck the man', but it takes a more insightful and less self-focused person to suggest a better way of being.

This event illustrates how anyone can make a weapon out of a tool, like a hammer or an axe, and dent up an object considered an icon of consumerism. It takes far more effort, skill and imagination to use these tools to make something beautiful. I would have liked to have seen teams of people systematically dismantle a car and make sculptures from their parts. This would have been something worthy of the SMASH brand and funding.

Many activities at this event emulate the counterculture movement from the early 80s. To cavalierly relive punk glory days and teach the same ridiculous disenchanted battle cry to echoboomers shows less concern for making a political or artistic statement and more interest in hyping up a reputation for a group of individuals. It's wasn't about "what does this act say?" It was about "How cool will I look if I organize this event?". This 'spectacle as art' and marketing as art form is classic irony likely missed by many busy documenting it.

Watch SUBURBIA (1983)to see where a lot of this stuff was ripped off from.


Rick / November 26, 2012 at 05:31 pm
This is art? For who - 25 people?
For the love of god, please dont report on garbage like this.
This crap adds absolutly nothing to the make-up of Toronto, but takes away from the real artists.

I wonder how the air smelled after this dumb bit*h allowed some meth'd out losers to brand her with some worthless design. Another pathetic display of Torontonian's with too much time on their hands.

James Fowler replying to a comment from Rick / November 26, 2012 at 06:58 pm
Dear Rick,

I have five things to say about your drive-by post:

1) What defines a 'real' artist and, by those criteria, name twelve Toronto artist who, in your opinion, are real. Then tell me what credentials you have to determine who is and is not a real artist.

2)Do you know the person who was branded? Do you know the person who branded her? Do you know she's a meth head? If you don't you shouldn't make public statements like that. It's Libel and there are laws against that in Canada.

3)Using a gender pejorative does nothing to reinforce your argument and adds nothing to the conversation. Ironic given your comment about the "event adding nothing to the make-up of Toronto."

4)There are a lot of Torontoians creating amazing arts and culture initiatives locally, nationally and internationally. Many of these people still make time to volunteer for organizations which help others. Making sweeping generalizations about 'Torontonians with too much time on their hands' is fighting words. Don't pick that fight. You will lose.

5) God has nothing to do with it.

A Real Artist replying to a comment from James Fowler / November 26, 2012 at 07:16 pm
Dear James Fowler. I notice you say nothing defending this piece of art, instead choosing to personally attack the messenger. Perhaps because it is an unoriginal and uncreative piece.

Also, calling someone a meth'd out loser is not libel, and calling it that makes you seem really dumb.


"A Real Aritist"

A Real Artist replying to a comment from James Fowler / November 26, 2012 at 07:20 pm
It's cool that Smash furniture, a store selling insanely marked up antique furniture completely out of reach of the average person, sponsored this event. Guess it's not a big deal when you can sell one $800 chair to cover the cost.
Hmmmm / November 26, 2012 at 07:32 pm
So, they're "protesting" consumerism to sell their products?
Tuli / November 26, 2012 at 10:53 pm
Beyond ThunderDome...
1to5 replying to a comment from James Fowler / November 27, 2012 at 12:21 am
Mr Fowler, did the 'real artist' comment hurt just a bit? Feeling the need to defend yourself there?

Wow, ppl smashed a car with sledgehammers. Wow, someone now has a branded S on her arm. Were the fancy finger food trays & flutes of crap bubbly passed around before or after?

C'mon, Mr Know-what-a-real-artist-&-what's-libel-gender-perjorative-sweeping-generlizations, defend 'Silver Teeth'(gag) and his 'art' (bigger gag). I dare you.

After a pathetic 'event' like that, is it any wonder to anyone why the majority of art lovers worldwide don't place Toronto on their places to visit map when thinking about art?
James Fowler replying to a comment from A Real Artist / November 27, 2012 at 09:08 am
Dear a Real artist,

Not my job to defend this art piece. I think there are ritual elements to it that are still very much used in a lot of art making, particularly in performance art. Unless I'm on someones payroll I don't have to write anything. If you read an earlier comment in this thread, I think I said a fair bit about what I think about car smashing art parties.

Some people think it's okay to do a drive by shooting in comment sections and use internet anonymity as cover and that's what my comment was about. It was addressing a behavior, not a personal attack. If you have an opinion, you better be able to put your name on it. If I want this kind of flame war I could sit back in the early 90's in IRC chat rooms where everyone has a nickname.
James Fowler replying to a comment from 1to5 / November 27, 2012 at 09:20 am

No, I feel no need to defend myself at all. I was making comment on the quality of the critique someone was offering and thought it was quite flip.

Smashing a car doesn't make it art, but neither does passing food and drink around at an opening.

Earlier in this thread you'll see I made a few comments about what I thought about the work including the dated messaging that often drives these sort of art events.
Rick replying to a comment from James Fowler / November 27, 2012 at 11:02 am
James - Get a life, you are a clown and if we ever spoke in person i'd walk away from you thinking what an asshat you are.

Let me guess - you wear thick black frames, and a douchy touque/beenie in the middle of summer, and buy obscure clothing from value village because you thinks it's cool to do so. You define the term hipster with your defence of such utter garbage this "art" is.

I'm pretty sure you were coddled as a child/teen and when you discovered an interest in "counter culture arts" you ran with it, as you found acceptance with other losers of the same ilk.

Your arguments are weak, hold absolutely no ground anywhere - to threaten someone on a message board shows what kind of loser you are. Keep trying and living the lifestyle you live, and defend this crap.

I'll most likly see you in the future when you change the oil in my car, or pump my gas, or when I roll up my window to you when you ask me for change.

Life is harsh bud, get your head straight.
Echoboomer replying to a comment from Rick / November 27, 2012 at 12:34 pm
Dude. Brilliant. Couldn't have said it better myself.
exbee replying to a comment from Rick / November 27, 2012 at 01:14 pm
Oh whatever you pedestrian bores can whine all you want but the arts are a multi billion dollar industry that brings $16 on returns for every dollar the government spends on it. That is FACT. All over the world, people spend tons of money on exactly this. Don't get it? not interested? who gives a shit, there are billions of dollars saying you don't know what the fuck you're talking about. How you feel about hipsters, finger foods, meth heads etc is of absolutely no interest to anyone who matters. Just shut up already and go back to watching Dexter or whatever it is you do.
exbee replying to a comment from Rick / November 27, 2012 at 01:23 pm
here just read this. Arts and culture generate $9 billion every year in the local economy. Every dollar Toronto invests in arts organizations attracts $17 more from private and public sources. And then, you don't get it? Well, I have a feeling you don't 'get' biotech either but there are way bigger grants being given out there, without the returns, so maybe you can lobby that next, asshole.
tony / November 27, 2012 at 01:39 pm
re: all these comments

what a bunch of lame-ass whiney haters!
Istvan Kantor / November 27, 2012 at 01:42 pm
you guys are terrific! thanks for all the great comments!!! you are absolutely right, I'm just a mastermind of criminal art that has nothing to do with your amazing creativity that brightens through your comments! Thank you for your moralist leadership and boring political correctness that represents well the authoritarian politics of this city. But you know what? we just created the background and vibe for Bobby's ousting!!! But I hope you'll make all your efforts to bring him back so he can cover your mouth with his fatass! Maybe you should apply for a travel grant for him at the CC so he can take a trip to Amsterdam and enjoy the scene of bicycles.... I love you all!!! Istvan
James Fowler / November 27, 2012 at 02:05 pm
Take it easy, Rick.

I didn't much care for the work above either and I said as much before your drive-by comments. Did you read the part where I said:

"To cavalierly relive punk glory days and teach the same ridiculous disenchanted battle cry to echoboomers shows less concern for making a political or artistic statement and more interest in hyping up a reputation for a group of individuals."

Your assumptions about me are wrong. You don't know me.

Rick replying to a comment from exbee / November 27, 2012 at 02:09 pm
Take it easy there Occupy Toronto.

I never said arts and culture were bad for anything or anyone. My disgust stems from the brain dead "artist(s)" in this post that call destroying a car and branding a delusional chick in some weird counter-culture, hippie/voodoo, cult-like way.

Before you claim big economic revenue numbers derived from the arts - I would like to see which kind or arts bring in the real dough your claims are based on - Are you talking about the art that ends up in the AGO, or Toronto's Movie/film industry, ballet/theater production, money generated from music artists big and small touring through Toronto or even government funded culture initiatives???

You cannot compare some trashy, classless, neo-whatever, “performance” in the same league as the aforementioned other forms of art which bring home the bacon to the numbers you speak about.

Sigh. Another misguided under 30 year old, who is a lost soul in a world of realists. Perhaps you should be branded on your hands or face to always remind you of your devotion to this type of crap.

Bjork / November 27, 2012 at 02:40 pm
I like tractor trailer pulling competitions and cotton candy.
RickforMayor replying to a comment from James Fowler / November 27, 2012 at 04:50 pm
Whoops! Judging by the lame YT video on your website where u cavelierly jiggle around a little while wearing 80's glory days hipster thick black glasses, while hyping Value Village toques & pretend to contemplate painting squares with a ricochetboomer Robyn song in the background, I think Rick's assumptions are pretty spot on. If he were wrong, you wouldn't feel the need to keep coming back on here to defend yourself.
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from Moneesha / November 29, 2012 at 02:34 pm
Excuse me, but weren't you the one ranting about corporate commercialism with your criticism of the Santa Claus parade? Why now are you against this because it might have a Canada Arts Council grant?
Hooch / November 29, 2012 at 03:07 pm
I like Istvan's leather coat.
exbee replying to a comment from Rick / December 8, 2012 at 07:57 pm
actually i can totally compare istvan's performance, to the sort of art that ends up at the AGO. For one, artists are not delivered to the AGO by a stork, its an economy that grows artists who become internationally recognized, and why doing so, STILL brings 17 times the money to the city for each dollar spent. Yes, even performances you might want to deem as shitty. Istvan Kantor, in 2004, won the government general's award, which means that somewhere, a group of people with much more power, education and influence than you, had the exact opposite opinion from you. I'm sure you're used to that by now though.
Rick replying to a comment from exbee / January 3, 2013 at 02:10 pm
You have no idea what you are blabbing about.

Too much time in mamma's basement, the douchery is strong in this one.

Since it is winter, do you not wear a douchy touque which you reserve for a hot summer day? Let me guess, it's douchy scarf season?

Whom ever you are I can gaurentee you that I have much more education and influenece than you. Your world is in my hands.

Your welfare/art grant is in the mail.
Kantor / February 27, 2013 at 11:02 pm
Wow, you are fucking nuts my namesake, you need to see a doctor about this, there are pills for this.
toby wong / February 28, 2013 at 12:25 am
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