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Zsa Zsa Gallery 1998-2005


It's been a while since I posted ... been a busy summer and such. And my art grumpiness has reached the level of 'why bother?' and so I've avoided a lot of shows in favour of reading biographies of Goethe. But on Friday night, I went out to the opening at Zsa Zsa, since it was the last show there ever.

After seven years, Andrew Harwood is giving up his gallery and moving out of the back. Zsa Zsa has been both a home and a business, but the business side never dominated his commitment to giving people an opportunity to show. In the past, he's advertised the gallery as showing 'the best and the worst of Toronto' which brought a laugh out of me, since my show there in February of 2003 followed what I thought was something abysmal. As a rental gallery, Zsa Zsa was one of those open venues by which people could seek immediate reaction and criticism from an audience - and if anything sold, Andrew didn't take a cut.

Harwood took over the space from Myfanwy Ashmore, Shannon Cochrane, and Keith Manship who pre-Zsa Zsa called the space the In/Attendant Gallery. Now, with Harwood's departure, Paul Petro is taking over the space and so-far is planning on using it to exhibit some of his multiple collection.

For the final month, Andrew put together a couple of shows, the first of which opened on August 5th, and was dedicated to the theme of pot. I was away for that one but I heard it was quite a party, with 300+ people showing up. The second show opened last Friday night, dedicated to magic, or as Harwood wrote in his PR: '[it] is a simple show that celebrates the sweet magic of being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time with the right people. This show lauds those folks and that place. Sweetness, magic and light'. Featuring Christina Zeidler, R.M. Vaughan, Will Munro, Maryanne Barkhouse, Fastwürms, Allyson Mitchell, Michael Belmore and Andrew Harwood, Bedknobs & Broomsticks is a nice little show which seemed to open on the right day - with that days thunderstorms reeking havoc across the city, the magic and withcraftery fit right in.

Now, there's something going on in this city with regard to knitted wool. And in the way that strands of wool can come together to form a blanket or a sweater via a network, there is a network of relationships operating on those two blocks and expressing itself in the material of which sweaters are made of.

Andrew is one of Paul Petro's artists, as are Will Munro, Allyson Mitchell, and Fastwurms. So it makes since that these artists are in this final show, as much as it does that it is Petro who is taking over the space. In as much as the artist community of Toronto is fractal - that is, divided up into ever smaller communities until only power couples and those with an overdose of self-esteem are left - the community in which Harwood finds himself is one that has been actively working out an 'afghan aesthetic' over the past couple of years. Allyson Mitchell and Will Munro have both used appropriated afghan blankets in their recent work, and while Cecilia Berkovic is not one of Petro's artists, she has brought this to her work with Instant Coffee and especially to the room she designed for the Gladstone Hotel (viewable here).

Allyson Mitchell's piece in this show is one of her collaged images based on shag carpeting, in this case that of a sasquatch terrorizing something. My conversation with her that night got into my recent trip to my hometown in Nova Scotia. I was telling her about how one of my friends there had a stuffed bear head on his wall, and from there we talked about taxidermy, as her piece uses taxidermy glass eyes and a bear nose.

Will Munro has a wonderful piece which I really liked, consisting of four axes tied together with loops of coloured yarn, using a 70s colour scheme of orange and brown. While axes are supposed to be dangerous objects, their shiny newness and their interaction with the yarn make this piece seem pleasurable and safe. This wool based aesthetic I find really comforting in a way, and given that it's presence in this show follows the show dedicated to pot, I'm reminded of what someone once told me about what it feels like to be high - 'you know when you're a kid and you get up early on a Sunday morning, and it's chilly, and you come downstairs and wrap yourself in an nice blanket, and how cozy that is? That's what it feels like to be high'. Yes, comfort and coziness are as associated in my mind with afghan blankets as they were in my stoner friend's, and thus I welcome this development in the Toronto scene, and it's reflection in this last show at a gallery which helped foster it's development through friendships.

But not all the pieces reflect the afghan school. The space is dominated by Maryanne Barkhouse's piece, which many people thought was a dance floor, and asked if they could step on it. Consisting of a grid of images within a metal frame, and standing up about 6 inches from the floor, the images tell a beaver's story.

RM Vaughan's video continues in his theme (present at least in his video works) of self-disappointment. This time, he's speaking of his belief that 40 year old gay men do not have mid-life crisis's - rather, they go on tourist vacations, to tourist landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or the Pyramids. Richard is best known as a writer, and as such his monologue, playing through the headphones attached to the monitor, is worth listening to - which I write since so often I at least would rather not put headphones on to watch a video.

The window is dominated by the work of the Fastwürms - mushrooms and fake cakes, it is one of the most 'magical' pieces of all. The Wurms (which I'm supposed to write FASTWÜRMS -all caps with an umlaut) work consists of what they have called at various times 'witch drag' and so this piece and some of the others in the show fit in with this stream of work. While I don't share the FASTWÜRMS' love of witchcraft and magic, I do appreciate there work an awful lot, since they're an example that something finely made and considered is always more interesting than some kind of crap that tries to get away with the heroics of 'I can do that with my eyes closed' sloppiness which artists glorify with the term 'loose'. While virtuosity has its place, so does craftsmanship, and Fastwürms' finely made things are force me to pay attention to take what they're doing seriously.

Anyway, this last ever show closes to walk-ins on the 28th, but can be still seen by appointment until the 30th (which would require a phone call to 416-537-3814).

Bedknobs & Broomsticks
Until August 30th at
Zsa Zsa Gallery
962 Queen Street West


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