Art exhibitions Toronto

Art Agenda: Robert Mapplethorpe at Olga Korper, Kristen Smith at Gallerywest, Joe Hambleton at Pari Nadimi and Shaheer Zazai at 2 of 2

This week's Art Agenda features two takes on two different things. Actually, it's not really that tidy. But I do review two shows that deal with war and history in drastically different ways and two that deal with flora in unique ways.

  • Afghanistan: Da Mo De Baba Watan" by Shaheer Zazai Gallery 2 of 2

  • "New Frontier" by Joe Hambleton at Pari Nadimi Gallery

  • "Unearthed" by Kristen Smith at Gallerywest

  • "Black & White & Beautiful" by Robert Mapplethorpe at the Olga Korper Gallery

Shaheer Zazai at Gallery 2 of 2 from November - December 22.

Shaherr Zazai

Abstract art has often been criticized for not containing any "content." Although that's a fairly dubious criticism in itself, there are some predominately abstract painters who use its language as a potent expression of the emotional content of a historically themed work. Ojibwa artist Robert Houle is probably Canada's most famous example. In his show at 2 of 2 Gallery, painter Shaheer Zazai also uses abstraction to deal with historical themes.

His large abstract triptychs are juxtaposed with a set of figurative paintings that ground them in the time and place of contemporary Afghanistan. Although the pieces resemble classic all-over paintings like those of Jackson Pollock, they are heavily coded and socially symbolic rather than signs from the unconscious. In stark red and black, they are composed of a successful array of kinetic swirls and drips to create a surface that glows in the light.

Joe Hambleton at Pari Nadimi from November 25 - December 22

Joe Hambleton

The back half of the same building is the Pari Nadimi Galley which houses the third solo exhibit by Joe Hambleton. Projected on the walls are stop motion animations of toy soldiers in battle scenes while suspended from the ceiling are wooden fighter jets. Tying the works together is a video arcade machine sitting solitary in the back room and covered by modeler's moss. Together, the two shows provide an interesting set of contrasts on the experience of conflict and how it's filtered through society in radically different ways.

Kristen Smith at Gallerywest from December 1 - 29.

Kristen Smith

Nestled in Parkdale, the relatively new Gallerywest has a solo show by Saskatchewan artist Kristen Smith. Her works are made up of relatively large black and white images of vegetal roots. These are played out over a grid of separate sheets of paper which are then carefully pinned together. Under subtle lighting, the images themselves possess an alien quality, resembling sketches of crypto-zoological creatures almost as much as rhizomes. They're delicate images, both in terms of her renderings and the Kozogami paper itself, which glimmers and will alter in colour and texture as the time of the show passes. These combined qualities also suggests references to certain schools of Japanese calligraphy and the aesthetic tradition of Wabi-sabi.

Robert Mapplethorpe at Olga Korper from November 20 - January 15, 2011.

Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe is mostly famous for being infamous. Even nearly twenty years after his death, that hasn't really changed. During the American culture wars of the 1980s his work, with its graphic depictions of the gay BDSM scene and substantial male genitalia, provided a lightening rod for debates about arts funding.

Nothing that controversial is on display at the Olga Korper Gallery. Instead, you get what most of his body of work really consisted of: clean, sharp 'fine art' black and white photos of flowers, the occasional nude and some celebrities (Warhol, Grace Jones, Patti Smith). It's really nothing that would look that out of place in a fashion mag or "Vanity Fair." It's not that generic, of course. There is something very specific about the silvery hues he creates and how he uses them to accentuate volume. Unlike the raw and frail quality which Smith gave her still life pieces, Mapplethorpe imbues all of his with a hardline glamour and coolness.

Also this week:

There's more of Toronto artist's bewildering obsessions with mutant wildlife art at the LE Gallery with Amanda Nedham's ongoing show. This Friday will see the opening of Narawhal Art Projects' annual Christmas show. Friday will also see the University of Toronto's annual art show "The Eyeball" at 1 Spadina Crescent from 6:00 - 10:00 PM and, though it's not in a gallery, you can catch legendary artist collective CCMC (Michael Snow, John Oswald and Paul Dutton) performing at the Tranzac at 9:30 PM.

Joe Hambleton photo courtesy of the artist. Mapplethorpe photos courtesy of Olga Korper Gallery.

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