Tag Archives: review


Brigitte Coulombe is an artist in Northern Ontario, Canada. Her work in this show are semi-abstracted minimalistic interpretations of Lake Nipissing. Floating free on the wall, they are unframed.

This show was held in the La Galerie Du Nouvel-Ontario in Sudbury during November, and while there I had an opportunity for a look.  These pieces are quite stripped back in terms of content, so one is forced to imagine a great deal.  They are “semi”-abstract as the artist herself sees the lines across her work as an explicit interpretation of the horizon, but at the same time, the absence of a point of reference, does leave one floating free, like the work hanging on the wall.

I quite like these works, partly because they are large and so have a real presence, but also for her stripped back use of colour, and her effort to achieve this lack of place association, despite the works being of a specific place.  People who have experienced snow on a frozen lake, and the impression of the horizon, will grasp these paintings quickly.

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Cases is an iPod video installation recently showcased in Toronto, bringing 10 artists together to explore the theme of contemporary society’s obsession with health.

The visitor is confronted with a room with iPods, mounted at head height, streaming a video, and a headset for the sound.

The artists and their works:

  • Janet Bellotto, A Collection of See and See
  • Paula Braswell, Pills
  • Jean Bridge, Disposible Membrane
  • Laura Cunningham and Elaine Whittaker, Teratoma
  • Lynne Heller, Pillflower World
  • Joan Kaufman, Paraplegia
  • Margie Kelk, Zen Calligraphy
  • Ram Smocha, Hairy Up
  • Jane Martin, Museum Mexico: cakes and over-the-counter body parts in various shades of pink.

Without singling out any one, they were thoughtful and provocative, particularly because of my own interest in health.

I look forward to viewing them again, perhaps on the web, somewhere. Cases is very good and needs a congenial home.

Cases was on show at the Red Head Gallery in Toronto, during October 2009.

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Tu m’: me pense que…

Tu m’” by Marcel Duchamp is a good example of how this artist played with our sensibilities.  Karl Gerstner, in his Puzzle Upon Puzzle, which examines Tu m’ in exquisite

detail is an example of an analytical critique that may just miss the point.

I read this book through with great interest, as the author constructs page by page, the Tu m’ layer by layer.

However, from an artist who disdained art itself, we find a game being played with the viewer.  My guess is that this painting is, partly as Gerstner suggests, about perception.  But the real analysis must be done in 3D — we actually should think of this like a blueprint for an object.  The clue I think actually lies in the bolt in the middle.  If you get this misoriented in space, all is wrong.  It is not flat to the painting plan as G. suggests.  Indeed, if the painting is perspective-neutral, then no one fixed point of reference is available to the viewer.  Excitingly, of course, this is the point that relativity makes about the relativity of frames of reference.

The painting was designed for a specific location on a wall, hence its size, and that suggests it may have been intended to be a projection into the room space itself.  That there are shadows from outside the frame of the painting hint that they are ‘in’ the room.  A projecting 3D object would naturally interact with objects in the room in this way.

Or perhaps it is an anamorph of sorts (Craig Adcock has commented on this)?  Keeping in mind the period of the painting (1918) and the scientific zeitgeist of the period, this may be seen as a play on the same scientific roots of cubism, that is, of course, relativity theory.

Whether the title itself is solipsistic, or self-referential, usually adding a verb so the title to become “you bore me” or something else, is another matter, unless the ‘you’ is art, and the painting is the anti-painting made form.  But there are many ways of forming a sentence in French in ways that use this partial construction.  Perhaps the verb is more about the passing of a form of perception than an attitude itself.  For the period, too, the personal use of ‘tu’ suggests intimacy with the perceptions involved, so they must be ‘mine’ in some form.  It could also be “tu m’appelles”, avoiding the cynicism and embracing the possibility that this is less a rejection than a hinge-point for Duchamp. The ultimate label.  Or perhaps ‘tu’ is the patron of the work, and Duchamp is saying that she “gets it”.

As Fermat might say, the rest is left for the reader to work out.

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Russian unorthodox: Malevich

Malevich is almost rediscovered! His book,”Non-objective World” paints a surprising contemporary vision of art.  I like the idea of prescribing a dose of Cubism to died in the wool Cezannista.  I discovered a book by Noah Charney, “The Art Thief” which features Malevich in counterfeit form.  Having worked on the problem of counterfeit drugs, the parallels with art are thought-provoking.  But perhaps Frey might say there are no fakes, only poor copies.

Malevich reflects a mode of thinking popular at the time (like Picasso’s Cubism emering out of relativity theory), with a new way of looking at the world.  Bertrand Russel’s Principles of Mathematics led with a logical underpinning of mathematics, picked up by others such as Frege and we find ourselves here today.

Malevich to me seems to be anticipating modern physics of superstrings, branes and Neil Turok’s Endless Universe.  There is much to learn about the unreality of the world and the importance of artists in helping us visualise this.

Rothko @ Tate Modern

The Rothko exhibit is a bit of a disappointment.  Perhaps too many pieces, so people trying to figure out which painting will give them the spiritual experience they’re supposed to have.

I found the forensic part of the exhibit unpleasant, and to some extent unhelpful.  My reaction is almost, “so what”.  One painting was hung so you could walk around it and see the back.  Maybe some people found that useful, I thought Rothko would have probably puked.

The works on paper, though, were wonderful and displayed with sympathy.  They provoke, as did the small sketches Rothko did for other paintings.

Overall, as someone who keeps asking, “what was Rothko thinking”, when I look at his work, I left thinking, “what was the Tate thinking?…”

Art & Economics: Bruno Frey

Bruno Frey writes about the economics of art.  His work is provocative and challenges many assumptions about how the art world operates.  I quite like his observation of the challenge facing gallery owners who, striving to make a living, only represent artists who are likely to sell, while at the same time, wanting to bring new artists to the public.


I’m now subscribing to Turps Banana, a London-based art magazine published by artists.  They held a fund-raising event to ensure the financial security of the magazine and provide editorial freedom from advertising.

My hope is that the magazine’s writing will be accessible rather than the art-babble that so often is found in magazines; almost rivals the nonsense in classical music programmes for vacuous commentary.

The world does need more and better magazines on art, that increase public access to art, especially in cultures that do not generally buy original art, feel it is inaffordable, or that they would be ‘posh’ to hang original art on their walls.

If Turps were an art gallery, now what would it look like?

Today is also my late parents wedding anniversary; they never really got to see what happened to me.  I wonder if they’re eavesdropping now?

Abts, Hodgkin, Rothko, Twombly, Newman & Chou En-Lai

Today I’m thinking about the work of Tomma Abts and her highly geometric abstractions.  Her colours are delightfully muted.  I am thinking about whether I like the machine-like perfection (despite her saying these works take a long time and betray their provenance).  I do like the layering, of past incarnations being replaced and the lines showing through — I do this and feel it adds to the history of the creative process. I also respect her for working with a fixed canvas size — I was chided once for using the same size and similar marks (or lack thereof) and wondered why that was a problem.  I don’t get criticism about the ’sameness’ of my handwriting which is quintessentially mine, too.

I am also thinking about Howard Hodgkin, whose work is tremendously provocative and elegantly cavalier in form.  His bold designs and titles are thoughtful.  I like this, and feel that titles are appropriate to a work of art, more ‘user friendly’ than ‘untitled number 342′, which feels like you’re eavesdropping on a private experience.  Why many artists avoid titles seems petty — certainly we’d feel quite differently about Shakespeare if ‘Romeo and Juliet’ were simply ‘untitled number 24′.

I still find Rothko interesting and thoughtful.  I’ve read his words, and what others have written about him and looked at his work up close and personal as he would like as well as from afar.  Was he really so mythic?  He did choose rectangular shapes, vaguely outlined albeit so background and foreground are ambiguous (is the foreground the bit in the middle?).  What was Rothko thinking?  That is the question for me.

Finally, today’s ‘thinking about’ brings me to Cy Twombly (a variant on my own last name, I wonder…).  This former cryptographer’s fascination with codes is evident, and the playful nature of the works are refreshing.  Is Twombly the last abstract expressionist, or is there hope for those who think this approach has more to say?

Granted, the art community does view things in a rather primitive linear manner (post-modernism and post-post, and post-post-post notwithstanding), that with art you can’t really go back — Cubism has no more to say despite having its genesis in Einstein and relativity theory, something we’re still learning to understand — so can we really say that the last ‘art word’ has been said on cubism?  I think not.

I’m still trying to make sense of Newman’s Onement.

As Chou En-Lai said when asked what he thought the historical significance of the French revolution was: “Too soon to tell”.  Perhaps the problem with art is that the attention span of the art thought leaders is too short — perhaps on the same order of length as the folks who look for the next big thing in music.  It is the sustainability of the message that is probably important than the novelty. (So much for YBA…)