Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, Two Planets: Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass and the Thai Villagers, 2008,
digital pigment print, Tyler Rollins Fine Art, New York


The Toronto International Art Fair is bigger and better than ever, having eclipsed Art Chicago (which was canceled earlier this year) as Merchandise Mart’s only North American art fair north of the border and not on the coasts. (In case you’re wondering, Merchandise Mart, which also runs The Armory Show, Volta Basel and NY, and Art Platform Los Angeles, was itself recently bought and renamed by Swiss media conglomerate, Informa Plc.)

With over a hundred exhibitors from 23 continents, more than 20,000 visitors expected to attend, and projected sales in excess of $20 million, Art Toronto 2012 set itself apart this year with a rich program of panel discussions and curator’s tours co-developed with the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), the Power Plant, and the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art (MoCCA), a diverse selection of artists and galleries highlighted within the Focus ASIA area and exhibition, the AGO’s ongoing and very visible acquisition program, a capsule exhibition of the RBC Canadian Painting Competition finalists for 2012, and a focus on the fresh perspectives offered by newer galleries in the Next section.

Focus ASIA, Beyond Geography exhibition view with Tromarama’s Ons Aller Belang in the foreground and Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Untitled 2008–2011 (the map of the land of the feeling) I, II, III in the background

A tour given by Focus ASIA co-curator Katherine Don was impressive in its scope. The feature exhibition, titled Beyond Geography, framed contemporary Asian art as a politically and socially engaged, cross-disciplinary, and multifarious state of affairs unconstrained by territorial or national borders even as issues of identity continue to be interrogated. The result was a strong yet nuanced and diverse selection of work by artists hailing from Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and beyond, practicing anywhere from Shanghai, to New York, to our own backyard in Toronto. Visits to some of the galleries within the section yielded an even wider selection of media and artistic approaches, balanced between more and less identity-driven practices.

Sheau-Ming Song, Linen and Masking Tapes, 2012, oil on Belgian linen, Galleria H, Taipei, Taiwan

Sheau-Ming Song’s work plays with gesture, materiality, and abstraction in creating images not overtly concerned with issues of identity.

Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, Two Planets: Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass and the Thai Villagers, 2008, single channel video, Tyler Rollins Fine Art, New York

Video was by turns humorous, poetic, and incisive both within Focus ASIA and at the fair as a whole. Likewise, painting was extremely prominent within the larger fair, visually outweighing sculpture and photography in its sheer quantity and variety. Still, it was sculpture and photography that often stopped us in our tracks. Above and below, some snapshots and highlights from our two days at the fair, with links to exhibitors following each image.

Poklong Anading, Anonymity, 2008–2012, photographic transparency print, lightbox series with 9 unique photographs, Galerie Zimmermann Kratochwill, Graz, Austria and Manila, Philippines

Poklong Anading’s striking photographs featuring Quezon City residents holding mirrors to their faces is a powerful and affecting mediation on the post-colonial Philippines’ struggles for identity.

Ken Matsubara, selected Movie Objects, 2010–2012, MA2 Gallery, Tokyo, Japan

Ken Matsubara’s self-described Movie Objects were the talk of the fair. Viewed within antique boxes and frames on the wall, or more mysteriously, through the bottoms of water-filled glasses set on small tables or stools, video vignettes transformed portrait photographs and falling objects into ghostly apparitions of wonder. Click on the images above for two video clips from selected works on view.

Marie-Claire Blais, Brûler les yeux fermés s_15, 2012, acrylic spray on canvas, Galerie René Blouin, Montreal

Marie-Claire Blais’ sparkling canvases and works on paper are aglow with ocular events and organic processes at both ends of the cosmic scale, from the realm of quantum fuzz to formations of nebulae and galaxies. In general, galleries from Quebec were well represented and made a strong showing at the fair.

Jessica Bradley’s booth was one of our favourites. Roughly divided between gestural or painterly markmaking on one side, and figurative abstraction on the other, Bradley’s display was a clear, cohesive representation of two facets of her curatorial approach and interests. Of particular interest were the wonderfully textural paintings of Sasha Pierce and rising star Julia Dault, shown in greater detail below.

Julia Dault, New Wave, 2012, oil on vinyl, Jessica Bradley, Toronto

Toronto-born, Brooklyn-based Julia Dault is making waves in both painting and sculpture, here and in New York where she currently lives and works. We saw her taut, muscular rolled-sheet sculptures at the New Museum’s triennial, The Ungovernables, this past spring, and are looking forward to seeing her similarly tactile, weighty, and richly material painting again one day at the AGO; New Wave was one of three works purchased as part of the museum’s annual Art Toronto acquisition program.

Sasha Pierce, Laguna Agate, 2012, oil on linen, Jessica Bradley, Toronto

Sasha Pierce’s jawdroppingly detailed works on canvas are visual explosions of what seem to be intricately knitted threads of richly coloured paint. Hovering between painting, sculpture, and the textiles they resemble, they beg to be marveled at — and touched. We of course did no such thing, but got close enough to practically touch with our eyes, and the image was no less mind-boggling from mere inches away. Despite our attempts to document Dault’s and Pierce’s tromp l’oiel textures digitally, both must be seen to be believed.

Denyse Thomasos, Untitled, 2012, acrylic on canvas, Olga Korper Gallery, Toronto

Denyse Thomasos’ wall-sized canvas, full of life and vibrant urban spirit, is made all the more poignant knowing the artist died just a few months ago, much too young, and at the peak of her career.

Exhibition view featuring paintings by Celia Neubauer and Alex Bierk, General Hardware Contemporary, Toronto

In General Hardware Contemporary’s engaging and eclectic booth, Celia Neubauer’s hybrid landscape frames Eastern-inspired views through industrially-shaped apertures — a lyrical foil to Alex Bierk’s deadpan family portraits of his late father, artist David Bierk, and his brother, Sebastian, better known as Sebastian Bach of Skid Row fame.

Scott Everingham, Cotton Lodge, 2012, oil on canvas, Galerie Trois Points, Montreal

Above, Scott Everingham builds a castle in the sky (actually, a Cotton Lodge, based on the title) using attenuated lines, swipes of colour, and barely-there two-point perspective. Everingham is represented by Galerie Trois Points in Montreal, but Torontonians will get another chance to see his work early next year in a show at General Hardware Contemporary.

David Burdeny, Oyster Farm, Vietnam, 2012, archival pigment print, Jennifer Kostuik Gallery, Vancouver

David Burdeny, Matrix, South China Sea, 2011, archival pigment print, Jennifer Kostuik Gallery, Vancouver

The territory between abstraction and representation continues to be fertile ground for painterly explorations of architectural space within landscapes both actual and imaginary. Meanwhile, these photographs by David Burdeny capture the unreal in the real, documenting otherworldly waterscapes from China and Vietnam.

Exhibition view featuring works by Juan Ortiz-Apuy (sculpture and photographs at right) and Mathieu Beauséjour (drawings at left), Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran, Montreal

And finally, newcomer Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran, another of our favourite booths, featured a strong and well-edited selection of work by Juan Ortiz-Apuy, Mathieu Beauséjour, and Jacynthe Carrier. Costa Rican-born, Montreal-based Ortiz-Apuy’s breathing suitcases are simultaneously witty and strange embodiments of the tribulations of placelessness – whether self-imposed through travel, or forced due to migrations or disasters. Beaséjour’s presence was seen, felt, and heard, through the sound of his beating heart reverberating within the tremor of a massive gong — whether inducement to comfort or dread depends upon the viewer’s own emotional and perceptual baggage.

Jacynthe Carrier, Parcours, 2012, video, Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran, Montreal

Carrier’s equally enigmatic video, Parcours, has a diverse group of people, some carrying bundles of fabric or foam, running circles through a wet and barren landscape. The elemental sounds (water, footfalls, breathing), and seeming absurdity or futility of a collective race to nowhere triggers poetic associations and questions of survival, our relationship to possessions, the environment and each other, and ultimately the value of life itself.