I saw this show twice: once, full of bodies at the opening and again, alone, a couple of days later with some more room to see and to think. While the curatorial theme, the concept of “parentheses”, is vague enough to be a catch-all motif and doesn’t contribute too much to readings of the work, I recognize that’s not really the point here, it’s not that kind of show. What I mean is that the conversations between pieces are primarily formal and material, not conceptual, even if the pieces themselves are. Chains, for example, are drawn repeatedly through glass in David Altmejd’s Untitled (Glass and chains), hang in an arc between the ears of a bald man in Steven Beckley’s Equipoise, and dangle from a neon sign in Beckley’s forever and ever. Materials that reflect and refract light are also featured throughout: plexiglass, regular glass, mirrors, and shiny metals. Even secondarily in the woven image of a window in Shannon Bool’s The Weather and in Mark Lewis’s allusion to Lina Bo Bardi using glass stands to display paintings at MASP, transparency plays a major role in the formal language of the exhibited work. These sorts of materials, together with a generally cool, monochromatic palette, exude a sleekness which registers as smart, restrained, and sober if not a little bit lifeless.
Although this look neatly ties the works together, it is perhaps a hindrance in that it limits what can be displayed from each artist’s oeuvre. I’m a big fan of David Altmejd, for instance, especially his ability to compose grotesque and messy things in such a way that they become dramatic and beautiful. However, the piece here, in its neutrality and uncharacteristic scarcity of materials (just gold chain and glass), misses out on the best qualities of what he does. It doesn’t have the intense tactility and sheer strangeness that usually makes his work so compelling. I felt similarly about Shannon Boole’s piece which fails to showcase her talents with disorienting collage and weird figuration. The same goes for the Jennifer Rose Sciarrino piece.
My favourite work in the show is, funnily enough, the most visually quiet. Ryan Gander’s Associative Ghost Template is about a collection of “documents” from the artist’s life whose existence is implied only by ten “document-shaped” holes in a single sheet of clear plexiglass and by a laser-etched key which describes each missing artifact and its origin story. Through this clever play on the didactic text, we learn—after straining our eyes to read the faint print—about a “failed attempt” at artmaking (a voided photographic print), Gander’s colourblindness (a piece of cardboard printed with a hue which, to him, could be either blue, green, teal, or purple), and a photoshoot of the artist for GQ magazine (two Polaroid images, one completely black and one completely white due to incorrect exposure). Each missing document is defined by what is missing from it: a void within a void. It’s a personal and subtly humourous piece of conceptual storytelling about things that can only exist through some kind of absence or non-existence (like a hole or an overexposed photo). It’s also about imagination and its role in the creation of meaning, in art and beyond.
Overall, my thoughts are that it’s a good-looking but thematically disparate show, featuring some great artists and some interesting work. But while the clean aesthetic around which the exhibition is centered functions well for some of the pieces, it limits the display of other artists’ most interesting and valuable work. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I would have liked to see from an exhibition like this. A stronger focus on the theoretical links between works? More aesthetic risk-taking? It all leaves me wondering about the kinds of things we should expect from and ask of our city’s commercial galleries. Any thoughts?
All images are from the gallery website and can be found here: https://danielfariagallery.com/exhibition/2342
*I realize that the show's minimalist title "( )", without a space or in italics as it is online and in the exhibition text, is blatantly vaginal which is kind of funny when you think of it in context