The brochure to the year-long exhibit Oh, Canada describes it as “a new kind of travel guide; one snapshot among many possibilities…of Canadian art today.” Indeed, visitors to Mass MoCA’s newest exhibit will come away feeling like they’ve gone on a particularly stimulating, humor-laden romp across the mind-boggling large landscape of Canadian art.
For this—the first major US survey of Canadian artists in a major museum—curator Denise Markonish spent three years traveling across Canada to select the sixty-two artists represented in the show. Concerned by the attention American museums were giving to “exotic” artists (think South Korea, India, and China), Markonish started wondering why contemporary spaces were showing so little interest in the art scene of our neighbors up north.
Pulp Lab was on site for the big opening—an all day event with live performances, cocktails and a dance party DJ’d by Canada’s own Brendan Canning, co-founder of the Toronto-based Broken Social Scene. Visitors to the museum (three hours from Manhattan, two and a half from Boston), will find two floors of visual art of every kind, each expressing a quality that can only be referred to as introspective whimsy.
Well-known in Canada for her kinetic installations with a conscience, Diane Landry’s Knight of Infinite Resignation features an entire room filled with light-up pinwheels turning clockwise in the darkness. Fashioned to replicate the turbines that are energizing (and sometimes, polarizing) parts of the Canadian landscape, the objects are composed of empty water bottles filled with soil, creating the eerie sounds of ocean waves with each turn.
In Noam Gonick and Luis Jacob’s The Wildflowers of Manitoba (a mixed installation of video, props and live performance), an elfish young boy with shoeless, perfect feet, lies belly down on a mattress in an open-air yurt, thumbing through a book on the safety of small animals (available for purchase in the museum’s store). Around him, five screens show excerpts from hallucinatory flights of paradise with homeoerotic themes. Each time the young man comes to the end of a page in the book, he lights a stick of incense.
Graeme Patterson, The Mountain, 2012
The very young, and very impressive Graeme Patterson stuns with a triptych installation that combines a Wes Anderson sense of absurdity and mise en abyme effect to create three house-within-a-house’s in The Mountain. The overly curious are well rewarded: rooms that are only visible from a crouched position reveal such delights as a ping pong table with hologram competitors; a projector with a working screen; shag carpeting in the family den.
Canadian Dean Baldwin was one of the ten artists commissioned for the show. His contribution? A life-size replica of a Canadian cabin housed inside of a vacant building, just behind the museum, overlooking a creek. On opening night, Dean and several friends cooked up sloppy joes and cocktails (free!) to hundreds of guests. The cabin comes complete with a wood stove, an oven, a fridge and a mustard vintage couch. Happily, the jubilatory house party will be re-created every Thursday this summer (starting June 21st) from 6 to 9 p.m. Dean will be on hand, often, but not always, to mix the drinks himself.
No summer trip to the Berkshires is complete without a day dedicated to this refreshing exhibit, a joyful exploration of landscape and identity, the surreal, the hostile, the freezing, the exquisite.
Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA)
May 26, 2012 – April 1, 2013
1040 Mass MoCA Way
North Adams, MA