Saturday, August 10, 2013

Review: The Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery

Good Day Blogger world!

On Monday I posted a review of an exhibit at MSVU, and it occurs to me that the gallery itself would be worthy of further description.   It's a nice little space, just off the main entrance of the Seaton building, but it tends to escape notice.  That's a shame, because boring content is a rarity in this venue.

It's not a big gallery - technically just one room - but the gymnasium-height ceiling allows for some very unique exhibitions.  Most recently, artist-in-residence Steve Higgens constructed a very large wooden structure devised of clashing architectural elements reminiscent of his charcoal drawings.  This took up most of the lower gallery, which made for an amazing view from the mezannine.  There's been art of all sizes in this space.  The one that sticks out in my memory is the life-sized latex lighthouse by Kim Mornga, which hung diagonally from the ceiling in front of the Mezzanine to the floor a the opposite end of the gallery  I think this openness also speaks to the kind of art that has been housed here over the years.

Part of the MSVU Art Gallery's mandate is to give representation to women artists and their work, as well as local artists and artisans, often in the early stages of their careers.  I love that about the place, and I feel it's brought in some really interesting and unique content.  I've made reference to the exhibit by Christine Redfern that included the actual drawn cartoon panels of "Who is Ana Mendieta", the graphic novel, specifically in this post:  Also included in this exhibit was a film that showed one of Mendieta's art works, a flaming armature silhouette, possibly a goddess symbol, burning on a continuous loop.  Sharing the gallery, and the exhibit, with these, was a curtained-off projecting of a woman in a sheet, seeming to be asleep and shifting around in charcoal dust.  The animation would speed up and slow down as the viewers' movements were detected by motion sensors.  This installation by Philomne Longpre (titled "Xia"), and the "Who is Ana Mendieta" display, were shown as a joint exhibit.  I find them both to be good examples of work focused on women's issues, one on the struggles of decades past, and the other on the lingering struggles that still permeate culture, society, and psychological conditioning.

The gallery does not shy way from controversial subjects or potentially offensive subject matter.  The exhibit "Oriental Ornamental" featured walls full of giant silk flowers, each featuring what appeared to be human genitalia, complete with human hair.  These were also made of fabric, and perhaps this went some way toward disguising their intended nature, as there were people who actually took each other's graduation day pictures in front of them.  Or perhaps this was completely deliberate.  I like to think that MSVU attracts people with a healthy sense of humour, or at least irony.  This exhibit also featured a giant wig, on which visitors could pin origami flowers with over-sexualized images of oriental women printed on them.  In the upper gallery, there was an entire faux opium den, put together by another artist and assembled entirely from "oriental" style decor such as one might find at wicker emporium and other decidedly inauthentic sources.  I found this exhibit to be exceptionally interesting.  The one thing I found really off-putting was the background soundtrack in the opium den, which included 5 minutes of screaming every 15 minutes.  A key to the intent of the work, but it did begin to grate after a while.  The subject of this joint exhibit was to do with ethnic stereotyping, specifically of Oriental people.  Plenty of food for thought to be had.

Other exhibits have brought large colour photos of railway systems across North America, a forest of umbrellas attached to toy accordions that played themselves on loop, gigantic canvasses painted with poured acrylic, a pile of 1 million pennies, and numerous other wonders of contemporary art. The work often takes some explaining, but that's what makes it interesting.  Definitely worth a visit, or two, or more if you get the chance.

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