Saturday, March 06, 2004

Michael Govan, Yes! Isa Tousignant, No! Gerald Ferguson, why not?


It looks like I have three things to cover today. Good thing it is the weekend. First off, on Thursday, I went to see Michael Govan at the MACM, and other than learning that Marcel Brisebois regularly drives the New York State Thruway at speeds in excess of 150 Km/H it was quite interesting. I initially went in thinking that this was going to be a celebration of the establishment, "long live the White Cube, and vive the multi-syllabic word!" Boy was I wrong.

Yes, the establishment was there (Mr. Govan's tour had been organized, or something had been done so that the magazine Canadian Art could get their name involved) Melony Ward introduced Mr. Govan, and there were far too many people who draw paychecks from the MACM to count. And on the surface Mr. Govan gave an infomercial about Dia: Beacon and the Dia Art Foundation, all fine and dandy, and it was quite effective, too, because my companion whispered to me breathlessly after he finished that "we must go see it."

But once you got beyond the glitz and fancy-ass suits, the idea that Dia is pursuing is quite cool. I'll leave it up to you to follow the various links so that you can discover it on your own. No need for me to report on the infomercial, but when I do make it down there, I'll be sure to let everybody know what I think. The thing that truly impressed me was the consideration and thoughtfulness of Mr. Govan. Contrary to most of the people in the Art World here, he was gracious and extremely generous with his time. And his responses to my questions were extremely helpful, too.

In a nutshell, I asked him if he had any hints or suggestions on how I could turn this here gallery into an organization that was at least half as kick-ass as his. He gave me a bunch, on how to id potentially helpful board members, how to handle the rest of the "establishment" and then on what he thought was the best job in the world. I hope that I can do all of them (although I don't think that I would have as much fun doing his favorite job as he did).

Then yesterday I was talking with a friend and he asked me what I had thought about Isa Tousignant's review of the Dominique Blain show, especially since I had already commented on the Le Devoir review. This was particularly timely as the previous night I had finally had a chance to ask Ms. Blain herself what she thought about my review. I'll leave it up to you to ask Ms. Blain for her opinions (how's that for delegating stuff? Good, eh?) But as far as the weeklies go, I don't pay much attention to anything beyond the headline.

If a show gets into a weekly, the publicity is good. For the record, getting your show in the Mirror is better than getting your show in the Hour as for getting more people to see it. But given how much space they give to visual arts (although the Mirror seems to be making a conscious choice to give more and more) and the amount of money they pay their writers getting one's knickers in a knot is not worth the time. Now that I've said that, watch me get my knickers knotted.

Starting at the top, the subheading for Ms Tousignant's review states that "Activist artist Dominique Blain stuck in the museum." Ummm, not to state the obvious, but if Ms. Blain's goal in life was to get a solo exhibition at the MACM then she'd be mighty disappointed with the rest of her life. If Ms. Tousignant had even walked down Saint Catherine street she would have come across the other show that Ms. Blain has going on in town, which while similar to some of the stuff she's got at the museum, in the same way that Ms. Tousignant's review this week is similar to her review last week, makes it plainly obvious that Ms. Blain ain't stuck in any museum.

Then while I took exception with the wall text at the beginning of the exhibit, Ms. Tousignant ignored it totally. She pigeon holes Ms. Blain into one type of art that she thinks overwhelms everything else and makes it irrelevant. Or if you want to read for yourself: Her pithy line at the end, "one more person's spiel about the "issues," as beautiful and smart as it may be, doesn't honestly help anyone." Sums up her view rather well. The only problem is that she admits that it ain't even her idea.

Back up at the top she states:

Maybe what set my train of thought in motion was the parallel between Dominique Blain and Noam Chomsky the guide made within the first minute of the tour.
She then writes that she has an "allergy to anyone else's predigested thoughts about art I haven't yet seen." But she continues by going so far as to quote the tour guide! Writing: "'She aims at a wide public,' said the guide that day, 'she doesn't concern herself with art critics and aficionados. She wants people in general to be faced with the passivity intrinsic to Western culture in the face of these issues.'" And then recoils in horror at passivity. I'd ask what is more passive, making art that is an attempt to get people to think about horrific situations, or using a tour guide's impromptu speech as the basis for a review?

Taking the high road and suggesting that Ms. Blain donate some cash to Oxfam is silliness at best. If Ms. Tousignant, was even slightly aware of how the museum works, she'd realize that the amount of money that Ms. Blain received for having an exhibition at the MACM would not even equal the amount of money that Ms. Tousignant spends on her dog. It would have been better if Ms. Tousignant had asked for the name of the tour guide and given her the money that she received for writing the article.

"Exponential irritation" is not a good state from which to write a review.

Then lastly, just so everybody can get back in a good mood, I wanna be Gerald Ferguson.

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