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Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Big Picture 58

The paintings of Mexican abstractionist Francisco Castro are new to me, but that’s hardly surprising given that Serie Hiedra, a collection of recent work on display at Diaz Contemporary, is his first solo exhibition in Canada. Besides, I can barely keep up with the local crowd.

Forgive me for thinking then, at first glance, that Castro’s squares-on-squares paintings were created sometime closer to the second World War than to the Iraq War, as there is a decidedly retro look to his modernist geometrical abstracts. Mondrian’s colour blocks are an obvious influence (or, to be more postmodern about it, reference), as are Sol LeWitt’s slide rule concoctions – but it’s a mistake to read these lovely works as mere exercises in nostalgia.

Castro’s Rubik’s cubes do not convey the same triumphant severity as the works of his predecessors, and appear at times to question the entire formalist enterprise - especially in the spaces between the squares, which are delineated with soft, indistinct lines and whispers of muffled paint. The squares themselves are fraught with imperfections, washed out patches and smears, and Castro frequently disrupts the surfaces of each with faint swipes of excremental brown and sapphire blue, giving them a sluggish movement that nicely counterpoints the rigid mathematics of his compositions.

However, going all academic on these works or turning them into a commentary on the fallacies of modernism is a waste of precious time – time you should be spending wallowing in the lushness of Castro’s colours. And lush is the operative word here, as Castro has filled the gallery with a tropical rainforest’s worth of febrile, breathing greens: pine green, green tea green, frog egg green, absinthe green, fern, bluegrass, slime, mint, Palmolive, khaki, barrel cactus, jade and emerald green. It’s a Christmas tree farm for minimalists!

Save this exhibit for the first days of December, when the sun goes down right after lunch. Get the friendly gallery attendants to turn all the lights on, take off your scarf, and soak up as much chlorophyll as you can, because you won’t see this much foliage again till April.

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Derek Sullivan’s Kiosk, a poster stand plunked in the middle of the Toronto Sculpture Garden, aims low and succeeds brilliantly. The goal of the sculpture, to create a temporary platform for posters (works specifically commissioned from other artists by Sullivan, plus whatever gets stuck on the boards by enterprising locals) is hardly a lofty one. As any construction worker or Reg Hart will tell you, when you create a blank public space, the public will fill it.

What intrigues me about this work, however, is not the artist’s inflated claim that the work will “activate street level activity” – like I said, how hard is that? – but rather how much the kiosk, modelled on the poster stands one sees in Paris or Munich (or Fredericton for that matter) looks like it came from a Canadian Tire kit.

The wood surfaces are stained a familiar, suburban deck dark green (more green!), and are ornamented with rough fretwork that looks like the decorations my grandfather used to carve out of lumber scraps to fancy up his shovel shed. The roof of the kiosk is covered in black tar paper, another of Puppa’s favourite ornamental materials, and the base is constructed of common cement tiles, the kind sold in hardware stores to gussy up front porches. In other words, Sullivan’s tribute to grand, oh-so-European notions of public space and street level democracy might as well have been manufactured by Red Green – all that’s missing are the wooden butterflies, which I am greatly tempted to apply myself.

Kiosk’s unsubtle nods to the great Canadian garage make the sculpture far more fun, and more resonant of our particular cultural quirks, than its otherwise tame, anarchist-lite agenda. I bet it would make a great ice fishing shack.

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The Artists Network of Riverdale are getting the jump tonight on the Xmas art sale rush with their annual Little Art Show - a fundraiser for, naturally enough, the Riverdale Art Walk. These folks stick close to home.

The format of the sale is a reliable one: pack the sales floor with hundreds of attractive works of art, all very small and in all imaginable genres, then rake in the dough. Works are sold via a silent auction, which allows the buyer to be anonymously cheap.

At last year’s sale, about 1000 people crammed in to see the wares, which means the real treat is watching the crowd to see who’s buying what for how little (opera glasses come in handy for catching under-bidders).

March Gregoroff, ANR Executive Director, reminds me that “The most important thing about the Little Art Show is that - just like everything else we try to do around here - we don’t anyone to ever feel excluded from the traditionally snobbish art scene.”

Not even the snobs? They’re the ones with all the money.

Francisco Castro
Serie Hiedra
Diaz Contemporary 100 Niagara Street Until December 23


Derek Sullivan
Kiosk
Toronto Sculpture Garden 115 King Street East Until April 15


Little Art Show
November 19, 7 – 11pm BMW Toronto, Broadview and Eastern (11 Sunlight Park Blvd)