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Notes on the works

That 70s Show
G111 Installation


ABOVE: THAT 70s Show Gallery One One One installation.

29 November 2002 to 24 January 2003

(The following curatorial text is by Oliver A. I. Botar.)

Tearing through the layers of the 00s, the 90s and the 80s that have accumulated on this much-reviled and now somewhat-liked decade, I have assembled an exhibition reflecting its diversity of artistic production in Canada, as represented in the permanent collection of Gallery One One One and by privately owned works in its care. This collection is particularly strong in examples of the print-making renaissance of that decade. Supplemented by work from William Lobchuk's Grand Western Canadian Screenshop, prints constitute the larger part of the exhibition.

The degree to which it is still difficult to characterize the art of the 70s is fascinating, despite the perspective offered by the time that has since elapsed. As Kim Levin put it in her "Farewell to Modernism" written at the end of the decade (Arts Magazine, October 1979), "the 70s [was] a decade which felt like it was waiting for something to happen. It was as if history was grinding to a halt. Its innovations were disguised as revivals." Indeed, "transition," "revival," and "self-effacement" are terms that come to mind when trying to carry out this task of characterization. The decade, particularly its early part, saw the continuation of styles and concerns of the 60s, as well as the revival of approaches of previous periods, and a shift to something other than the previous paradigm of Modernism, what has come to be termed "Post-Modernism."

Thus, the 1970s was the last great decade of Modernism. Many artists continued to produce abstract works. Ken Lochhead, who had taught at the School of Art, was moving into a fluid mode of painting after his Clement Greenberg-sanctioned geometrical colour-field work of the 60s. The young New Jersey-born School of Art professor Robert Sakowski produced a serigraph in complex interlock patterns inspired by the colours of a Manitoba dusk that echoes the modularity of Raymond Spears‚ small sculptural work. This two-piece sculpture is drawn from Artario, a diverse set of multiples by mainly Ontario artists produced in 1972 that the Gallery acquired at the time, and from which a number of works have been selected for this show. Michael Bigger, another American who taught at the School, builds on Anthony Caro's work in his steel sculpture, that in its horizontality and balance, contends with the theme of the Prairie landscape. While Montrealer Jean McEwen carried on the lyrical abstract tradition of Les Automatistes in his Printemps, his fellow French-Canadians Rita Letendre and Jacques Hurtubise developed the geometrical abstract legacy of Les Plasticiens in their works, Hurtubise's print was also inflected by the fascination with modularity and systems that was a hallmark of Minimalism. Albertan Alex Janvier's serigraph displays his efforts to employ Modernist styles to treat thematics of Dene mythology, laying the groundwork for later artists such as Robert Houle. Tony Tascona and Leslie Reid produced serigraphs that in their chromatic Minimalism are as delicate and self-effacing as the winter lakeside landscape Reid is inspired by.

Psychedelic and Funk art, sometimes dealing with what was seen by figures such as Timothy Leary as a drug-related revolution in consciousness (Larry Kissick), also treated themes such as the sexual revolution and sensuality (Winnipeggers Kelly Clark and Esther Warkov), ordinary, unheroic subject matter (Dutch-born Winnipeger Lidi Kuiper and Eugene Ouchi), and nothing much at all (School of Art professor Ted Howorth's Ching Ching -- Ching Ching and Louis de Niverville's inflatable garden.) While mainly ironic and playful elsewhere, English-Canadian Pop Art often carried a nationalist or regionalist message, as visible in the work of Ontarian John Boyle and the Prairie artists William Lobchuk and Joe Fafard, respectively. While Quebecer Pierre Ayot seemed to steer clear of politics in his Pop-inspired work, there is an undercurrent of political discontent in his image of drinking straws tumbling chaotically from a bilingual package. Norobu Sawai appropriates images from both European and his own Japanese cultural heritage in a bold exploration of sexuality.

These colourful extensions of the 60s at first coexisted with and then gave way to a kind of self-consciously style-less style, a kind of negation of style that was a close companion of what American critic Lucy Lippard in 1973 termed the "dematerialization of the art object." And in fact, many artists, through conceptual modes of art-making, sought to remove art from the realm of the material and thereby from the commercial market and established art system. Performance and video, as well as prints produced in unlimited editions, such as Gordon Lebredt's aptly titled Saleability, seemed sure fire ways to circumvent the art market. (The current booming market in the documentation of conceptual art demonstrates the Capitalist system's enduring power to commodify just about anything, including non-things). The establishment of publicly supported "parallel" artist-run galleries such as Western Front in Vancouver, Plug In in Winnipeg, A Space in Toronto and Véhicule in Montreal, also supported this ideal.

G111 Installation


ABOVE: THAT 70s Show Gallery One One One installation. Curator Oliver Botar stands beside Gordon Lebredt's aptly titled Saleability.


Yet, for all these self-negating strategies, certain themes, mostly involving returns to what might be termed first principles such as the body, identity, the land, and a preoccupation with the means of production particular to a medium (ironically a Greenbergian idea), seemed to carry a certain weight with artists working in Canada. Dutch-born Ontarian Wyn Geleynse considered the relationship between positive and negative human form in his Surrealist-inspired multiple, while in his performance Insertions, Eric Cameron (hired that same year to teach at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, a centre of Conceptualism) sought to explore the relatively new medium of video with his own body. In her performance American-born Suzy Lake explored the possibility of employing her own face as a surface on which to represent a face three dimensionally. Tom Dean dances with Québec performance artist Marshalore and boxes in his Performance, while Torontonian Rodney Werden's video prefigures the work of Charmaine Wheatley (lately shown in this gallery) as well as of a whole group of queer artists, by decades, as he advertises his services as a male model, and receives unexpected responses that question the boundaries between dominator and dominated. Max Dean and Dennis Evans, in their Drawing Event held at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1978, play with the idea of our dependence, indeed connectedness with each other.

An important theme both among the conceptualists (such as the Western Front artist Michael de Courcy and York University professor Vera Frenkel), prairie Pop figures such as William Lobchuk and Joe Fafard, and unclassifiable artists such as Don Proch and Leslie Reid), was The Land, both as an expression of Canadian nationalism and regionalism, and as a conceptual concern. Conceptual approaches to it, as in de Courcy's work, often involved quasi-scientific exploratory and taxonomical approaches, while Proch's is an excellent example of that personification of the land characteristic of the emergent environmentalist movement. Michael Snow's conceptual work, meanwhile, hinges on an exploration of perception and the media, and the gay Toronto artists' collective (with roots in Winnipeg), General Idea, explore the ideas of "divide" and "boundary" in a manner redolent of camp sensibility. High Realism was another trend of the 70s, only apparently represented in the apparently ordinary Winnipeg scene by Gordon Lebredt (a student at the time of the School of Art and a pioneer of Manitoba conceptualism), for this work was produced employing a paint-by-numbers method, during which the artist systematically rotated the painting. Chris Finn in his Brand Name, like Lebredt in Saleability, directly confronts the question of the boundaries of art.

Another new development of this period was the first wave of intuitively Feminist and Feminist work. Thus in Weight Watchers' Delight, Lidi Kuiper questions the demands women place on their bodies in order to appeal to men. In her book Orgasms (designed by A. A. Bronson of General Idea), A.S.A. Harrison published interviews by women about their sexual experiences, a truly revolutionary strategy at the time also explored by Esther Warkov in her delicate painting exploring the senses. In her three untitled fabric works, Wendy Toogood applies photographic collage elements from her private life as well as art history, to quilted cloth squares, in a sensual evocation of traditional womens' craft that parallels the pioneering textile artworks of Torontonian Joyce Wieland. In A Natural Way to Draw Suzy Lake prefigured the identity work of later, overtly Feminist artists such as Cindy Sherman. Another "return" was that of narrative or implied narrative to artistic production, particularly in the work of women such as Vera Frenkel (though not in her work shown here), Libby Hague, Wendy Toogood and Esther Warkov. Narrative was often regarded as a feminine response to the a-narrative strategies of male Modernists.

In short, this was a decade of transition, from the Modern to the Postmodern: from the dominance of traditional media to a true intermediality; from the predominance of a few voices, to a situation in which those of women, sexual, ethnic and racial minorities are also heard; from abstraction and the negation of narrative to the return of the image and the story. But "transition" is perhaps too simple a word. As Levin put it in 1979, "the modernist era may be over, but modernist art is still being made, sometimes by self-proclaimed post-modernists, just as post-modern work is being done by artists who still think of themselves as modernists. Almost everybody during the 70s has been transitional and hybrid." These modes of operation are all familiar to us now. This was the decade of their return/appearance. Let us now remember this decade, as Ted Howorth does in Mirage 1 -- The 70s, through its reflection in the faces -- that is -- the art, of the time.

-- Oliver Botar, Winnipeg.11.2002.

G111 Installation


ABOVE: THAT 70s Show Gallery One One One invitation designed by Michael Feng.

Acknowledgements

I wish to thank the Committee of Gallery One One One, and especially Cliff Eyland, for their support. Robert Epp assembled the constituent parts of this puzzle. Without his assistance and organization, the show would not have come together. The students of the course 054.327, "Canadian Art Since World War II," have been involved in the project. Their texts concerning individual works on display in this show and posted to the website, are distillations of the results of their research for their term papers. Their excellent research of often-obscure topics assisted me in curating this show and writing this text. Students also helped with the publicity and opening. Robin Koshyk (who organized the opening), and Mike Feng (who looked after the design needs of the show) are to be particularly commended. We thank, finally, the Students of Fine Art Association (SOFA), for their financial support of the Opening Reception. -- O.B.


Gallery One One One acknowledges generous support by The Canada Council for the Arts, The Manitoba Arts Council, SOFA faculty, staff and volunteers, and especially Dr. Oliver Botar.
Gallery One One One, School of Art, Main Floor, FitzGerald Building, University of Manitoba Fort Garry campus, Winnipeg, MB, CANADA R3T 2N2 TEL:204 474-9322 FAX:474-7605

For information please contact Robert Epp eppr@ms.umanitoba.ca