Oh, the Range! – Showcasing the unplainness of Prairie art
The road to They Made a day Be a Day Here was a meandering one. Hong Kong–born, Edmonton–raised art critic Amy Fung spent three years driving around Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, meeting and writing about artists for her blog, Prairie Artsters, on a journey she describes as “looping and curling with no apparent logic.” The idea for the exhibit (Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Sept. 27–Jan. 5) was inspired by the wealth of female talent she found in the vast middle provinces, often ignored on the greater art circuit.
They Made a Day Be a Day Here, named for a line from Gertrude Stein’s How to Write, reflects the Prairies in ways both true to life and abstract. Landscape comes alive in Amalie Atkins’ photographs and Brenda Draney’s paintings, where primary colours—girls in bright dresses, a red barn—blaze against sweeping blonde fields and bleached skies. Divya Mehra and Mary-Anne McTrowe riff on pop culture in their more conceptual pieces: Mehra paints “I don’t want to be friends” in Facebook blue-and-white; McTrowe crochets binary codes into white rectangles reminiscent of doilies, each named after a love song (“You Give Love a Bad Name,” “Born to Love You”). Fung made a conscious choice to include only women, but adds, “I don’t want it to be only understood as a ‘women’s’ show. I definitely support women’s work, but I think we also need to celebrate it as work.”
Lean In, Lean Out – Korean artist Kimsooja gives Vancouver pause
The transcendent buzz of being and non-being is more familiar at a yoga class than a gallery show, but that’s what the mystical, immersive works in Kimsooja: unfolding (Vancouver Art Gallery, Oct. 11–Jan. 26) provide. This is the first career retrospective for Kimsooja, the 56-year-old Korean artist best known for her use of bottari, traditional Korean patchwork bedspreads given to couples when they marry, which she hangs and bundles to eerie, gorgeous effect, and for the video installation A Needle Woman (1999–2001), which shows her stand- ing still while teeming populations of cities around the world stream past her. At the 2013 Venice Biennale (through Nov. 24), she emptied the Korean pavilion, wrapped its walls in translucent film to break light into rainbows, and filled it with the sound of her breath.
These works investigate how our personal stories (represented, for example, through the cloth-wrapped bundles of personal items) become universal, and how our individual existences are stitched to the whole (through, for example, breath). “In the early stages of my work, while I was sewing and wrapping cloth, I’ve been questioning my personal issues, but through the work these evolved into concern about others, and the relationships in between,” Kimsooja explains in her studio space in Long Island City, an empty concrete box with white walls, a few copies of her photos hanging, and two assistants silently and industriously at work on large monitors.
“Her work is so sensitive to the conditions of humanity in the 21st century,” says curator Daina Augaitis, who championed Kimsooja’s work at the VAG. “The questions of self and other that she asks are increasingly important in our globalized world, and may have special relevance in Vancouver, where people come from [many] different places.” For an upcoming U.S. government–commissioned project, Kimsooja will install a large-scale LED screen showing por- traits of Mexican immigrants at the border station in Mariposa, Ariz.
The retrospective will include the bottari-stacked truck from Cities on the Move—the artist travelled the 2,727 kilometres between all the cities where she lived as a child—and many early works never shown outside of Korea. It’s also a rare chance to see bottari, which, Kimsooja says, are not seen much anymore outside of her shows, whether as art or not. “I collected quite a lot,” she says, with an opaque smile.
Feline Behaviour – Balthus’s kittens and kittenish muses get a second look
Long before the Internet’s penchant for cats and selfies, before Sofia Coppola’s take on teenage malaise, before Corinne Day’s photographs of a gawky 16-year-old Kate Moss, pre-war French artist Balthus was painting his neighbour, muse and model, Thérèse. Her poses, like those of Balthus’s other gamine sitters, portray that distinctly adolescent alloy of being young and gangly yet intentional, suggestive and self-absorbed, which is the subject of Balthus: Cats and girls—Paintings and Provocations (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, Sept. 25–Jan. 12). More than three decades since the painter’s last exhibit in the U.S., curator Sabine Rewald has focused on early works from his career, from the mid-1930s to the 1950s, including never-before-seen ink drawings of Balthus’s famous feline, Mitsou, from his book about the stray cat’s adventures, conceived when Balthus was 11 years old and published with a preface by Rainer Maria Rilke.