BY DUNCAN WELLER
WITH nearly 200 artists from our region represented in two compelling group shows, each showcasing a potpourri of aesthetic approaches and personal expression, I didn’t know how to begin to cover it all in such limited space.
Bumping into children’s book author Bonnie Tittaferrante at the Superstore, I joked about the difficulty of writing about such shows. Bonnie smiled and suggested, “Why don’t you write about that, how difficult it is.”
Interspersed among artwork submitted by local and living artists, are works from the Thunder Bay Art Gallery’s collection. These pieces include the work of artists long deceased and are featured in The Perspective From Here: 150 Artists From the North show, which runs until Sept. 24. It is a massive show with a great deal of First Nations Art represented. Although we are, for the most part, celebrating colonial consolidation, the Trudeau government is attempting to make the effort more expansive and inclusive. This show does just that, scooping up a great deal of First Nations art for the show to represent a broad selection of local contemporary, traditional and experimental art. Local art fans will find most of the familiar names among younger less established artists.
Meanwhile the Definitely Superior Art Gallery hosts an annual member’s show to celebrate its youthful 29th birthday. This show, which runs until Aug. 12, represents a diverse selection of work with heartfelt, inspiring videos, and stop-motion animation by guest artist Amanda Strong who is a successful Indigenous filmmaker. Although the TBAG’s retrospective is one of scale and size that make this a must see show, DEFSUP adds another dimension to represent our community and goes a bit beyond. You can make a day of pretending to be a tourist this summer and hit these two major art hubs as a starting point.
Having accomplished navigating the general points, to then dive into specifics becomes much harder.
The first rule for writing about group shows is not to mention that you have work in the show otherwise it might look egomaniacal.
So I won’t. And you can’t favour your friend’s work.
And you can’t pretend all work is equally worthy of attention. But to discern worth can be one of personal bias so I have to be mindful while fighting the urge to be sappily egalitarian and randomly pick works to write about.
Being egalitarian is not fair to the artists who have gone out of their way to put in greater effort to make a work supremely beautiful, to make a statement, or with almost no effort, to make a humorous and pointed statement with a souvenir straw. And thus the size of a work is irrelevant.
Also, admiring works for their craft or originality of approach is not enough. Artists often go beyond the aesthetics with a message. Finding it might take time. Another challenge is finding commonalties in works to see if the curator had a plan, or if the theme of the exhibition is successfully presented.
How artists take on a similar subject can expose a viewer to a variety of ways that the same subject can be expressed. That’s useful to artists and others in their every day lives where ideas might be transposed into every day living.
Dealing with such variety is an opportunity for any viewer to appreciate an artist’s potentially new and unusual method of expression. Each artist may be progressing in ways that stretch their abilities and fully encompass the spirit of a theme that might be the inspiration for a group show. To discern who is up for the challenge and to what degree takes time. And therein lies the beauty of the difficulty.
Group shows can be a massive landscape taking many days to traverse. I know I’ve missed something important simply because I just didn’t have the time, feeling swamped by it all. I’ll return to the shows for a second or third look over the summer adding both to my delight and guilt.
Duncan Weller is a writer and visual artist. His work can be seen Saturday mornings at the Country Market and at his gallery and studio at 118 Cumberland St. You can write to him at email@example.com.