Unknown Past, Unknown Future: An Te Liu at MARSO Foundation, Mexico City

A crumbling Porfirian-era mansion in the centre of Mexico City houses NEW LIFE, An Te Liu’s first solo exhibition in the city. Shielded from the street by dark iron gates and old trees, the grandiloquent house stands as a vestige of the architectural boom and modernization project executed by infamous dictator Porfirio Díaz in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its cool and wide stone staircases open up to terraces lined with classical colonnade railings and ornate arched doorways, leading to a series of interconnected galleries where Liu’s recent bronze sculptures stand atop plinths. In one of the rooms a series of Liu’s early photolithographs from 1999 hangs on the wall, tracing connections between the different styles of his artistic career and with the multifarious architectural style of the gallery itself.

The photolithographs show composite images of computers Liu rescued from a garbage in the late 90s. Each image is a collage of several original boxy machines like the Mac Classic, the Quadra, and the Mac II SE, their outdated shapes further obscured by their new amalgamations. Technological progress has a way of making once cutting edge objects now seem clunky and hapless; with the passage of time, it becomes difficult to even imagine what functions these devices ever had. “It’s about the cycles of progress,” Liu explains. “These objects keep arriving, and then they leave our lives, and if someone finds them later they might not know where they came from. I imagine if a young person found a VCR today they wouldn’t know what it is, and it would probably be this mysterious thing.”

The architectural style of the mansion, now MARSO Foundation, reflects dictator Porfirio’s obsession with European architecture. This obsession resulted in buildings combining several European styles from disparate epochs to create new forms. Here Neoclassical symmetry mixes with Art Nouveau ironwork and Baroque mouldings that recall the Colonial period. While such buildings served as symbols of modernism in Mexico City a century ago, today they stand partly ruined, dreamy and overgrown, their original uses forgotten after the upheavals of the Revolution. Little is known about what life the mansion has had, except that it once functioned as the temporary office for a political party and much later as an Internet café – another phenomenon, like the video rental store, that quietly slipped into obsolescence.

Liu’s sculptures have a similar quality of combining different epochs, styles, and materials to create forms that recall several things at once while remaining mysterious. The simple shapes of his Eidolons (2014) bear features of Styrofoam packaging, like its pocked surface and curved openings, while also resembling futuristic robotic creatures on tiny legs. With spike-shaped protrusions along the sides of their bodies, they wear the stamps found on Styrofoam packaging like a series of birthmarks. Rather than providing a straightforward statement, these sculptures function as a series of suggestions, inverting materials and displaying contradictions. The negative space of packaging becomes the positive space of the sculpture, the inanimate seems to be its own species of life, and the futuristic creatures wear a tarnished patina as though they have been dug out of an ancient tomb.

Especially poetic is the work’s suggestion that time is neither linear nor cyclical, but simultaneous. In the imagination, like in Liu’s sculptures, prehistory, the present, and the distant future travel along the same synaptic pathways, capable of occupying a single written line or a unified sculpted surface. Like bubbles in a pot of boiling water, styles emerge, fade, and re-appear in single volume. The specter of modernism looms in these sculptures as Liu attempts to come to terms with a technological present constantly moving towards the future. Both sculptural modernism and the Porfirian mansion that these works occupy were once potent symbols of modernity. Now they are relics slowly crumbling from the wear of rain and wind and flow of new ideas.

An Te Lui’s solo exhibition NEW LIFE is on view at MARSO Foundation in Mexico City until June 16, 2018.

By Anna Kovler

An Te Liu, installation view at Marso Foundation of Eidolon IV-I, 2017, Eidolon VI-V, 2017, and Mutation (III), 2018. Bronze.


An Te Liu, Untitled, 1999/2015. Photolithographs on Rives BFK.

An Te Liu, Eternal Return, 2017. Bronze.

View of MARSO Foundation, Mexico City. 2018.

Earth/Air/Fire/Water: Wanda Koop at Arsenal New York

In the exhibition STANDING WITHSTANDING, Wanda Koop presents a selection of works encompassing some of the major themes of her career. A clear path emerges, connecting a video-installation presented at the 2001 Venice Biennale to a body of paintings made this year. While Koop’s references are specific – the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, an albino gorilla, a SpaceX rocket launch – the ethereal and minimal compositions of the paintings take on a universal, timeless character. Painted with thin washes of indigo, lavender, and mauve and accented with neon orange and electric pink, the series features Koop’s unfussy, confident mark-making and her personal lexicon of symbols. Depictions of earth, air, fire, and water are complicated by traces of heavy industry and the social, environmental, and emotional costs of ravenous development.

Installed in an intimate viewing room at the back of the gallery, the video loop Gorilla (2001) is projected down into a pool filled with water showing Snowflake, an albino gorilla that lived at the Barcelona zoo. Upon hearing of its existence, Koop was on the overnight train to see him. From hours of footage it became clear that Snowflake’s behavior displayed the repetitive, anxious quality of highly intelligent animals in captivity. He would splash around in a small pool before going to hide in his enclosure. A few other movements in between masked this repetition for onlookers only briefly seeing the gorilla, but upon longer inspection his torment was unmistakable. Footage condensed into a 30-second loop amplifies Snowflake’s fixated actions. The video renders his splashing and subsequent withdrawal into an infinite cycle, his magnificence reduced to a set of movements out of and into resignation.

A small recent painting at the entrance of the gallery depicts a gorilla on a muted green riverbank guarding a large orange flame. Presiding over both the entrance and darkest corner of the space, the animal’s two appearances turn the gallery into a loop of its own. As visitors make the rounds from front to back and out again, there appears to be little difference between the movements of Snowflake in his enclosure and ours in the gallery. “We are nature,” Koop remarks, “and we are doing this to ourselves.”

Some paintings in the exhibition point to the damaging effects of colonialism and development on the landscape and its inhabitants, while others celebrate the elegance and beauty of human inventions like towering urban skyscrapers. A painting of an oil refinery titled Northern Alberta (2017) ambiguously looks both looming and majestic. Despite taking on polarizing political and environmental themes, the exhibition shows the issues as complex, resisting the pitfalls of black and white ideology. “It’s all horrific and fantastic at the same time,” Koop explains, “all of these elements are us – we’re fragile, we’re beautiful, and we’re terrifying.”

by Anna Kovler

Wanda Koop’s STANDING WITHSTANDING is on view at Arsenal Contemporary New York from May 1 – June 17, 2018.

Wanda Koop, Gorilla, 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 16” x 20”.

Wanda Koop, Gorilla, (shot in 1991, presented during the 2001 Venice Biennale at the Thetis Foundation in the Arsenal, and recreated at Arsenal Contemporary NY 2018). HD Video, plexiglass pool, water. 80” x 53”

Wanda Koop, installation view of STANDING WITHSTANDING at Arsenal Contemporary New York.

Wanda Koop, Northern Alberta, 2017. Acrylic on canvas. 40” x 30”.

Wanda Koop, Dusk Blue + Brilliant Orange, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. 40” x 30”.

Life, Death, and Heavy Metal: In The Studio With Paul Butler

Paul Butler has worn many hats in the art world. He has tried his hand at nearly every art-related occupation available to somebody who showed early promise as an artist (in public school he avoided being bullied on account of his flawless drawings of Iron Maiden and Metallica logos, which he was commissioned to draw on skateboards and denim jackets). Lately Butler has narrowed his scope back to just being an artist, and back to the reasons he got into art in the first place. The excitement of working on something feverishly all night and then talking about it to a friend, or the freedom to try something new and fail, have found their way back into his practice. So has the grade-school imagery. In his new series of collages, to be shown at Division Gallery Toronto in May, a heavy metal guitarist shreds against a backdrop of stained glass, and 80s sports cars hover over a tropical beach. References to getting high and drinking alcohol are joined in the series by pink flamingoes, hockey players, and a Duchampian BMX wheel on a white stool.

It has been 20 years since Butler began his Collage Parties, collaborations between the artist and the public in which everyone gets to work making collages with magazines and material provided by Butler. “I like the atmosphere of people around me, almost like art school,” he explains, “it’s my opportunity for growth.” The latest iteration of Collage Party was a month-long undertaking at Project Gallery last February where Butler played host and honed his latest collages. On the horizon is a plan to open a permanent space in Toronto where Collage Party can continue on a regular basis.

Aside from returning to his childhood inspirations of metal, mullets, and hockey, Butler’s new collages touch on larger questions in life. A puff of white smoke on a blue background has the word “Death” adhered to it, and an image of a couple hugging is subtitled with the word “Feelings.” There is no single way to interpret his pairings of text and images, and Butler himself does not dictate their meaning. He has been focused on working intuitively, from the gut. “I’m like a vehicle,” he says, “I try to get out the way.”

As Butler is the conduit for the collective experiences at Collage Party, so too does the collective feed back into his own work. He often ends up using scraps that are created at Collage Parties, finding shapes on the floor he would never think to cut himself. “I’m like a garbage picker,” Butler explains, “I find a scrap and I like it, and I don’t really know why.”

Paul Butler’s new collages will be on view at his next solo exhibition which opens May 17th 2018 at Division Gallery in Toronto.

Written by Anna Kovler

Paul Butler, feelings, 2017. Collage based C-print mounted to aluminum. 16 x 20 in.

Paul Butler, Saint Maurice, 2015-18. Collage based C-print mounted on Plexiglas. 24 x 30 in.

Paul Butler, MIAMI, 2018. Collage based C-print mounted on Plexiglas. 24 x 32 in.

Paul Butler, Death, 2017. Collage based C-print mounted on Plexiglas. 20 x 24 in.

On MKUltra, LSD, and Generational Trauma: The Upcoming Performances of Sarah Anne Johnson

For the last ten years, Sarah Anne Johnson has been making work in response to an unusual and deeply traumatic event in her family’s history. In 1956, nobody in the family suspected that Johnson’s grandmother, Velma Orlikow, was part of a secret medical study funded by the CIA. When she checked into Allan Memorial Hospital in Montréal, with what now would be diagnosed as post-partum depression, she unknowingly became a test subject in a subproject of MKUltra. The insidious medical study headed by Dr. Ewen Cameron at McGill subjected patients to electric shock therapy, sleep deprivation, heavy sedation, and large doses of LSD. The clandestine American agency hoped that the psychedelic drug could be used to psychologically control and extract information from individuals of national security interest at the height of the Cold War.

The psychological damage to the family was permanent and cyclical. “What happened to my grandmother,” Johnson explains, “is this horrible thing that never resolved. It got passed to my mom and to me; in my memory what the doctor did is a continual thing that’s still going on.” In a multidisciplinary body of work, Johnson reflects on this trauma by roleplaying as both her grandmother and the doctor. In the installation Hospital Hallway, which will be shown at Arsenal Contemporary New York in fall of 2018, Johnson performs the desperate acts of a medical patient. Wearing a mask of her grandmother’s face, her intense choreographed dance struggles against the walls of a custom-built octagonal hallway, her body following a loop without exit.

The Cave, which will be shown at Julie Saul Gallery in New York, is a frozen, icy room at the heart of the imaginary house Johnson built for her grandmother. What should be the kitchen, or the warmest room of the house, has been damaged by the psychological effects of MKUltra. Inside The Cave, Johnson is dressed in a doctor’s uniform, performing a circular dance with a languid, nude doll whose head periodically rolls back. “He’s in the lead. The doctor is in control and she’s vulnerable,” Johnson notes, “he’s just dancing around at her expense.” It is a slow, depressing waltz without music that digs itself under the skin. As onlookers, our detached view makes us complicit in the torture before us, like those scientific gazes that witness and carefully chart a woman’s suffering from behind glass.

Sarah Anne Johnson’s upcoming exhibitions include “Rosy Fingered Dawn” at Julie Saul Gallery in New York, which opens May 5th, 2018; a group show at the MET Breuer in September 2018; and parallel presentations of The Cave and Hospital Hallway at Julie Saul.

Written by Anna Kovler

Sarah Anne Johnson. Velma Orlikow. 2008. 20 x 26 in. Graphite on Inkjet.


Sarah Anne Johnson. Hospital Hallway, displayed with monitors between live performances. Upcoming installation and performances at Arsenal Contemporary New York, fall 2018.


Sarah Anne Johnson. Performing Hospital Hallway. 2015.


Sarah Anne Johnson. Stills from The Cave, 2018. To be performed at Julie Saul Gallery New York, September 2018.


A Future We Do Not Yet Know: In The Studio With An Te Liu

by Anna Kovler

In a defunct, light-filled car garage, An Te Liu is wrapping up production of his new bronze sculptures in preparation for the Armory Show in New York. Casts, molds, and waxes lie on the floor amid dozens of slender plinths casting their shadows on the white concrete floor. Working in a renovated mechanic’s shop, with its original brick walls and garage doors, perfectly suits Liu’s fascination with the aesthetic of ruins and the inevitability of change.

His forms hover between identifiable objects and strange, mysterious artifacts. A small sculpture vaguely recalls a skull, while another references a partial body in motion. Next to those, a blackened disco ball hangs from the ceiling. Another bronze looks like a piece of petrified Styrofoam, and two works resemble orphaned car parts. Whether organic or technological, all things decay; the solids and metals with which we build our worlds perhaps are just ways of buying time. Like a science fiction novel, Liu’s sculptures propose what our objects might look like if unearthed thousands of years from now, their surfaces tarnished as if from fire, or polished like pebbles in the sea.

I’ll Be Your Mirror (2018) reminds me of something, but I can’t quite tell what. Like thunderbolts, two rust colored bronze pieces emerge from the plinth, connected in the middle by something resembling a stick. “I’ve been looking at driftwood,” Liu explains, “how something just erodes away after millions of years.” The shape of the sculpture comes from the taillights of the new Honda Fit, a modest but sporty hatchback. As though fossilized or petrified, the taillights have fused together with the driftwood at centre. A picture comes to mind of a forest floor on which the roots of a powerful tree have subsumed or punctured the Honda, forcing its tendrils into the car’s plastic and glass.

Liu’s references are as diverse as his inspirations. He has been recently looking at the tortured figures in Francis Bacon’s paintings with their shifting planes, deformed expressions, and otherworldly features. The influence of Futurist sculptors like Brancusi and Boccioni is also strongly felt. But unlike the Futurists, whose unwavering embrace of technological innovation spurred an imagining of new futures, Liu’s sculptures carry a heavy awareness of our civilization’s decline, its wreckage and foreclosure. Standing before his corroded disco ball or relics of taillights, one feels a bit like one of the travelers in a Romantic or Neoclassical landscape painting, stumbling upon the ruins of a coliseum, temple, or castle. Feelings of awe and melancholy arise in equal measure, calling forth a future we do not yet know, or one that has already passed.

An Te Liu will be exhibiting at the 2018 Armory Show in Booth #P16 of the Presents section from March 8 – 11. Upcoming exhibitions include “Nothing Stable Under Heaven” at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from March 3 – September 16, 2018, “The House Imaginary” at the San Jose Museum of Art from April 20- August 9, 2018, “bust/boom” at the New Gallery in Calgary from May – June 2018, an exhibition at Marso Gallery in Mexico City and a solo exhibition at Division Gallery in Toronto which opens September 6, 2018.

An Te Liu’s Toronto studio, 2018.


An Te Liu, The Party’s Over, 2017. Bronze, 12 inches diameter. Ed 3 of 4.


An Te Liu in his Toronto studio, 2018.


An Te Liu, Halcyon Drift (Bubba), 2018. Bronze, 17 3/8 x 18 x 13 ½ in. Ed 1 of 3.


An Te Liu in his Toronto studio, 2018.


An Te Liu, Nonorganic Life, 2017. Bronze, 12 x 5 x 6 in, Ed 4 of 5.

The Spaces We Inhabit: In the Studio with John Monteith

by Anna Kovler

My first question upon entering John Monteith’s studio was: which part of your body gets hurt from making these? My hand, and especially my thumb, he replied, from pressing into the pencil for so long.

Dozens of intricate drawings on drafting film line the walls of Monteith’s studio, colorful, precise compositions drawn with such razor-sharp accuracy and expanses of evenly colored shapes as to require vast amounts of concentration. It can be a refuge to get lost in the task of making abstract forms: there is joy in drawing a perfect line, a thin arc in yellow, or hatching in a pale blue square. This is especially true when something in the drawing can surprise us, when something is revealed during the act of making a mark.

Working with found imagery and a personal archive of photographic references, Monteith abstracts from images of interiors, urban spaces, models and architectural propositions to first create a grey scale composition on one side of a sheet of translucent drafting film. He then flips the sheet over, and responds to the first side in colored pencil. The resulting drawing becomes a hybrid of the front and back, a third drawing in which a single shape can shift in value, darkening and lightening in response to the backside of the film. In every drawing there is a hint at something below the surface, something not immediately seen.

Monteith uses techniques of layering and methods of abstraction to discuss subjectivities, shifting contextual perspectives, things hidden, revealed, interpreted, and reinterpreted in the urban landscape. A single house occupied by various owners over a number of years, a detail of a Le Corbusier apartment complex as experienced through a myriad of different eyes, a street or neighborhood as it changes and shifts over hundreds of years are all subjects of interest.

In a separate but related body of work, Monteith weaves drawings into his photographs. Traveling to diverse countries including Germany, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba, he photographs modernist and socialist modernist architecture. To achieve a softness that at first glance appears as a slight blur, these images are constructed of one hundred layers, shots of the same location with only miniscule changes in the camera’s position. Monteith then creates a drawing in response to each location, which is photographed and inserted as a layer into the digital photographic file. In the end we are left with something between a drawing and a photograph, a complex, dazzling layering of fact and fiction.

What draws Monteith to abstraction in relation to cities, buildings, and architecture is the possibility of infinite perspectives, of relationships between people and the built environment that are experimental, provisional, and ever changing. In his drawings and photographs I see a queerness defined not only through difference, but also through radical openness buttressed with dedication, responsiveness, and a true interest in the way we look at architecture, and by extension at one another.

John Monteith’s solo exhibition Resonances opens on April 5, 2018 at Division Gallery Toronto. His upcoming international solo exhibitions include Kindred Spirits at the Taipei Contemporary Art Centre, Taiwan in October, In Retrospect, as part of Beijing22, a five-year curatorial initiative hosted by I Project Space, Beijing, China where he will be in residency in November and December, and an edition launching in May with Unique Multiples, Madrid, Spain.


John Monteith in his Toronto studio, 2018.


John Monteith, Southbank 5, Wax and Pigment Pencil on
Drafting Film, 2017, 24″ x 18″.


John Monteith, Southbank 6, Wax and Pigment Pencil on
Drafting Film, 2017, 24″ x 18″.


John Monteith, Platz 12, Archival Giclée photographs on Hahnemühle Fine Art Photo Matte Paper, 2017, 42″ x 28″.

John Monteith, Platz 1, Archival Giclée photographs on Hahnemühle Fine Art Photo Matte Paper, 2017, 42″ x 28″.

Materials (re)invented: Not Too High, Not That Low at Division Toronto

by Anna Kovler

To say that a woman has “come undone” is to say she has lost her composure or self-control. In the group show Not Too High, Not That Low at Division Gallery Toronto, seven woman artists, with works that showcase their precise and deliberate handling of materials in innovative ways, exhibit anything but a loss of composure.

Eleanor King’s (She’s come) Undone (2018) crowns the exhibition with the word undone painted crisply across several wood panels and un-stretched canvas adhered to the wall. Incorporating the raw material into the finished work, the panels stand on the same cans of household paint that were used to paint the entire composition. Dried green and blue paint runs loosely down the sides of the cans in messy drips that contrast with the hard-edged, straight lines of the spelled-out word. In a single work, King brings together opposing elements: chance and control, support and artwork, raw material and finished work. This playful awareness of the physicality and history of art materials is echoed in many works in the exhibition.

Both Angela Teng and Tammi Campbell turn paint into a sculptural material, pushing the paint far beyond its normal mode of application. Teng creates yarn out of paint by squeezing it out of a tube before crocheting it into abstract compositions. Her work marries the quaint and domestic women’s craft of crocheting with the historically male-dominated sphere of hard-edge abstraction. In a similar process, Campbell turns paint into what looks like bubble wrap and tape, producing the uncanny illusion that the minimal compositions hanging on the gallery walls have not yet been unwrapped.

A paper tapestry by Myriam Dion also alludes to craft and traditional women’s work. She uses an X-Acto knife to cut thousands of tiny teardrop holes from newspaper pages, turning contemporary news into decorative motifs. In the centre of this large, intricate work, a unicorn lies dead on a red blanket below The New York Times logo, raising the question of whether this is a found image or a fictional scenario invented by the artist. A testament to Dion’s laborious and precise process, the tapestry references craft while relying on newspapers. There is the inevitable suggestion here that the news is also crafted, a fiction woven together like rugs and tapestries.

Hanging in a row, eight canvases from Wanda Koop’s Still (2017) series feature cascading colors resembling a sky at sunrise or sunset, with the canvases loosely representing the spaces between urban skyscrapers. Koop highlights the vertical edges of each painting, showing only a poetic sliver of the monumental buildings. As the eye bounces between centre and edge, trying to distinguish between foreground and background, we recognize the artist’s coy self-awareness as she manipulates our expectations and the optical possibilities of paint.

Like Cinderella’s lost slipper, Brittany Shepherd’s stray gloves lay on the gallery floor. Made of hardened polyurethane, the gloves can pass as belonging equally to a cleaning woman or to a glamorous woman. Whomever they belong to, they have been thrown off and left behind, along with the expectations attached to those identities. Bea Fremderman’s apple and pear sculptures recall either Sleeping Beauty’s poisoned apple or Eve’s original sin. Bites taken out of the fruits reveal their inside to be Styrofoam, enriching the biblical and fairytale allusions with contemporary questions of plastic waste and over-consumption.

Unafraid of evoking traditional crafts or well-worn narratives, the seven artists in this exhibition invert, challenge, and master the materials they chose and the histories told by those materials. The distinctions between craft and art, and between women’s and men’s work, may seem outdated now, and yet the work here shows them to still be in need of reconsideration, rebuttal, and celebration.

Not Too High Not That Low is on view at Division Toronto from January 23 – March 3, 2018.



By Anna Kovler

In one of the few remaining light industrial neighborhoods in Toronto, a massive studio building houses Towards, an emerging independent art gallery. “Vacancies” is the seventh show at the gallery, a three-person exhibition featuring ceramic sculptures by Sameer Farooq, etchings on glass by Joshua Vettivelu, and a sculptural installation by Abbas Akhavan.

Placed on white shelves running down a long wall in the gallery are Sameer Farooq’s pale copies and imprints of museum packaging materials. What are generally considered practical, unprecious materials that support the “valuable” artwork – plastic wrap, tissue paper, and air-filled tubes – transform into the artwork through the artist’s intervention. Farooq creates traces of these objects by casting them in porcelain or using paper clay, which he folds almost like a skin over wads of museum wrapping tissue. Displayed unpreciously as an inventory of things, the white copies sit, numbered and patched in places, like wounded ghosts or death masks resting on a scientist’s shelf.

Displayed on the floor beside Farooq’s pale sculptures is Abbas Akhavan’s after Untitled, a white 2-ply tissue paper the size of a queen-sized blanket. The installation is Akhavan’s homage to Felix Gonzales-Torres’ haunting photograph of an empty bed. And yet the oversized Kleenex, thin and vulnerable on the floor, cannot keep anyone warm, but could perhaps catch the tears of many people in a moment of overflowing collective grief. Both Farooq’s inventory of undocumented objects and Akhavan’s large tissue evoke meditation on recent global conflicts, the refugee crisis, and flow of undocumented, hidden people across the world’s borders, and the allowance to cry for these unfathomably sad events, to mourn.

Upon a tall plinth are Joshua Vettivelu’s drawings of gay white supremacists, etched onto glass. Arranged in a circle, the glass rectangles show men engaging in a variety of activities, some erotic, others violent. Appearing shirtless and muscular, the men play out archetypes of “strong” masculinity, a performance the artist subverts by placing the men onto glass, a see-through and fragile material. Vettivelu’s disturbing yet poetic sculpture allows us to see right through displays of racist aggressive masculinity, as nothing more than a reaction caused by these men’s deep vulnerability.

A sense of thoughtful sadness pervades the exhibition. Taken together, the works evoke the different kinds of ghosts that haunt us, the ghosts of both loved ones and those whom we denounce, of institutions and their blind spots, of the sacred and of the mundane.

“Vacancies” is on view at Towards gallery at 87 Wade Ave. Suite B1 in Toronto from December 7 – January 6, 2018.

Lovable Hustlers: The Paintings of Michael Harrington

Lovable Hustlers: The Paintings of Michael Harrington

by Anna Kovler

The social interactions depicted in Michael Harrington’s paintings are mysterious. Men in plush interiors make business deals over cocktails. Women with sharp red nails and dandies in brightly colored suits mingle in mod-style living rooms. These characters and the settings they occupy seethe with an almost sleazy, comical air proper to outdated fashions and hapless hustlers. The Elvis side burns, colorful synthetic suits, aviator sunglasses, handlebar moustaches, and flowery wallpaper paint a nostalgic picture of era at once fabulous and overwrought.

In Jungle Trio and Friends (2017), three men in matching tiger print jackets are joined by two brightly suited men and two bodyguards. Sporting Elvis hairstyles in what looks like a green room or corner of a nightclub, the men stand discussing some undisclosed order of business. One grins jovially as he clasps his hands together, his fingers adorned with large gold rings. Maybe he just closed a deal. Or maybe this is just a way of passing time.

Past styles have a way of making people look funny. Harrington’s vintage scenarios elicit both a chuckle and desire for a time now long out of reach. Even if the styles in these works have an historical accuracy, the artist has made up most of the compositions and characters, constructing a new reality. Harrington paints loosely, with a single daub forming a mouth or moustache, imbuing his scenes with a fuzziness akin to the way memories or dreams are experienced. Looking at his hustlers, their ornate outfits blurring with the décor of their scene, it becomes apparent that the colors of memories, dreams, and paintings are always either brighter or darker than waking life.

Michael Harrington’s new paintings are on view at Katharine Mulherin in Toronto from November 24- December 24, 2017.

Born in the Digital: The Universe According to Nicolas Baier

Born in the Digital: The Universe According to Nicolas Baier

Humans have been wondering about the nature and shape of the universe long before the birth of the sciences. Early drawings of the earth show it as a flat disc covered by a semi-circular dome containing the sun, moon, and stars. More modern theories represent the universe as a donut, a saddle, or a dodecahedron – a three dimensional shape with twelve flat faces. Nicolas Baier is interested in contemporary scientific theories of the universe and the digital technologies that allow us to map it. Using specialized software, and in consultation with an astrophysicist at CERN, Baier tries to do the impossible: to capture the universe in an artwork.


“Asterisms,” the title of his exhibition at Division Gallery in Toronto, references the random patterns created by connecting the most prominent stars in our celestial sphere, similar in ways to the constellations used in Astrology. In Constellations Or 1 (2017), Baier turns these computer-generated, interstellar connections into a digitally carved relief of geometric planes. The gilded surface of the work can be said to represent the whole observable universe.


Baier’s work is preoccupied with hard to measure phenomena like cosmic rays, fossil radiation, dark matter, and neurological pathways. Yet of equal interest for him is the expansion of digital technologies to capture these processes and the mass amounts of data required in order to better understand our world. Jungle (2017) depicts a long hallway lined with rows upon rows of servers vanishing into the distance. Carved with a CNC router, the surface of grey peaks and valleys looks haphazard from up close but fixes into a clear image from further away. It is a haunting reality where the digital seems as infinite as the universe itself.


Baier makes use of computer software that creates models of the earth’s atmosphere at different times. The software is able to go back through the data of time to construct hypothetical models of what the clouds in the sky looked like millions of years ago. In Réminiscence 5 (2016), fiery, scarlet-red clouds fade into yellow and amber, representing what the sky would have looked like 65 million years ago on the eve of the extinction of the dinosaurs. Like many of the works in this exhibition, this apocalyptic cloudscape reveals how advanced our technologies are, but also their fundamental limitations. Nothing could ever capture the magnitude or intensity of an asteroid hitting the earth, but our representations, both in science and art, continue to try.


Nicolas Baier’s exhibition “Asterisms” is on view at Division Gallery in Toronto from October 27, 2017 until January 3, 2018.


By Anna Kovler