I am not the sort of person who lives for contemporary art installations… however, I have to praise an exhibition we saw at the McMichael Art Gallery in Kleinburg, Ontario. I am a bit biased because it was curated by Julia Pine – my former assistant at the Bata Shoe Museum who I now have to address as ‘doctor’ because she has since acquired a stack of academic initials.
Julia, I mean Dr. Pine, curated Fashionality: Dress and Identity in Contemporary Canadian Art – an exploration of how apparel and the act of adornment is used by 23 active Canadian artists in their work. The exhibition is divided into four general themes:
The first theme is about the art of creating. My favourite was a wall of clothing made and worn by artist Nathalie Purschwitz who, like the woman who cooked her way through Julia Child’s recipes, blogged about everything she made and wore for one year – nothing she wore was made by anyone but her, from shoes to sunglasses.
The second part of the exhibition examines clothing and the life cycle. A stunning wall mural of hundreds of tiny knitted sweaters, entitled Lost Boys, is a poignant tribute to fallen soldiers of the First World War. The artist Michele Karch-Ackerman continues to add to this piece, in fact if you want to help, click on her name to learn how to volunteer to make more of these sweaters.
The third element of the show looks at fashion. This is perhaps the most traditional approach within the exhibition consisting mostly of sketches, paintings and photographs. I was drawn in particular to some eye-catching photographs taken of chiffon and tulle dresses frozen within blocks of ice. Nicole Dextras is the artist who has created these hauntingly beautiful sculptures that she photographs for posterity before they melt.
The finale looks at identity. At one end of the gallery there is a three-story red plaid lumberjack shirt and at the other, a cover of ‘Cosmosquaw’ and in between are some of the works of Kent Monkman. Monkman adeptly uses humour to express his Native and sexual identity through a variety of artistic forms. One of his many genres are paintings done in the style of 19th century artists of Native life, like Kreighoff and Rindisbacher, but when you look closely you realize the ‘noble savages’ are in high heels! Probably my favourite piece was the ‘LV’ quiver, but there was also a dream-catcher bra that ran a close second.
I recommend Fashionality – it’s a great complimentary exhibition to the traditional Canadian school of art that makes up the balance of the McMichael art collection. The exhibition will be on display until September 3.