Spring arts preview 2017 visual arts critics' picks: Polar bears in the plaza, an ode to Charles H. Scott, and a look at Mexico

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      There’s a “looking forward through looking back” theme in the visual arts this spring—partly because two long-standing arts institutions are preparing for big changes this fall. Presentation House Gallery, which has occupied the third floor of an old wooden building in North Vancouver for 40 years, will be moving into splendid new digs on the waterfront under the name of the Polygon Gallery. And the Charles H. Scott Gallery will be relocating (with its academic home, Emily Carr University of Art + Design) to a new building on Great Northern Way. It, too, will be assuming a new name: the Libby Leshgold Gallery. Elsewhere, artists weave together past and present, tradition and innovation, in explorations of shifting cultural and political realities and investigations of cross-cultural understanding.

       

      “What You Looking At?!”

      (At Plaza Projects from February 25 to March 20)

      The inspiration for this exhibition is Pizza, “the world’s saddest polar bear”, imprisoned for the entertainment of gawking shoppers in a 430-square-foot glass cage in the Grandview Mall in Guangzhou, China. Invited artists from both Guangzhou and Vancouver question human-animal relations and ask us to consider capitalism’s seemingly unending ability to encage, brutalize, exploit, and commodify the sentient creatures with whom we share this planet.

      The Draw: The third show to take place in the Plaza Projects nonprofit art space, located in Richmond’s Aberdeen Square mall, continues this collective’s admirable undertaking, which is “to shift a site of consumption to a site of dialogue”.

       

      A Kota Ezawa portrait of Charles H. Scott.

      Goodbye Charles

      (At the Charles H. Scott Gallery from February 29 to April 23)

      This tribute to the influential artist and educator Charles Hepburn Scott, after whom the gallery was named, includes—appropriately enough—art old and new. Scott’s paintings, drawings, and sketchbooks will be exhibited alongside works by artists who have previously exhibited in the gallery. London-based duo Cullinan Richards will create a theatrical installation alluding to the student Beaux Arts balls that Scott oversaw in the 1920s and ’30s. Vancouver’s Ron Tran is presenting a sound installation referencing summer art camps Scott led on Savary Island. Also included in this tribute exhibition is a bookwork with a diverse range of portraits of Scott created by contemporary artists.

      The Draw: The slightly ironic attraction in this tribute to Charles H. Scott is that we will learn more about the man just before his name is removed from view than we did in all the years it adorned the gallery’s entrance.

       

      In a digital exhibit via Burnaby Art Gallery, Deborah Koenker's Casa de Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: The Mexican Night (lithography/silkscreen/intaglio, 1983, Collection of Simon Fraser University).

      Deborah Koenker: The Mexican Night

      (Online at the Burnaby Art Gallery, www.burnabyartgallery.ca/)

      This online exhibition bridges two series of works by local artist Deborah Koenker, based on her extensive travels in Mexico and enhanced by her marriage into a large Mexican family. The first is a suite of prints she created in the early 1980s, in an attempt to express her intense sensory experiences travelling in the states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Michoacán, and Guanajuato. The second set of prints, produced in 2007 after 30 years of return visits, is based on an installation she created in collaboration with villagers in Tapalpa, Jalisco. Like the installation, these serigraphs focus on missing and murdered Mexican women and girls, mostly poor workers drawn to the assembly plants of Ciudad Juárez.

      The Draw: Old and new works reflect profound changes in Mexican life and culture, including the impact of something much in the news right now: the North American Free Trade Agreement.

       

      • Maria Hupfield, “John Hupfield’s Woodlands Indian Art & West Coast Indian Art" 

      John Hupfield’s Woodlands Indian Art + West Coast Indian Art

      (At the Western Front Gallery from March 17 to April 29)

      Ontario-born, Brooklyn-based artist Maria Hupfield, a member of Wasauksing First Nation, explores the sound recordings and 35mm slides her non-native father, John Hupfield, made about First Nations artists in the 1970s. Using these as her source material, Maria Hupfield creates a new body of work that proposes alternative conversational possibilities between indigenous and settler cultures. She will also collaborate with artist Charlene Vickers in the creation of a new performance piece.

      The Draw: Because of her mixed heritage, Maria Hupfield is powerfully situated to examine relations between cultures and to build new dialogues.

       

      Seth, Northern Hi-Lights, from the graphic novel George Sprott: (1894-1975), 2009.

      Mark Haney and Seth: Omnis Temporalis

      (At the Richmond Art Gallery from April 9 to June 25; opening-night performance April 8, 7:30 p.m.)

      This collaboration between acclaimed cartoonist and graphic novelist Seth and composer and double bassist Mark Haney promises exciting things in the realms of creative partnership and interdisciplinary exploration. Vancouver-based Haney builds his musical work Omnis Temporalis on the foundation of George Sprott 1894-1975, the intentionally retro picture-novella by Guelph-based Seth. Over the course of the exhibition, 10 free performances will take place in a space designed by Seth to suggest the television station where the fictional Sprott hosted a TV show.

      The Draw: Haney’s m.o. is to attract new audiences to new music by partnering with artists in other genres and disciplines. Seth is Canada’s most renowned cartoonist, known for employing the classic style of drawing associated with the old New Yorker magazine. Expect to be dazzled by their collaboration.

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