Monomania celebrates Vancouver art
At Trench Contemporary Art until September 3
Monomania is not so much an exhibition as a celebration. It’s also a concept-driven installation, created and photographically documented by sculptor and gallerist Craig Sibley. “Monomania means the obsessive focus on one thing,” Sibley tells the Straight while walking us through Trench Contemporary Art, his Alexander Street space. “I’m focusing on Vancouver art, 1949 till now.”
Sibley initiated the installation on June 23 by hanging a single abstract painting by Lionel Thomas, then, over the next two weeks, proceeded through the decades until all 106 works by 38 artists were mounted, salon-style, floor to ceiling. Included here are paintings, drawings, prints, soft sculpture, and assemblages. Artists represented are both famous and obscure, and works range from mid-century lyrical abstractions by Don Jarvis and Geoff Rees to present-day soft sculpture by Jen Aitken and neo-geo collages by Sarah Gee. In between are a range of formalist, conceptual, and neo-conceptual pieces by everyone from Roy Kiyooka, Glenn Lewis, and Gary Lee Nova to Ken Lum, Vikki Alexander, and Davida Kidd.
With the exception of Lum, who is represented here by two handsome graphite drawings (studies for text paintings), made in the early 1990s, Monomania conspicuously bypasses the photo-based art that has put our city on the international map. Instead, there is a marked fondness for the interactions between Vancouver’s abstractions of the 1950s, its playful, intermedia days of the 1960s and ’70s, and its lively and diverse present. Lewis’s four Plexiglas boxes from the early ’70s, filled with disjunct found objects, find nifty correspondence in Carrie Walker’s recent little drawings of exotic animals (a hippo, a gorilla, a snarling African wild cat”¦), which she has surrealistically imposed upon old, anonymous pencil sketches and watercolours. The found images Walker employs as her grounds are mostly pastoral English landscapes to which she matches her style and medium, hilariously achieving a tension between the original scenes and their highly alien trespassers.
The early hard-edge works of Kiyooka and Brian Fisher are beautifully reflected in Gee’s recent cut-paper collages, such as her target-like gradation. Immaculately composed of more than 60 hand-cut paper rings, its hues range from dark blues, greys, and greens to brilliant reds and pinks. According to Sibley, Gee’s palette is referenced to a particular neighbourhood, which she has walked through and carefully photographed. Remarkably, her works juggle aspects of op, pop, hard-edge, and conceptual art within a beguiling and coherent whole.
Although there is much that’s familiar here, Monomania provides a forum for work, past and present, that has been overlooked by curators and dealers. “There are little gems in the show by really good artists who didn’t have huge careers,” Sibley says. He indicates a couple of Jack Hardman monotypes and a half-dozen small, sensitively realized, formalist paintings by Enn Erisalu, who died suddenly in 2005, before achieving the recognition he deserved.
Monomania also covers a sizable group of contemporary artists, both established and emerging, who previously had been represented by commercial galleries that have closed in recent years, mostly since the economic downturn of 2008. The fact that Trench occupies the space formerly home to the artist-run Helen Pitt Gallery amplifies the sense of creative continuity that prevails here. Kudos to Craig Sibley.