CBC's Vancouver-shot Crash Gallery returns with fun and facts from the world of visual art

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      What does trying to paint on a canvas suspended above you while being rotated in a circle sound like to you?

      Bizarre? Intriguing? Fun? All of the above?

      If you answered yes to any of those questions, you'll probably want to check out CBC's Crash Gallery, back for a second season on CBC.

      If you haven't heard of the Vancouver-shot TV series, in each episode, three artists are put to the test as they race against time to create works of art under specific conditions and with challenging requirements, ranging from trying to paint underwater to smashing plates to create portraits.

      Crash Gallery

      Art Gallery of Ontario head programmer Sean O'Neill, who hosts the show, explained to the Georgia Straight on set near Olympic Village that there are some improvements to this season.

      Unlike last season when O'Neill had to go it alone, he's joined this year by a panel of art experts, comprised of Toronto performance artist Bridget Moser; Vancouver and Manila artist Paul de Guzman; and Toronto artist, curator, and academic Syrus Marcus Ware.

      Performance artist Bridget Moser

      "Last year...we didn't have that extra layer of critique or questioning," he said. "So now I feel like I have three compadres to commiserate with and talk about things with and critique things with and talk about which artists have done the best."

      What's also being ramped up this year is the educational component. O'Neill promises more information, context, and expertise provided about art in each episode.

      "We got the fun part down [last season]…but I think people still want a little nugget of something to walk away with, like a fact about art history or an artist reference or something they can chew on a little bit and Google and find out more about because I think visual art can be intimidating to people," he said.

      At his day job at the AGO in Toronto, O'Neill said that he devotes a great deal of his efforts into making art more accessible for everyone.

      "The perception is that you go into a museum and you're not allowed to talk and you're not allowed to touch and you're not allowed to be on your phone and you're not allowed to take pictures and it's like no, no, no, no," he continued. "And a show like this finds ways to open up the visual arts for a new and different kind of audience, and that's why I do it. I believe in that."

      Artist Paul De Guzman

      In fact, O'Neill is driven by a deeper mission—and one that's particularly timely in this political climate.

      "I believe that art changes lives, art is really important and essential to our society and us as a people, and [helps in] generating empathy and compassion and understanding, and understanding of difference, and all these kinds of things," he said.

      He feels that the show can appeal to both ends of the art-world spectrum.

      "It's a taster for somebody who's never been to a museum before, or it's a celebration for somebody's who's in the hyper-serious art world and wants to just have a laugh."

      Academic Syrus Marcus Ware

      For Season 2, O'Neill said that they've also fine-tuned the challenges. Rather than throwing artists completely outside of their skill sets, he explained, they've been trying to support the artists a bit more in highlighting or revealing their strengths.

      In fact, the winner of last year's show, Michael Markowsky, designed all the challenges for this year.

      O'Neill said that because the biggest challenge the artists face is the time limit, they can't overthink things and simply need to go with their immediate responses.

      "The artists who succeed tend to be the ones who trusted their skills will carry them through but don't try to do what they always do, like throw out a little bit of their own preferences and just tackle the challenge, follow their intuition, and create something that is simple enough to communicate something to the audience," he said.

      Crash Gallery

      The competition just to get on the show this year was particularly stiff. In contrast to the first season when there were only 100 applicants, over 2,000 applied to show for the second season—with only 15 artists selected to be on camera.

      "We're looking for artists who have real skill, technical skill, and I think we're looking for artists who aren't afraid to have fun, and aren't so precious about everything they do being meticulously executed in their way and their time," O'Neill said. "They have to be artists who are willing to kind of throw it all out the window and laugh at themselves and take a risk and have fun. It's a combination of skill and personality."

      Season 2 of Crash Gallery premieres on CBC on Sunday (February 5) at 9:30 p.m. Episodes from Season 1 can be viewed online at the CBC website. 

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