Spring arts preview 2019 visual arts critics' picks: Photo-based works reign, from Pawtucket to Harlem

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      Many of the season’s best shows are photo-based—not surprising given that the annual Capture Photography Festival (April 3 to 30) has so successfully come to signify springtime in Metro Vancouver’s visual-art world. Personal stories are reconstructed, cultural histories are illuminated, and changing viewpoints are processed through the lenses of local, national, and international artists.


      Nicolas Sassoon: Liquid Landscapes

      At the Surrey UrbanScreen to April 28

      Nighttime passengers on the SkyTrain between Gateway and Surrey Central stations are graced with views of Nicolas Sassoon’s digital-animation ode to the natural landscapes of Surrey, playing across the façade of the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre. Drawing on photographs found online, Sassoon translates natural colours and forms into pulsing and morphing abstractions—a different work for each night of the week. Each references a different site, such as Crescent Beach, Serpentine Fen, and the Nikomekl River, while also alluding to early computer graphics.
      The Draw: Sassoon asks us to reconsider the ways our understanding of the natural world is mediated by photographic and digital technologies. At the same time, Liquid Landscapes is visually mesmerizing—more than worth the SkyTrain fare. Ride back and forth as often as you dare, or, hey, get out and stand gawking in the rec-centre parking lot.


      Affinities: Canadian Artists and France

      At the Vancouver Art Gallery from March 2 to May 20

      While the main event at the VAG this spring is definitely French Moderns, touring from the Brooklyn Museum and featuring the likes of Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Edgar Degas, and Henri Matisse, Affinities promises to tie this show to Canadian art from the gallery’s collection. Probing the influences of French modernist movements on Canadian artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Affinities gives us works by Emily Carr, Maurice Cullen, and J.W. Morrice. More recently, French cultural and feminist theory is reflected in the postmodernism of Rodney Graham, Lucy Hogg, and Mary Scott.
      The Draw: It’s fascinating to consider the ways in which French art and theory have spun outward, throwing long lines of inventiveness into our own backyard.


      Jim Breukelman: Altered States

      At the West Vancouver Museum from March 20 to May 11

      This solo exhibition spotlights both early and recent work by one of our leading photographic artists. We are introduced to a body of images Breukelman shot in a diner in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, while he was a student at the famous Rhode Island School of Design. These works reflect on opposing views held by the counterculture of the artist’s generation and the older factory workers and truckers who patronized the diner. Also on view are selections from more recent photographic series, including unsettling images shot in a taxidermy shop and a mesocosm.
      The Draw: A major retrospective of Breukelman’s work is long overdue. In the meantime, the West Van Museum show gives us a gratifying glimpse into his career.


      Deanna Bowen’s Theatre Under the Stars’ cast photo from Finian’s Rainbow.

      Deanna Bowen: A Harlem Nocturne

      At the Contemporary Art Gallery from April 5 to June 16

      Vancouver-raised, Toronto-based artist Deanna Bowen researches and retells African-Canadian histories,including those involving her own family, who immigrated to this country from the United States in the early 20th century. In the second of two related exhibitions (the first was at Toronto’s Mercer Union in 2017), the culmination of a multiyear research project, she uses film, photography, and other media to examine race relations in Vancouver. Focusing particularly on our city’s black entertainment community, she illuminates the story of Eleanor Collins, a jazz singer and variety-show host of the 1950s and ’60s—the first black host on TV in North America.
      The Draw: An internationally acclaimed multidisciplinary artist, Bowen unearths overlooked black histories, reminding the mainstream that it is not as squeaky clean and tolerant as it likes to believe.


      Karen Tam: With Wings Like Clouds Hung From the Sky

      At the Richmond Art Gallery from May 4 to June 30

      Montreal artist Karen Tam characteristically works with mixed-media installations that re-create spaces claimed and shaped by Chinese immigrants. Her RAG work, originally created for the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, “reimagines” the painting studio of Lee Nam, an artist who migrated to British Columbia more than a century ago and settled in Victoria’s Chinatown. Tam’s installation includes flowers, goldfish, and photographs, as well as traditional brush paintings by contemporary Chinese-Canadian artists.
      The Draw: Building on her extensive historical research, including that into the friendship between Lee and Emily Carr (who showed his work in her studio), Tam opens our eyes to the life and times of an artist who might otherwise have slipped into obscurity.