Spring arts preview 2016: visual arts critics' picks spotlight fresh forms

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      The mashup theme of the Vancouver Art Gallery’s current blockbuster show finds interesting resonances in a number of exhibitions throughout Metro Vancouver this spring.

      The once radical and now ubiquitous act of creating new artworks by conjoining and reconfiguring unlike and unexpected images, objects, materials, and processes enables artists and audiences alike to explore a twirling universe of visual possibilities. Ideas abound around gender, culture, nature, colonialism, and utopian aspiration.

      Further afield, the much anticipated Audain Art Museum in Whistler opens to the public on March 12, celebrating an astounding collection of British Columbia art in a Patkau-designed building set within an evergreen forest.

      Expect to be wowed.

      Self-portrait, Sarah Cain’s mix of paint and sheet music, is just one of the works reflecting an unstable world in the group show Surrogates, at Griffin Art Projects.


      (At Griffin Art Projects from March 5 to June 4)

      This group show is organized around the theme of surrogates—of substituting one form, image, medium, or identity for another. Through found objects, appropriated images and texts, cut-up film posters, invented characters, and photo-sculptures of cultural objects, the local and international artists represented explore ideas of authorship and originality. What these contemporary artworks suggest, says the show’s curator, Helga Pakasaar, are “possible ways to negotiate our place in an unstable world”.

      The Draw: The exhibition and the venue provide us with rare and marvellous access to contemporary art held in private collections in the Vancouver region.


      This image of the Colonial Hotel in Soda Creek is among 18,000 historic photographs donated by the Uno Langmann family to the UBC library.

      Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia From the Langmann Collection

      (At Presentation House Gallery from March 30 to June 26)

      Nanitch is a Chinook word meaning “to look and watch”, suggesting the role photography has played in the history of colonization. However, the exhibition promises to reveal some of the contradictions and even failures inherent in the colonial narrative of this place. Selected from more than 18,000 historic photographs recently donated to the UBC library by the Uno Langmann family, the show includes hand-coloured albumen prints, cartes de visite, stereograph cards, and photogravures created between the 1860s and the early 20th century.

      The Draw: Nanitch offers us a fresh and provocative interpretation of an outstanding group of historic photographs.


      Michiko Suzuki: Hope Chests

      (At the Burnaby Art Gallery from April 8 to June 12)

      Trained as a master printer in her native Japan, Michiko Suzuki brings collagelike methods and a lively pop-art aesthetic to her most recent project. Her inkjet-printed silk tents contain the metaphoric hope chests of eight young women from diverse cultural backgrounds. Suzuki’s work includes juxtaposed and layered photographic and print images; some elements are beautifully patterned and others are highly pixelated, as if viewed through a screen.

      The Draw: Suzuki finds elements of both difference and likeness within the hopes and dreams of adolescent girls.


      Nep Sidhu: Shadows in the Major Seventh

      (At the Surrey Art Gallery from April 9 to June 12)

      Toronto-based artist Nep Sidhu describes himself as “someone who connects things in the world”. His practice—and this exhibition—includes designing a line of non-commercial clothing for artists and musicians, paintings that incorporate metal work and Arabic calligraphy, prayer rugs honouring the African-American activist Malcolm X, and a textile collaboration with First Nations artist Nicholas Galanin.

      The Draw: Bringing together a compelling array of media, materials, disciplines, and traditions, Sidhu injects social-justice ideals into his explorations of art, music, architecture, and education.

      Lyse Lemieux relied on felt to represent a tunic in Dessin Feutré 5.

      Lyse Lemieux: A Girl's Gotta Do What A Girl's Gotta Do

      (At the Richmond Art Gallery from April 23 to July 3)

      Spotlighting one of Vancouver’s most accomplished artists, this exhibition examines Lyse Lemieux’s recent mixed-media works and provides a stage for new, site-specific installations. Expect to see collages incorporating found fabric and ink drawing, large-scale wall works “drawn” with strips of felt and cloth, and a display of the small sketchbooks that serve as her source material. While bringing together elements of the abstract and the representational, the graphic and the sculptural, Lemieux’s art is almost always referenced to the human body, its strengths and its frailties, its awkwardness and its sensuality.

      The Draw: This show provides Lemieux with the much-deserved venue of a large public gallery—and a wide audience with the opportunity to encounter her “sculptural drawing”.


      Rust Never Sleeps: Growth and Decay in the Making of Art

      (At the Charles H. Scott Gallery from June 1 to July 17)

      Viewers may recognize the show’s title, borrowed from Neil Young’s 1979 album, but might be unfamiliar with the natural forms and processes that the five participating artists marry to their art. Works and projects range from Ruben Ochoa’s rust-based paintings and Arnaud Desjardin’s mouldy portfolio of modernist prints to Jason de Haan’s salt-bearded portrait busts, Raphael Hefti’s “witch powder” photograms, and Holly Schmidt’s flower cultivation.

      The Draw: The second of the Scott Gallery’s fanciful reading of rock ’n’ roll lyrics, the exhibition demonstrates the risks artists take and the rewards they garner when they collaborate with the natural world.