Monday, October 29, 2012

McMichael Art Gallery - Fashionality Exhibit

Earlier this year, the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg held an exhibition called "Fashionality - Dress and Identity in Contemporary Canadian Art". It was so much fun to see the creative ways that artists used clothing and fashion to produce beautiful and sometimes thought-provoking works.

Barbara Hunt's vintage aprons evoke images of Betty Draper from Mad Men getting ready for a dinner party.  Some of the aprons were really from that era, while others were created by Hunt to emulate and comment on the times.  Jane Eccles borrowed actual dresses from noted Canadian names such as Margaret Atwood and Adrienne Clarkson, hung them in front of her studio window during various seasons, and painted the results.  She represents the effects of sunlight streaming through the dresses as well as the scenery in the background.  Nicole Dexras created wild and elaborate costumes out of various flowers and plants.

Several works were created by native Indian artists.  Dana Claxton's striking "Onto The Red Road" shows the transformation from traditional Aboriginal clothing to Westernized modern dress, by shortening the same skirt at each stage, and changing the footwear from bare feet to open-toed sandals, eventually to shiny thigh-hugging spiked-heeled leather boots.  Ken Monkman mixed Western concepts with native designs to produce the raccoon jockstrap, a bra made of dream-catchers and a "Louis Vuitton" bag shaped like a quiver containing arrows.  Monkman also produced a homage to a 19th Century painting called Duel After The Masquerade, replacing the European dressed figures from a costume ball with ones wearing Indian medicine masks and moccasins.  The swords from the duel are replaced by a paint brush and easel.  It is interesting that the victor of the duel is represented as a woman wearing only a fur hat, fur coat and heels.

Janet Morton's floor to ceiling gigantic lumberman's jacket felt very iconic and Canadian and was aptly named "Canadian Monument".  Another beautiful series by Nicole Dextras encased flowing silky, flowery dresses in blocks of ice.  Barbara Pratt's paintings of dresses look like stylized fashion photographs including one called "Man and His Car" where the dress looks like a sleek shiny automobile. A very touching display by Michele Karch-Ackerman is called "The Sweaters from The Lost Boys".  It consists of an entire wall of miniature knitted sweaters.  Each sweater is meant to represent a soldier from the Newfoundland regiment who fought in the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel in WWI where 733 of the 801 men died.  She asks for volunteers to help knit the sweaters and currently has over 400.

There were too many other works to describe, but what a fabulous exhibition this was!

Being at the McMichael also gave us the opportunity to look at their outdoor sculptures including a new sculpture garden that opened recently.  We took a guided walking tour of the grounds, getting insights on sculptures we had seen before, and viewing new sculptures for the first time. 

We took a closer look at the Inuit carvings in the large rock on the path between the parking lot and the gallery. We spotted images that looked like a mythical squid, a tortoise, and men rowing a long boat.  For the first time, we noticed that the grizzly sculpture right in front of a building is actually mauling a seal.  A new exhibit showing a pack of wolves reclining around a bus shelter comments on the impact of urbanization on nature.

We were taken to the burial grounds where the founder Robert McMichael, his wife Signe, and many members of the Group of Seven (including A.J.Casson, Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer and Fred Varley) are buried.


Finally we strolled through the brand new sculpture garden, built to house a donation of nine large bronze sculptures from artist Ivan Eyre.  The sculptures seemed to mix Asian and Science Fiction influences with female sun-worshiping figures and male warriors clad in heavy work boots that reminded me of what the Terracotta warriors might have looked like if transported to the distant future.  The nestling of these sculptures deep in the wooded lands is stunning, yet tranquil.

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Jane Eccles said...

Thanks for seeing the Fashionality show and for enjoying the dress paintings. All the best, Jane Eccles