Four shows in Toronto: Eisler, Howlett, Jazvac, VSVSVS

John Eisler

John Eisler

Kelly Jazvac’s “Site words, spoilers and shoplifters” and John Eisler’s “foil” at Diaz Contemporary.

Her work stutters but says nothing. Then it says it three times. You leave the room.

Jazvac, off to the side in the little room, is totally overwhelmed by Eisler. His monumental paintings often superficially resemble work from Delaunay’s Orphic period, but slightly less impressive in terms of design. Blown up in size, they seem festive and theatrical, something hinted at further by the striptease they play with displaying their own mounting equipment. These pieces are overtly architectural in the most theatrical of ways. Adding to the city summer park sense of psychedelia, their double-sided display reveals an underbelly to their faces that undeniably resembles tie dye experiments.

Patrick Howlett “unitholders” at Susan Hobbs.

Howlett shares something of the nostalgia for the 1980s that seems to curse so many contemporary artists at the moment. Unlike those a few years his junior, he’s more likely recalling the period’s graphic design than the godawful cartoons of the decade’s children’s programming. Consciously or not, it looks like there’s quite a bit of late Harold Town percolating through his work. Howlett is less shrill, more hushed and pretty smooth. Town is urban, Howlett suburban. His work is delicate yet neurotic enough to avoid becoming dainty. The design elements are tempered with an overall softness of paint application, but never too soft or pristine. His sense of design also comes through in his affection for dance manuals as models or guides. This has various suggestions built into it (the dance of paint, the physical discipline of grace etc.) but never trips up into overpowering conceptualization. While always verging on being too full, his pieces are formally rigorous in a way that safeguards them from tumbling into asinine decoration.

VSVSVS’ “Not Together But Alongside” at Mercer Union

Mixed reviews were the case for the Toronto collective VSVSVS at Mercer Union. One of the better ones was from the unlikely source of RM Vaughan. But even this basically got it wrong by stringing it all through a romantic narrative – one that has been extensively debunked but persists in fantasy – of the troublesome avant-garde and its entrapment in the dialectical machinery of institutions. Mercer Union has long displayed the tendency of being a capsule for bad ideas from the 1970s and this exhibit was no exception. The art collective displays precisely the same tendency. So they are two kitschy time capsules compacted into one, like a Matryoshka nesting doll fashioned from industrial materials in the gentrifying wasteland of Bloor West. Beyond that, there’s only one significant distinction between them and the overpriced junk shops that dot Queen West: junk shops fulfill a nostalgia for the past, one that materially existed. What MUVSVSVS does is fulfill a nostalgia for a present that’s never been. One is sentimental, the other escapist. Both are basically maudlin. What resulted was a bureaucratized parody of what HGTV does.

The collective’s work is primarily about lifestyle (about rather than is – it’s lifestyle on the level of performance). This is a tendency that has come to predominate among many of Toronto’s younger artists and results in something approximating a Saturday Lifestyle section for hipsters. Newspaper and magazine Lifestyle commentators have always been Boho-reno types and when artists do it, they aren’t shying away from this, just shellacking it with different language. What’s remarkable is how they make the lifestyle field so obnoxiously performative. It’s like a cover band for The Clash on stage at a high school prom.

The whole show boiled down to a vibrating bed with clunky variations on kindergarten craft time objects.

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