Home » Loved vs. Loathed at the Drake Hotel

Loved vs. Loathed at the Drake Hotel

Well.  Last night I did a “Face the Critic” at the Drake, with Leah Sandals and Richard Vaughn and it was…interesting, to say the least. I didn’t feel able to properly articulate my views – there were some big personalities in the room. But I learned a lot, and it’s always good to have your foundations shaken a little.

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Brendan Flanagan, Reflective Pool. Image: brendanflanagan.ca.

The idea was that each critic would bring two works – one we ‘love’ and one we ‘loathe.’

Richard began by pointing out that he doesn’t subscribe to the idea of ‘loving’ or ‘loathing’, which is fair enough. Then he went on to talk at length, and very interestingly, about how much he loved an Allyson Mitchell work – one of her large, fun-fur covered Sasquatch sculptures.


Allyson Mitchell, Lady Sasquatch, 2005. Image: wag.ca

There was much debate about feminism, post-feminism and lesbianism, and I must admit, it made me see the work in a new light. I certainly see that there’s a lot going on in the work, a kind of powerful, anti-beauty, monstrous female-ness that is similar, in many ways, to Tracey Emin’s work.(Interestingly, he later spoke about his hatred for a conceptual installation by Nestor Kruger and a video by Dan Young & Christian Giroux. So much for not loving or loathing.)


Image: Dan Young and Christian Giroux, A still from Every Building, Or Site, that a Building Permit has been Issued for a New Building in Toronto in 2006. Image: cgdy.com

Then Leah spoke about a piece by Zin Taylor that she didn’t care for, and I think the entire audience was pretty perplexed by the overly conceptual piece, until Dan Adler, who was in the audience, enlightened us somewhat.


Zin Taylor, an image from the show The Bakery of Blok. Image: thestar.com

I chose a work that I love by Toronto painter Brendan Flanagan. I saw this piece in the window of Angell Gallery on Nuit Blanche and I was impressed. Admittedly, last night I wasn’t very articulate about what I liked about this work, so here goes:

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Brendan Flanagan, Tar Pit. Image: brendanflanagan.ca

I think he’s a brave young artist. Brave, because he’s making work that is not afraid to be big, bold and ugly. He’s taking paint off the canvas and creating wonderfully cinematic paint sculptures. This piece in particular uses paint as swampy water, as theatre set. This work reminds me a bit of Ed Kienholtz’s tableaux. As Richard pointed out, not all of Flanagan’s work is ugly, some of it is quite beautiful. He doesn’t seem to be concerned with beauty, but rather more interested in the grotesque – several paintings depict zombie-like figures, severed heads and the destitute.

I also chose a work that I ‘loathe’ by Kent Monkman. This quiver is an excellent example of work that feels like an equation. One plus one equals two.


Kent Monkman, Louis Vuitton Quiver, 2007. Image: kentmonkman.com

This piece, to me, feels formulaic – like we should know that First Nations people are culturally disenfranchised and so to create an arrow quiver out of Louis Vuitton paper feels ironic, like a joke.

I think art is a very serious thing. Part of my definition of art is that it’s a language that expresses aspects of things that we cannot adequately put into words. I don’t think this artwork does that. I think it’s more like advertising, a snappy conceptual interpretation of a situation.

And that might be fine, I mean I think there are more kinds of art around now than ever before and I don’t think all art should fit into a narrow definition of what’s good. But I think there needs to be a critical separation at some point.

10 Responses to “Loved vs. Loathed at the Drake Hotel”

  1. Leah Sandals says:

    Hey Andrea,
    Thanks for posting notes on the evening’s discussion, and also for extending an invitation. I enjoyed the evening, even if I wish it could have been a bit more structured. It was interesting to hear what different people had to say, audience included. I also enjoyed hearing you and Richard talk about your reasoning around different work. One thing’s for sure–there’s a helluva lot of ways of looking at art!

  2. Andrea says:

    Yes that is FOR SURE. I thought it was really interesting evening too!

  3. Bill says:

    It was a good evening but, yes, there were a few chatterboxes in the room and the long conversation about Allyson Mitchell’s work should have been wrapped up sooner. Just so you know, though, I like her work. It took me a while to warm up to it, but now I think it’s pretty great…rather subversive on several levels, which is why, thinking now about the comparisons that were being made between David Altmejd and Mitchell, he is getting Sobey Awards while she is not. Atmejd references popular culture in a much more accessible way even though his work is just as ‘grotesque’, but I don’t see it as trying to subvert social norms the way Mitchell’s work is. Like RM was saying, her work is ‘scary’ and much of what she is bringing to the fore still makes a lot of people uncomfortable. My response to Zin Taylor’s piece was half-way between Dan’s and Leah’s. I found it amusing and clever, thought it was neat how he was able to develop recognizable ‘sitcom’ scenarios using only chunks of bread, blocks of wood and sound effects, but the concept of the work felt a little…m’eh. I guess that’s the kind of art that frustrates me the most. There’s a ton of effort put into it by the artist, a lot is expected of the viewer, but then the concept or what is supposedly being revealed to us in the work feels kind of …m’eh. Obvious or banal. Strangely enough, I find the ‘boring’ art of Young & Giroux to be more fulfilling in this regard, especially in the two pieces that were discussed. It feels like minimal effort on the part of the artists (though it may not be), but the gradual accumulation of images kind of let’s the realization they want you to experience creep up on you. Suddenly you’re like, “My god! We ARE surrounded by a lot of totally nondescript, ugly buildings in this city!” or “My god! It’s kind of NUTS that there are 50 LAMPS to choose from at Home Depot. WHY DO WE NEED 50 LAMPS?!” (Their work also makes me link of Ed Ruscha, who I really like.) Anyway, I hope such evenings continue, but in a bit more structured, organized way. I think all three of you did a good job given the less-than-ideal circumstances and a lot of interesting things were said.

  4. RM Vaughan says:

    Hi Andrea,
    It was nice to finally meet you last night, and to exchange ideas, and to see Leah again after so long. I forget sometimes, living in my little pokey cave, how emotional people can be about art — which I guess is encouraging. The opposite would be not so good.

    Just to clarify something in your post above: I fully admit that I LOVE and LOATHE in equal measure. In fact, I am often accused of not being sufficiently … hmmm … indifferent? Objective? What I said in my opening remarks, to be clear, was that I would never, never position my personal loves or loathings as indexes of “good” or “bad” art — it is that binary, that dynamic, that I distrust, the idea that anyone can say, with any certainty, that a work of art is good or bad.

    In fact, if I remember properly what I said (and I was only one drink in, so I think the memory cells were still getting oxygen), was that the only thing I do believe in is the critic’s (any critic’s) personal biases and judgements, the very frailties of such (and delights), and that I would not trust a critic who did not acknowledge, however she or he communicated ideas about Good vs. Bad, directly or indirectly, that they were ultimately only expressing a deeply personal reaction, one rooted in many cultural and other biases.

    Sorry if that was confusing at first. Don’t you worry, I have a heart full of love, and a spleen full of hate!! But I would never claim to know what is good or bad art — I think those days of “the critic as authority figure” are long, long, long over, as blogs and other open forums such as yours prove. There is simply too much (and yay! for that) democracy going on to allow Good vs. Bad dialogues. And, that debate, well, it’s just so, um, Boomer? You know?

    Anyhoo, thanks again for a lively evening, and hope to see you soon.

    Best,
    RM Vaughan

    ps — your Burberry scarf … real? I coveted it ever so much.

  5. Simon says:

    I wish I had a chance to make it out for this, it seems like a great concept. Thanks for posting the recap. Maybe I will close the gallery early to attend the next one.

  6. K.I.A. says:

    i’m glad the discussion of allyson’s work went a little overlong– the sasquatch piece has for some time been on my personal ‘less-than-like’ list (loathe p’haps too strong a word for this polite canadian, but i still gasped when it was the first slide & I knew it was someone’s ‘loved’); and the ‘deep lesbianism’ and ‘coded-language’ art-talk at the beginning did nothing to change my mind about it– but then at some point in the discussion one of the critics made reference to (what seemed like) their personal history with some passion & suddenly i could see why the work would resonate with some people…

    anyway the point of the above ramble was that as an alone-in-the-studio-all-day-artist, it was great to hear the critics dialogue in real-life, just as it was also wonderful to hear the views of the audience (even the chatterboxes), and to be able to interact. so props to all for coming out. i too, hope that there are more events like this.

  7. Megan says:

    Andrea, thanks for the recap. It sounds like an interesting night.

    From out west, I’m becoming really fascinated with Toronto art critics organizing themselves and throwing events. I’m really glad that something is happening “in real life” out of all the recent dialogue around the role of criticism. I’d love to see critics having it out here in Saskatoon (although I guess there’d have to be more than one).

    To throw my hat in, I’m a lover of Allyson’s work, including the sasquatches and the Brain Child installation that was at AKA last May; her work makes me feel giddy and lightheaded with glee, with a side of crushing-on.

  8. AC says:

    Thanks for your comment Megan – I love that you enjoy reading about what we’re up to over here. Maybe one day we’ll take Face the Critic on the road out West…AC

  9. Birte says:

    Thanks for the interesting info on the ‘dialogue’ or ‘exchange’ and the event itself. Almost felt like being there, and ‘yes’, it in itself has added perspective…

  10. Earl Miller says:

    Sorry I missed the debate – sounds like there were two camps, poles, or in artspeak, “axes of difference.” I tend to think that a critic can love/hate and not be the sole authority, or not an authority at all. I tend to stand somewhere in between. I believe that it is indeed possible to opine in the direct democracy blog world we now live in. That said, I am not interested in the authoritarian or even authoritative critic; rather, I am interested in a critic who is knowledgeable about art, can write well and can stir up a debate that either begins or continue in this web of democratic forums. I am not seeking an authority, but an able, engaging writer.

    Certainly, Jerry Salz’s generous use of Facebook shows how a critic who does have opinions is able to use Internet networking in a way that brings him down to earth but that does not deflate the significance of his point of view.

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