Young Contemporaries Exhibition

Tuesday, September 28, 1993

Young Contemporaries Exhibition
Artists provide strong visual challenge

By Doug Bale | The London Free Press

The show is a model of how art gallery documentation ought to read and all too seldom does.

Art curator Barry Lord chose well in putting Keith Alan Rose's painting Small Applause At The Naysayers' Circus on the cover of the catalog for the London Life Young Contemporaries exhibition.

The satiric work has a good deal to say about the state of the visual arts in Canada. It shows the artist as a trick unicyclist on a stage, painting from atop his teetery steed, before an audience of sheep, baboons and a jackal. The work consists of two panels, a narrow one in front obscuring half of a wider one behind. The front panel, on which is painted the menagerie of spectators, moves on rollers from side to side; when rolled to the right, it hides the painter and reveals more baaaing and barking spectators.

As the panel moves, one of the sheep gives the painter a half-hearted flutter of applause, its hinged hoof tapping up and down against the under panel.

Rose, an Edmontonian now studying in Glasgow, has neatly skewered the contemporary art scene, in which artists often feel they do a precarious balancing act, between creativity and commerce, for a market of conformist fools, malicious ignoramuses and envious scavengers. Despite artists' ultimate dependency on that market, Rose's sly ingenuity proves that art does have the power to challenge its audience. Other work in the Young Contemporaries exhibition confirms that power.

The show Is a coast-to-coast survey of rising Canadian artists under the age of 30, underwritten every three years by London Life Insurance Co. At the London Regional Art and Historical Museums till Oct.31, it goes to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton next spring.

Another work portraying life and art as a balancing act is David Robinson's intriguing sculpture Perfect Imbalance, in which a worried-looking naked figure struggles to maintain its equilibrium on a suspended steel I-beam. The beam, and the mechanical arrangement by which it's hung, represent technology and everything we too readily call progress. In the midst of this soulless efficiency, the Vancouver sculptor asks, where is humanity's place?

As for art, wherever its place is, it sure ain't where it used to be, Toronto painter Michael Caines declares in three enormous canvases that consign traditional salon painting to the rubbish heap of history. In a work called Nurture, a man cowers on his knees, eyes clenched shut and hands over his ears, as a second man behind him, naked, gleefully swings a club to destroy a beautiful Impressionist-style landscape. A large crude X censors out the club, but can't erase the idea that pretty pictures are no longer enough.

Caines makes the same argument again in The Body Politic, a self-portrait of himself kneeling beside a sleeping naked man, in front of a famous 15th century painting full of cupids and lush female nudes. Caines paints himself as a straggle-haired figure in rumpled jeans, work shirt, sneakers and baseball cap, looking across his friend's hairy, muscled, dirty-footed body toward the gallery viewer as if to ask how Boucher's sugar-coated vision stands up to today's harsh reality.

Homoeroticism is a theme implicit in many of this exhibition's works. Violence is another - violence between the sexes, violence between cultures, violence against nature, and so on. There is a strong trend back toward large paintings, much emphasis on the human figure and a scarcity of abstract art.

The catalog by Barry Lord makes clear sense of everything there, dealing with the images and ideas in language that will make sense equally to the novice and the initiate. It's a model of how art gallery documentation ought to read and all too seldom does.