Looking at art is a kind of reading. An artwork may be an easy read, simply a piece of t-shirt wit and nothing more. Or a work with an easy first read may stand up to years of study. A work may be written (read: painted, cast, printed and so on) in a foreign or secret language and need much consideration before any light dawns for the viewer. Or a work may have been wrought by a stoned monkey on an all-night bender and not even know its own name.
When the Sobey Art Award exhibition was on at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, walking into the big room down the main stairs was like walking into a room of graphic novels written in sk8 speak. Works (including that of winner, Michel de Broin, represented by a small planet of chairs hung like a Brave New World disco ball) defied gravity or pulsed and flickered. The current show in the same room, Pictured: Image & Object in Canadian Sculpture, is more paced, its elements (the titular images and objects) relating to each other, well curated—starting sentences with capitals.
Just inside, a sculpture of a small, heart-high woman stands on solitary guard. Unlike most women portrayed in art she is not twisting her body or craning her neck to look at you. Actually, she may not be looking at you at all. She may be looking at your shoes. She may be looking at your boyfriend. You can't tell. Her eyes may be closed. You can't tell. There may or may not be desire or sadness or domesticated sexuality on her face. You can't tell. Colleen Wolstenholme, known for jewellery and giant sculptures of popular medications has, in "Shrouded Figure, 2005," cast in concrete a woman wearing a burka.
Other artists in the show include Jane Buyers, David Diviney (flames again), Dennis Gill (snakes again), John Greer (thorns), David R. Harper (beavers with hand-embroidered tails), Cal Lane (four lids and a marvelous flayed drum arching up the wall), Glen MacKinnon and Vanessa Paschakarnis.
There's a new work by Thierry Delva, he of the stone barrels ("Gallon Drum, 1999" is a great example of an initial easy first read and rewarding further study: First there's the oil drums, and, wow they look good; then they are quiet, perfect, still, life-size yet monolithic; surfaces are reflective yet not, perilously deep, yet flat and closed). "David and Goliath (uncut), 2007" has a silhouette of Michelangelo's "David" carved from the door of a really nice stainless-steel refrigerator. The door is closed so the interior light is on. David's guts are the insulation of the door—he's hot and cold at the same time. Next to it is an ultrasound of something tiny thumping away. Tiny, but being flesh and alive trumps being stone and dead. Or does it? You could think about it all day, or walk on to Delva's "Drawings From the Heart II: People's "The 2007 Hot List,' 2007" showing 15 EKGs purportedly from 15 male stars: Damon, Pitt and the like. It takes some study to find differences in the 15 sheets and they all seem to be records of Delva's heartbeat, so I didn't really get it but maybe just didn't stick around long enough.
Steve Higgins' "The Canadian Submarine Fleet, 2005" is four entirely beautiful cast- bronze submarines. Their installation in this show feels further apart than when they were down by the docks in ARTport, AGNS's short-lived 2005 annex, which provided arriving cruise-ship folk with a look at some art before they went out into the world of tartan-appliqued sweatshirts. Anyway, "Fleet" is a deeper version of a hang-in-there-kitty poster. I look at it and feel better about being fragile and small.
I've seen Alexander Graham's "Traps, 1999," a stack of 30 hot-dip galvanized-steel lobster traps in several shows. This must be because it's not only a great work, it also gives tourists and uneasy art viewers a first easy read. But I could look at it forever.
This isn't sticking strictly with the tour but I've got a severe allergy to shows which are hung only to makes bucks and deflower non-art gallery goers. I get a bad rash. Opening at the same time, with a big brouhaha, is Life as a Legend: Marilyn Monroe, photographs of a wet-making (oh, right--sadly misunderstood and iconic) starlet. That'll have to hold 'em until March, 2008, when The Art of Hockey, including rash-inducing work by Ken Danby, opens. Sheesh.
Pictured: Image & Object in Canadian Sculpture runs until March 2 at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, 1723 Hollis, 424-7542, http://artgalleryofnovascotia.ca