May 16 - July 18, 2020
By JAMES D. CAMPBELL, June 2020
In this time of continuing contagion, austerity and doubt, not many of us are banking on the transformative power of art in our neighbourhoods. Here, at La Vitrine on Rachel Street East, veteran photographic artist Andrea Szilasi surprised and instructed us. She installed strong work in the storefront windows with brio and panache -- and not one iota of pandering, She reminded us on this busy street that art is still possible, and deeply interrogative work like hers is still a refreshing tonic in the hinterlands of our fair city.
All of Szilasi’s work revolves around the human body, and photographic images of the human body. How do the conventions of each different medium affect our interpretation of a human being? This is an operative question when examining the artist’s corpus and motivation.
Sometimes she concocts her own images and sometimes she uses found images. Here, she chose two works from her earlier Plotter Prints series (2014) of photos of statues in museums. On the left in the vitrine is Black and White Shine (2014, photocopy paper, 122 x 91.5 cm / 48 x 36 inches), while on the right in the vitrine is Profile (large collage) (2014, photocopy paper, glue, 52 1/8 x 36 inches). The images were mounted on ¼ inch Russian plywood suspended from wire, and prints attached with small and inconspicuous black clips.
These images are presented in counterpoint but draw us into chiasmic dialogue as we pivot between them at street level. The artist went in search of images in her repertoire that made sense specifically for use in the public vitrine context. Since works in the vitrine are seen by the general public (mostly on foot by passers by, but also on bikes and in cars), she worked to make sure the images were readable up close, from afar, and somewhere in between.
Szilasi usually informs her work with a governing ambiguity. Contours melt and profiles are smudged. Verisimilitude is not at issue; the vagaries of representation are. The high contrast of the black and white images eliminates fine details and blurs our understanding of what exactly it is that we are looking at (as opposed to the generic images we usually see in the public context and which are easily interpreted).
There are also some notable visual repetitions. In Black and White Shine, the interior vitrine spotlights light up the spotlights in the photo. In Profile (large collage), we see reflective fragments of the vitrine in which the statue is inset, behind the reflective walls of the storefront vitrine.
In the years before undertaking the Plotter Prints series, Szilasi was executing radical collages from found images of the body in books and magazines. She spent the summer of 2014 taking cell phone photos at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art of statues, essentially statues of nude women. She then had them printed out at a photocopy shop as plotter prints (cheap quality photocopies usually used for architectural plans). Szilasi particularly appreciated the fact that the large-scale, high contrast black and white photographs on cheap paper lend a somewhat vulgar patina to the festivities.
As she says: “It appears that they were taken from their respectable institutional home and transposed onto a concert stage or into a strip show. The Plotter Prints show the statues very differently from the way they would look in an art history book. Through the spontaneous and “low-tech” photos, the statues seem to have regained their lewd sexuality, previously deactivated by the museum context. (That’s talking about the series as a whole. The specific images I chose for the vitrine aren’t particularly sexual ones because they are exhibited in a public context).” 
Szilasi’s photographs of museum statues constructively alter our perception of the intended representation of the human body. Her radically reduced exhibition has maximal impact. She reminded us that the learning experiences afforded by museums are not limited only to museums and other places where art is habitually displayed, but can be had down home in our city streets. 
In a sense, she further interrogates the physical and social context of the museum by transposing the experience over to the vitrine space as radical alternative. The two images at La Vitrine count amongst this artist’s finest on formal grounds. But the episodic or anecdotal learning at stake here further provided a valuable (and subversive) meta-commentary for such arresting images – images that easily secured the viewers’ rapt and enduring attention. WM
1. Andrea Szilasi, Communication to the author, June, 2020.
2. See Folkert Haanstra, “Visitors Learning Experiences in Dutch Museums” in Researching Visual Arts Education in Museums and Galleries: An International Reader, ed. Maria Xanthoudaki, Les Tickle and Veronica Sekules (Boston: Springer Science, 2003), pp. 33-49.
view all articles from this author
James D. Campbell is a curator and writer on art based in Montreal. The author of over 150 books and catalogues on art, he contributes essays and reviews to Frieze, Border Crossings and other publications.