November 2010, Six Degrees of Separation: A New Generation of Canadian Artists @ Claire Oliver Gallery

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"Six Degrees of Separation", installation view
2010 (left to right) Ben Van Netten, Noah Becker, James Nye, Courtesy, the artists and Claire Oliver Gallery

Six Degrees of Separation: A New Generation of Canadian Artists
Curated by Noah Becker
Claire Oliver Gallery
513 West 26th Street
New York, NY 10001
October 14 through November 13, 2010

Over the course of the last decade, the globalized art market maintained its focus upon artists who landed exhibitions either in New York, London or Los Angeles. Despite the record number of international art fairs and biennials, the overall dialogue did not move far from the legendary urban centers. However in the wake of the market’s collapse, the Claire Oliver Gallery recently hosted a group show titled Six Degrees of Separation: A New Generation of Canadian Artists that infused a small sampling of contemporary art from both Vancouver and Toronto. Curated by Noah Becker, the various pieces on view made by Attila Richard Lukacs, Angela Grossmann, Graham Gilmore, Frank Torng, Ben van Netten, Trevor Guthrie, Catherine Heard, James Nye and Alex McLeod are collectively dark and austere, dissecting the layers of decadence that once flourished.

Trevor Guthrie’s Hindenbunny 2, (2010) opens the show portraying a shiny, Koons-ian chrome bunny colliding disastrously with its mooring station. This black-and-white charcoal drawing serves as a pun on the Germans’ failed Hindenburg aircraft that crashed over Lakehurst, New Jersey in May 1937. The artist’s associations are far from unique. In her Trash/Spectacle lecture from 2009, Kathryn Hixson described the tension between branding and fine art seen in Jeff Koons’ Hanging Heart (Blue/Silver), (1994-2006) thus: “Here, a crummy little charm is blown up to monumental size, suspended from the ceiling…This transformation was pitched as a friendly gesture to our low-brow love of shiny objects. But behind the gesture is a violent fascist grip…Koons has taken a familiar object and a humble craft, blowing it up to monstrous proportions, manipulating our desire.” A second piece by Gurthrie titled, The Gods (Chandelier Version #3), (2010) utilizes the same technique and portrays a crystal-charmed chandelier, with an iridescent glow, hinting not only at the decline of the previous era but the vacuous black charcoal confirming its end.

Two abstract paintings by Attilia Richard Lukacs, Untitled (NB2), (2010) and Untitled (NR1), (2010) negate the colorful drips and expressive lines of Abstract Expressionism, into a series of white lines over black rather than black over white. Similar to the photographs of Henry Callahan that isolated abstraction within shots of detailed texture, Untitled (NR5), (2010) considers the abstract line as a long horizontal that moves minimally but layers and echoes the form of a pastoral lanscape.

"Six Degrees of Separation", installation view
2010 (left to right) Noah Becker, James Nye, Courtesy, the artists and Claire Oliver Gallery

The hushed spectacle continues in Frank Torng’s photograph titled, The Dance (The Empire Landmark Hotel Series), (2010) which shows the tall figure of a drag queen from the back, as she dances in solitude within the corner of a hotel room. The anonymity is deafening. Similarly another picture by Torng titled, Fuchsia, the Fan, and the Friend (HerShe Series), (2010) portrays two Divine-like queens who do not attempt to be above and beyond the drag aesthetic, but like the decadent, embellishing a moment that will definitely end.

Questions surrounding the contemporary urban city center arises in a painting by James Nye titled, New Mainstream, (2010) The painted image of a graffiti tag filters the background view of a post-industrial skyscraper-filled landscape, disturbing the quaint realist image seen mostly by tourists. Alex McLeod expands further on the complicated nature of artifice in two digitally constructed environments. Charmed Backwoods, (2010) and The Previous Greenhouse, (2010) each pack colorful but fake naturalism along with an aerial perspective. Despite the curiosity and longing that McLeod’s prints generate, these particular places never existed in material form.

Ben van Netten’s Gaussian Smack Down, (2010) consists of yellow, white and pink orbs that populate and blur into the canvas. Like colorful lights hanging behind a translucent surface, this piece suggests the beginnings of a distant memory. The fictive environment appears in a series of four drawings by Noah Becker that capture an array of continuous narratives set within a single atmosphere.

Outside Inside Outside Inside, (2010) by Angela Grossman is a collage of the social clique that portrays three woman with their backs turned to the viewer, except for one who turns back an empty but inquisitive stare. Graham Gilmore’s From Sea to Sea, (2010) is a circuit of tunnels and tubes that weave back and forth across the canvas, while Catherine Heard’s beeswax and plaster sculpture of a Siamese-twin portrait channels back to the heyday of sensational art that kicked off in 1997.

Six Degrees of Separation: A New Generation of Canadian Artists curated by Noah Becker captures the desires, dreams and fears that have characterized the sputtering art market. If the recent G-20 Summit was any indication, America is slipping as a world power. Could it be the same for art? In any case, this selection of artists from Canada present a provocative mirror made by those who have been on the outside looking in. By critiquing the “art star” phenomenon and its ripple effects within artistic circles, this show at the Claire Oliver Gallery exposes the vacancy behind the spectacle’s façade.

"Six Degrees of Separation" installation view,
Angela Grossman, Courtesy, the artists and Claire Oliver Gallery


"Six Degrees of Separation",
installation view, Trevor Guthrie, Courtesy, the artists and Claire Oliver Gallery


"Six Degrees of Separation", installation view, Alex Mcleod, Courtesy, the artists and Claire Oliver Gallery

Jill Conner

Jill Conner is an art critic and curator based in New York City. She is currently the New York Editor for Whitehot Magazine and writes for other publications such as Afterimage, ArtUS, Sculpture and Art in America.  

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