Dali Up Close, Masterworks of the Beaverbook Gallery, & Sobey Prize Finalists @ WAG

I had a lovely afternoon at the WAG this week, upon my daughter's prompting that she wanted to see the Dali exhibition. She first discovered her love of both Surrealism and Pop Art during our many forays into the Tate Modern (I will admit, for a 10 year old she has reasonably refined taste in modern art). The Dali "up close" exhibition is coupled with two others -- Masterworks of The Beaverbrook Gallery, and the finalists for the Sobey Prize.

Entering the gallery, we first experience the Masterworks, which range in taste and vintage, however focused heavily on English painters (making sense, given their collector). That said, there were a few notable pieces for my taste, including a stunning Turner, and some Matisse sketches which I very much enjoyed. Walking through the gallery with a 10 year old girl, we made it a point to find the paintings by women - unfortunately only 4 in the full collection (including a stunning Emily Carr). While we are unable to turn back and change the facts of art history, much like those of literary history, we can promote in our youth an awareness of the conditions for making art, and for women in these historical periods.

Given the focus among the Masterworks in earlier periods of the 20th century (and before), the unashamed colour in Dali's work stood out starkly. Dali's work was, unsurprisingly, stunning. The richness of of colour coupled with the provocative themes was fantastic, as expected. Perhaps unexpectedly, however, was the pure gleeful joy of the Moustache series of photographs, which (hopefully) reminded us not only that serious art need not be so serious, but that even artists grappling with monstrous questions of physics and faith can be silly, and oh so human.

The final featured rooms were the Sobey Art Prize finalists. I was most struck by the pieces by Nadia Myre - the sewn canvases, showing both words and physical manifestations of decay were really beautiful and haunting. Similarly, the text-centred work of Neil Farber and Michael Dumontier was thought provoking.

On a related note, I must say that I'm really enjoying the arrangement in the permanent collection, which recently has begun to situate some of the oldest and newest pieces in the collection beside one another - what is striking is the parallels in shape and colour this brings out. Definitely worth having a look at!

100 Masters @ WAG (until September)

I was simultaneously overjoyed, and disappointed with this exhibition. On one hand, it was very exciting to see the pieces, curated from galleries across North America, showcasing major and influential Canadian artists alongside the world's masters. The innovation of someone like Emily Carr  stood out like a beacon, and the piece by Wanda Koop was oustanding, pulling focus in the room.

At the same time, and perhaps only because I have been lucky enough to see the famous works by many of the international painters, I was left feeling disappointed in the selection for those artists. I actually said aloud "why would they choose that Gainsborough", and although the Monet was lovely, it paled in comparison to some of his more infamous work. Granted the VanGogh was every bit the energy-filled frenetic canvas that his work is, and the Matisse was outstanding.

In a way it almost felt as if the less exciting works were selected to help the Canadian artists stand out more. Disappointing, because the Carr, Koop, and Thompson would have shone regardless.

I suppose that my overall assessment is that if you haven't been lucky enough to visit the world's major galleries, then this will be a fantastic exhibition, providing an excellent opportunity to see many masters and learn more about Canadian artists in the context of the world scene. If you have, then you may not find it as engaging.

Janet Cardiff - Forty Part Motet @ WAG (to 28 April 2013)

You can hear the voices from the next room in the gallery, and are drawn in by the sound. Normally an avid reader of the gallery cards explaining the piece and its creator, I pushed past this, around the corner to the darkened room. A perimeter of speakers in an oval shape greeted me, with a group of benches in the centre. People sat, eyes closed, absorbing the sound, or moved through the space. My 8 year old daughter wanted to explore, so we circled the room, sometimes following the sound, and sometimes felt we were causing the sound to occur.

What was really remarkable was precisely what Cardiff desired the experience to be, the sensation of climbing inside sound. I've sung in a circle before, and even listened in a circle to others singing, however the sensation caused here felt different somehow. Perhaps it was just that - the sensory deprivation of a darkened room with no other objects, no colours. Looking at photographs, there have been versions of this in beautifully ornate churches, or more livened rooms, which I'm sure created another slightly unique experience.

I strongly recommend taking this in - the piece will be at the WAG until 28 April under regular admission.

For more info, check here: http://wag.ca/art/exhibitions/current-exhibitions/display,exhibition/125/janet-cardiff-forty-part-motet

Winnipeg Now @ WAG - to 30 December 2012

An exciting exhibition which showcases local artists of the younger generation who have been stirring things up not only in the Canadian Art scene, but internationally, Winnipeg Now at the WAG reminded me of all the reasons I am proud to say I am from this frigid and isolated island in the prairie. The imagination, curiosity and daring exhibited in these pieces is outstanding. Each piece I encountered while moving through the exhibition struck me differently, however the resounding commonality among them was the ability I feel each would have to find itself included in a major gallery of modern art, such as the Tate Modern or Hayward Gallery.

Some individual pieces stood out for me specifically.

Sarah Anne Johnson's (title unknown) made me want to sit underneath its stratosphere for hours. My eye danced around the sculpture as it loomed over my head, colours bursting.

Michael Dudeck's pieces from his Baculum Cosmology call into play ideas of liveness, nature, and human relationship to this; the body mummified but with pipes and cables emerging from its form was haunting, and called to mind similar ideas in Damien Hirst's work, challenging our perceived supremacy over nature and science, and ultimately our mortality. I am saddened that I missed his live performance with the pieces, and only hope I can catch this in the future.

Finally, Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millian's Bedtime Stories for the End of the World intrigued, due to the idea of a comfortable, relaxing space in which pre-recorded stories are heard. Similar to my own work (Autel) this pushes us to see storytelling as art, and to truly audit what we are taking in, even in seemingly everyday scenarios.

I strongly recommend taking this exhibition in, for a sense of the intelligent and sophisticated work being created by fellow Winnipeg artists.

Photo: Michael Dudeck Religion project