Despite having lived for several years with a number of artists, I don’t feel at all like I’ve got a tangible grasp on the meaning behind much fine art. If spelled out for me, the conceptual foundations behind certain pieces do emerge (albeit still somewhat murkily); other times academic classes have helped me appreciate the historical context in which art movements occur, and how particular environments shape the meaning and purpose behind specific works. Nonetheless, when passing through the threshold of a gallery, I often wonder, “Will I get it?”
I definitely felt a bit of this sensation when I went into UTAC (University of Toronto Arts Centre) this week. I knew that the gallery had on a show called Beaver Tales: Canadian Art and Design, which sounded promising as the “design” part of the title created images of a show a little more pragmatic and a little less abstract than does “fine art.” The piece that had initially lured me into the gallery was a Robert Southcott installation called United We Stand; which consists of a bench made of four separate chairs, whose backs all converge to look like knotted, wooden antlers. Probably not pragmatic by definition, but in my opinion, much more palpable than some fine art.
The first thing I noticed upon entering the gallery (found inside University College, the entrance accessible through the quad’s courtyard) was a piece by Tristan Zimmerman, who happens to be a good friend’s husband, who, like my friend, is an OCAD graduate. I had no idea he had a piece in the exhibition, and was delighted to see one of the heads from his Plastidermy collection hanging on the wall. Most of the pieces were, like the deer head and the deer chairs, installation pieces. Many of them incorporated textile design or construction, such as Virginia Johnson’s deer print cotton, or Mauricio Affonso’s Trillium Scarf. The inclusion of textiles really appealed to me, as I am an avid sewer. The meaning behind a piece of art is far more intelligible if I can understand its process. Likewise recognizing the materials from which a work is constructed, and the skill involved in producing the item are factors that enhance my appreciation for the work.
Each piece in the show melded together function and aesthetic, spiced with a little Queen West Canadiana. Despite my own lack of artistic comprehension, I really did feel like I was learning, interacting, and getting something from the show.
Admission is free, and the gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday.