Despite Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper’s unexpectedly long stay in Parliament Canadian culture still looks wildly liberal next to the U.S. Take the TD Bank Canada Trust ads picturing a house hunting gay couple papering Toronto’s subways: I’ve not once seen a bank create a similar ad campaign in New York, a city so left leaning relative to the rest of the country that it’s often described by its inhabitants as “separate”.
For all the annoying “do-goodie” identity politics art I described last week, there are some very big upsides to a nation obsessed with fostering an inclusive culture. This was perhaps best demonstrated two weekends ago on Pride weekend, and event which sent the heavy beat of dance music throbbing as far as the ear can hear. I’ve never noticed the Pride Parade on the tip of all New Yorker’s tongues, but in Toronto, the entire city practically closes down for the event. It’s amazing and worth any travel to attend.
Amongst the many Pride-timed events I visited, That’s So Gay at The Gladstone fared best. Appropriately described as a “cheeky re-appropriation” of a phrase meaning anything uncool, the show’s curator Sholem Krishtalka clearly writes of his conceit, “The exhibition assembles work that deals with the queer experience and is knowing, assertive and even aggressive about it.”
As it turns out, the queer experience is not one long line of Tom of Finland cocks and asses, though sculpture gets the short shrift in this show through its notable absence. Still, the show isn’t a stereotype of itself, which sadly is refreshing.
A slightly awkward space complete with hallways and tiny auxiliary show rooms, small to medium sized drawings, collages and photographs hang from the wall. Themes present themselves easily; Sharon Switzer’s Soft Pink Explosion, a digital rendering of a firecracker-cum-orgasm, and Logan MacDonald’s So Faggy Marilyn Monroe celebrate gay identity and culture. So does Kyle Tryhorn’s Ryan McGinley-meets hippy eco-commune, an aerial photo of a nude lying on a bed in the wilderness, but its reference is vaguely distracting.
Handle is about as graphic as this show gets, a photograph of two fists filling a red transparent rubber by Chris Curreri, though Jim Verburg, photograph of lithe youth underwater is similarly erotic. Humor is provided by Grant Heaps, a furry mustache on top of furry collaged paper and the strange, by Claire Egan. Hair faces do not make happy nudes.
In a small couch filled room at the front of the gallery hangs Anthony Easton’s photocopied reproductions of Jasper Johns Target images, each riddled filled with bullet holes. The shots were fired by friends from the notoriously conservative province of Alberta. The piece speaks to the ugliness within the culture of the right, but also suggests a trace of self-hatred. I suspect Easton may simply have been asking for the community to push past old legacies (Johns himself is gay), but you don’t put bullet holes in the work of another gay man without also bringing other issues to light.
The heart of this exhibition though rests at the opposite end of the gallery in a room Krishtalka dedicates to the now deceased artist Will Munro. A cornerstone of the Toronto queer community, the memorial includes a grid of Polaroids Munro shot of men in their underwear, and several mirrored pieces displaying printed gay symbols such as Ziggy Stardust. By the very nature of its materials the installation captures a man described by Krishtalka as a “perpetual common denominator of the city’s disparate scenes”. The mirrors, Polaroids and Lori Newdick’s rooting photographs of the artist integrate the viewer, the artist and the gay scene. A deeply moving portrait, the memorial advocates for precisely kind of community Munro helped to build.