"the most important website any stakeholder in the Canadian art market can access."
- Maggie rust, seven sided cube blog
On Thursday night I attended the opening of the summer exhibition hosted by Toronto’s Jewish cultural institution. What I expected was a collection of paintings by Jewish artists hung in a white cube-style gallery and an almost exclusively Jewish audience. What I got was an assortment of works from a diverse group of artists with no religious content held in Toronto’s landmark discount store, on display for everyone who enters (or even passes by) the building. Go figure!
Everyone in Toronto knows Honest Ed’s (for Vancouverites, think Army and Navy). But for a newbie to the city, I didn’t automatically think of extravagant signage, racks of inexpensive clothes and bins of various household goods throughout the enormous store. My bad. Had I known, I would have had different expectations. The venue was foreshadowing for something creative to come.
Summer Special, the latest project in the Koffler Gallery Off-Site series, takes its inspiration from the trademark signs and show bills of Honest Ed’s. Artists Corinne Carlson, Robin Collyer, Barr Gilmore, Jen Hutton, Sarah Lazarovic and Ron Terada created new works that explore the visual vocabulary of commercial and urban signage. Upon seeing the façade of Honest Ed’s it was clear why this was the ideal exhibition space, both inside and out.
The clever Barr Gilmore (recall Nuit Blanche 2008) scrambled the unmistakable letters in ‘Honest’ to spell ‘The Son’. While the new sign is open to many interpretations, the artist sees it as a self-portrait – an abstract representation of an only son, born with the Sun in Cancer. Placed atop the highest elevation at Honest Ed's, The Son can’t be missed. On a smaller scale and inspired by advertising, Corinne Carlson translated popular culture images and words-as-image by printing postcards that look like letterpress cards from yesteryear. I especially loved how the cards are displayed for sale amongst Honest Ed's merchandise!
How’s this for pop culture - Sarah Lazarovic worked with Honest Ed’s signboard artist Wayne Reuben to produce a series of hand-painted signs that capture tweets on Toronto urban issues in the store’s distinctive household font. The contrast of using tweets (a contemporary fleeting form of expression) as hand-painted signage reveals its inappropriateness as a process intended for a time when things written were meant to last.
By using Honest Ed’s slogan signs located in the alley, Ron Terada integrated modern art by overlaying excerpts from the peculiar catchphrases upon abstract patterns referencing Frank Stella’s Black Paintings. These new signs bring to mind two interconnected histories within the legacy of the store’s owners (Ed and David Mirvish) as both commercial entrepreneurs and champions of the arts.
This exhibition is just one of many events put on by the Koffler Centre of the Arts. This Jewish cultural institution is amazing with a broad mandate to serve all, and present a wide range of artistic programs through a global lens in a specifically Canadian context.
Established in 1977 by philanthropists Murray and Marvelle Koffler, the Koffler Gallery was created as a leading edge, contemporary arts organization. The Gallery is now a central aspect to the Koffler Centre of the Arts, which is renowned for its record of groundbreaking exhibitions of Canadian contemporary art and interdisciplinary programs in film, literary, music, dance, theatre, and current political, social, and human rights issues as viewed through the lens of arts and culture.
The Koffler’s mission is to bring people together through arts and culture to create a more civil and global society. Don’t think for a moment that because you aren’t Jewish you can’t/shouldn’t get involved. Their unique mix examines the arts across different disciplines and cultures in a way that strengthens identity while encouraging an appreciation of difference.
For more information about the Koffler Centre of the Arts, visit them online at www.kofflerarts.org