John Armstrong

Misrule at the Apollo
12 Temperance Street, Toronto

“Misrule at the Apollo” is an exhibition of twelve Toronto and Montreal artists held in a vacant, unrepentant 1950s downtown office space. The exhibition seeks to provide an alternative to the strictures of a perceived orthodoxy of much current curatorial practice and art writing. (An Apollonian orthodoxy might be described as theoretical and well-ordered.) Artists Jennifer McMackon and Oliver Girling, the exhibition's curators, plot out their version of Apollonian orthodoxy in an accompanying catalogue with a romp through textbook modernism that concludes with a warning of the perils of partially digested French post-structuralism. Structured as a weave in two fonts, the catalogue — aptly designed by John Massier — downplays any single authoritative voice. The text is also a record of the correspondence, conversations and studio visits between the artists and curators, and frankly relates whether the curators were able to negotiate meaning in the exhibiting artists' work. To support artworks that are, arguably, not theory focused, the curators present their first-hand research notes and an exhibition laid out with the clarity of a jumble sale.

In addition to existing outside of canonical modernism or modish readings of theory, many of these artworks pointedly, and with some humour, reflect upon the manufacture of art and cultural history. Marlene Klassen's guilded Trophy Girl figurines climb billiard-table green walls to dissolve in a Bernini ecstasy under the hallway's skylight. These factory-made casts of women's achievements — in water skiing, gymnastics, sharpshooting, and so on — are accompanied by a set of nine mahogany award-shields mounted on an adjacent wall. Each shield has an engraved metal plate tacked onto it that announces a Christian virtue such as obedience, patience or purity.

Eric Glavin's three oblong paintings — using a greyed (faintly insipid) pastel palette and mounted on deep stretchers (at least 10 cm) — recall 1970s supergraphics, Peter Halley's paintings, and, in a gesture both corporate and only-too-familiar, the packaging design of the household cleaning products the artist has arranged on a low illuminated plinth. These paintings seem comfortable above the many-times-painted radiators and well-travelled linoleum.

Roland Jean throws over any pious evocation of race in his painting, which consists of the title, I Am Not Proud of My Roots and I'm Not Proud of Anybody's Roots stenciled over nine copies of a black-and-white photographic portrait of fellow Haitian Canadian, Dany Laferrière, author of How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired. In front of the painting, atop several cinderblocks, sits a miniature reproduction of the Venus de Milo, decapitated and overpainted in chalky blue. Colour is also used in the painting to recast Western cultural authority as the portraits are awash in transparent glazes of Caucasian flesh tones.

Julie Voyce has hung plastic laminated, tile-size silkscreen prints and gouaches in an symmetrical installation that recounts the intricacy of an exploded Renaissance altarpiece. At the centre, a cheery Adam and Eve bleed profusely, each holding out their own recently severed genitals. They are lost in an equally cheerful sea of repetitive colour and patterning — a delirious surface tempting illegibility — from which peek such Bosch-like hybrid creatures as bird-headed testicles or bulbous-nosed tragi-comic masks.

There isn't space to describe the remaining artists in the show (William S. Brown, Carlo Cesta, General Giii, Marla Hlady, Michael Merrill, Mario Scattoloni, Yves Tessier, Robert Windrum), but I can say that as a partial survey-of-the-moment “Misrule…” offers the same opportunity for rummaging about as one finds in exhibitions of far greater ambition — such as Documenta IX or Les Magiciens de la terre — without the pretence of any impossibly overarching Apollonian organizing principle. As the curators intended, the works in this show foreground the ineluctable presence of Dionysus in Apollo's temple.

C Magazine 44, Winter 1994