In the deep mid-winter, the Agnes froze over

Agnes launches new exhibitions

One of the exhibitions spaces features a study space with minimalist art.
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There’s something cold about the Agnes Etherington Art Centre this winter, and it doesn’t have to do with the chilly weather outside. 

Upon entering the familiar space on Tuesday morning, I was struck by the stark white walls and the noticeable absence of a cohesive theme. 

Key Works Unlocked: Peel and Suzor-Cote

The saving grace of the new exhibits was the first room, Key Works Unlocked: Peel and Suzor-Cote, which was home to a display that combined chemistry and art. The room featured three paintings, all of which were studied using a type of energy-dispersive X-ray to reveal the chemical composition of the paints — a technique that can be used to date pieces and determine which materials were used. 

The paint chips on display weren’t visible to the human eye and were suspended on what looked like contact lenses under a glass casing — lest anyone try to swipe them. 

The largest painting, Wet Snow, Arthabaska (1919), depicts a snowy landscape inspired by the rural Quebec winters experienced by the artist, Marc-Aurele de Foy Suzor-Cote, after his return from Europe. An infrared scan of the painting shows the artist’s first traces and the grid pattern used as a starting point — a hallmark of Suzor-Cote’s work.

A smaller painting, The Farm on the Mountain, Winter (1910), looked to me like the exact same painting but scaled down, three times. The oil on wood painting was used as a study when Suzor-Cote was painting his later work Wet Snow, Arthabaska. The final work, While Baby Sleeps (1888) stood out to me as a favourite because of its dark, mysterious and peaceful scene of a sleeping mother and child, indoors on a seemingly cold day. 

The hold: studies in the contemporary collection

From then on, the rooms became less appealing to me. The next section, an expansive space with high ceilings, was home to a mismatched group of contemporary sculptures and paintings. 

Champs (1993) by Martha Fleming and Lyne Lapointe hung suspended from clear cables, creating a floating illusion. The hanging window frame, glass included, had a white silhouette painted on one side and various flowers and objects painted on the other. Produced for Les Anciennes Archives de la Seine exhibition in Paris, the piece was the most visually interesting in the room. The coloured flowers contrasted sharply with the clear glass and the opaque outlined figure. Kudos to the Agnes for their choice of Champs in this room, it set the bar high in terms of visual impact.

That being said, the thing I noticed about The hold was that the majority of the pieces weren’t visually appealing, but more familiar in shape. 

Megaphone (1993), although inspired by the shape of Toronto architecture, to me most resembled an Ikea cupboard. Tim Whiten’s Mann was a stone box of fish skeletons. #4 Hematoma: Violet/Red would suit a cool band name, but the artwork consisted of two massive panels in slightly contrasting shades of brown. 

The room also doubles as a study space and is full of comfy-looking couches, however the emptiness of it seemed to be highlighted by the few works of art decorating its space.

My feelings about the new exhibitions saw a minor reprieve when I noticed a Picasso in the back room. Untitled (1956) is a clear display of Pablo Picasso’s repugnance for the accepted artistic standard in 1950s Paris. The drawing is a childlike depiction of a plant growing from the earth and was a welcome addition to this room that was decorated with anti-anarchist-themed papers framed on the walls and scattered on a table, forming Luis Jacob’s Anarchist Free School Minutes, 1999. Picasso’s painting breathed life into the barren space. 

Picturing Arctic Modernity: North Baffin Drawings from 1964

The last room I went in was Picturing Arctic Modernity: North Baffin Drawings from 1964, which encompassed a massive collection of drawings gathered by Terry Ryan from the Inuit people of the Baffin Bay communities of Kanngiqtugaapik, Mittimatalik and Ikpiarjuk. The men and women were instructed to draw scenes of their daily lives, memories they had or moments in history. The drawings, all graphite on paper, were beautiful but numerous and frankly indistinguishable from one another. The sheer mass of drawings on display made it impossible to look at every single one with a fresh eye. 

While the Agnes season launch seemed to be all over the map in terms of theme — the physical analysis of the winter landscapes slightly redeemed it. Even though I was slightly bored throughout, at least I learned a little chemistry.

 

 

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