Toronto Artists Crowd Berlin at Zweigstelle Gallery

Toronto Artists Crowd Berlin at Zweigstelle Gallery
(Rising Toronto artist Mat Brown pores over his drafting table.)

A packed show of Toronto-based artists opens in Berlin, next week, showcasing an array of talent limited to the two-dimensional plane. From the iconic to the established and the emerging, the Zweigstelle Gallery presents mark-makers highlighted for their skills in rendering. Toronto-based curators Henrjeta Mece and Rae Johnson pivot the show on drawing against the last significant exhibition involving Toronto artists to take place in Berlin, “O KromaZone: die anderen von Kanada.” Exhibited in 1982, the show included Toronto stars of the punk generation, and featured the decade’s emerging return to painting and figuration. Mece and Johnson (the latter of whom was a key painter during the time) take this as their departure point, but rejoin it with a presentation of top Toronto artist-drawers. Johnson notes that her conversations with Andreas Stucken on the iriginal project, and now again thirty years later, has been hugely significant to her. "He was the reason this exhibition happened at all. As he put it in our conversations, 'this is a year of circles'." Stucken exhibited a compilation of his past curatorial projects at his gallery, earlier this year, in which O Kromazone was an important part. O Kromazone "was a response to an official exhibition by the Canadian government, in 1982, titled 'Oh Canada!', which featured almost no painting except for historical paintings curated by Dennis Reid," says Johnson. "Chromazone wanted to make sure that new Canadian figurative painting was featured in Berlin at the same time -- titling it O Kromazone was a play on their title, of course -- to observe a trend that was hot across the planet, at the time, but which Canada was a decade behind, as usual."

In the current exhibition, Mece muses on an aspect of drawing that evades trend altogther. “What fascinates me about drawing is that it never arrives, it’s always in a state of flux,” says Mece in a phone conversation from Berlin. “And yet despite this, it hasn’t changed much over its evolution across 32,000 years. It evolves, but largely it stays the same, too. It remains in a trajectory, but never arrives.” When asked if this couldn’t be said of painting, too, the curator takes a hard line. “No, no it can’t. Painting, by comparison, is at times about the technique, and at times its concept, or the medium itself … but it doesn’t have the sincerity of drawing. Drawing is an extension of thinking, and is a much more honest medium, in a way. It’s an extension of the hand, the mind, and who we are.”

The 38 artists included present a swatch of the medium’s various forms, with shifting sensibilities and interests connecting contemporary strategies, from ironic narratives to conceptual mark-making. One of the curators’ key criteria was to have the three generations of establishment represented: emerging, mid-career, and senior artists are included, and many of them in a medium (drawing) that we’re unaccustomed to seeing them practice.

Included in the exhibition is rising star Mat Brown, whose “Million Years Ago” series stole the spotlight at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art’s recent group exhibition, “Ineffable Plasticity,” for its imaginative, sexed-up, and macabre interpretation of the evolutionary tale. Similarly, emerging First Nations curator and artist, Suzanne Morrissette, is included, and Toronto’s best-known interpreter of Facebook profile pics, Sholem Krishtalka, too.

The more established set gets representation through a few artists better known for their work in other media, like watercolorist Cathy Daley and mixed-media icons, Andy Fabo and (recent Governor General Award winner) Ron Martin. Other top names include painter Harold Klunder, who recently enjoyed a successful show of new work at Clint Roenisch; respected printmaker, painter, and drawer, Diane Pugen; and mid-career textile artist and multi-disciplinarian, Helen Cho (the 2010 Canadian representative at Glenfiddich’s international artist residency), who now resides in Berlin.

Mece and Johnson hope to bring a similar showing of Berlin artists to Toronto, quite soon, to “begin an exchange of ideas.”

“Drawing is the precursor to the written word,” Mece reflects. “It’s been around as long as we have. I see there being a global return to its importance, lately, and, in the midst of our contemporary technological milieu, it deserves our attention.”

“Toronto/Berlin 1982-2012” runs through August 31, 2012. See Johnson's essay here.