Sunday, 29 August 2010

AGO Opening: Perfection is the Enemy of Done




Thursday morning launch for Julian Schnabel: Art and Film. It all started in typical AGO fashion. The curator, David Moo and the artist take turns at the podium in front of a conference room filled with journalists, videographers, art insiders, bloggers and me. Coffee service at the side. Pastries aligned on glass trays oh-so-perfectly.
58-year old Julian Schnabel is an American artist and filmmaker. In the 1980s Schnabel received international media attention for his "plate paintings"—large-scale paintings set on broken ceramic plates ( on display at the AGO). Now he is best known for his movies - he directed Before Night Falls, which according to Wikipedia became Javier Bardem's breakthrough Academy Award nominated role and the four-time Academy Award nominated The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. He has won a Golden Globe, as well as BAFTA, a C├ęsar Award, a Golden Palm, two nominations for the Golden Lion and an Academy Award nomination.
His show, which opens at the AGO this week, reintroduces his art to the public.
The man himself was at the media preview. Funny! Schnabel all rumpled and dishevelled actually made Toronto journalists look well dressed!
Quotable quote: "“I like this town you have here,” he said. “It’s like Houston was years ago. (Canada is like) a computer chip run a muck!" Realizing that the audience might have interpreted what he said as an insult he explained: "50 years ago before the US went to shit!'
Big thing missing? No AGO CEO Matthew Teitelbaum(holiday) or retiring chief curator Dennis Reid (apparently no longer in the building).
After the 45-minute long official opening we all climbed into a bank of elevators and headed to the exhibition space. What a difference a floor makes. Formal morphed into Controlled Madness. Show not completely hung. Fork lift trucks -- Beep Beep as they back up (real turn off for TV crews!) -- move sculptures around the room. Installation experts were on ladders painting and hanging. Text panels were taped to walls.
The artist revelled in the chaos. He roared around the large space with a large media cloud in tow. " I won't take any questions until you have looked at my show for at least 15-minutes" he warned us. No time to ask questions, artist talked non-stop for the first half hour of the tour!!!
Perfection is the enemy of done - having a media preview in the raw state really worked, especially in context with an artist who specializes in producing work that doesn't look quite complete. You get a sense you are really seeing something before the rest of the world does.
Only draw back not everything up yet ... "One of my paintings was used in Ghost Writer". A film by Roman Polanski - "Problems with insurance, getting it off set and getting it here" people will see that in a week or two.
Of course this media preview during the hanging is something that I do at the McMichael all the time. Out of necessity. For all the coverage the gallery gets, Kleinburg openings are hard sell for journalists covering the art beat. Too far to travel. Group of Seven off their radar. In some cases journalists don't consider the McMichael part of their "beat" (still can't get a reply from Globe and Mail critic R Vaughan, doesn't respond to gallery emails or phone calls).
During the McMichael hangings the curator and/or artist can stay busy while we await visitors ( who don't always come).
Why was AGO so busy? No sure. Schnabel's connection with films and the Film Festival fast approaching? Or is it just that this is the first major "art" happening in the city since the G20 afflicted ROM Terracotta Warrior failed media launch earlier this summer?
Hard to say. But, AGO broke its own mold for this Media Preview. Judging by the positive articles in print and on the TV, it worked. Big Time.

CUTLINE: AGO technician prepares a wall for hanging. Right: Julian Schnabel in the middle of a scrum. Below. A plate. A plant. A blur. Artist's signature piece.

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