Myfanwy MacLeod, Ramble On (2013), 1977 Camaro Rally Sport, steel stand. Courtesy of Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver
Say “ramble on” to hard rock aficionados, and you’re likely to conjure up the wailing vocals and thundering riffs of the namesake Led Zeppelin song. Or even spark a little air guitar. But an exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery offers a different perspective on this iconic music and other episodes in popular culture.
Myfanwy MacLeod, or There and Back Again features sculpture, painting and photography created over the past decade by Vancouver-based artist Myfanwy MacLeod. Known for her satirical investigations of social power through art that traverses the boundaries of “high” and “low” culture, MacLeod produced several new works specifically for the exhibition. One such work is Ramble On, a 1977 Chevrolet Camaro that has been wrecked, stripped of its engine, and mounted on a “rotisserie” stand. As Grant Arnold, the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Audain Curator of British Columbia Art, recently explained to NGC Magazine, Ramble On plays with an image of North American masculinity, presenting the muscle car as if it’s a beast being roasted.
But Arnold also points out that the Camaro belonged to MacLeod’s brother-in-law, and that she has fond memories of riding in the back while he burned parking-lot donuts in her hometown of London, Ontario. “The work is not about her saying this is patriarchy and that’s it,” says Arnold, who adds that it’s a more complex way of “looking at things that are enmeshed in the larger structures in which gender is formed and plays out in our culture, while not totally dismissing them.”
Myfanwy MacLeod, Stack (2013), 18 screenprints on painted canvas, metal hardware, vinyl, wood. Courtesy of Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver. Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery
Indeed, Arnold notes that a more overt engagement with questions of gender is something that characterizes several of MacLeod’s recent works in the exhibition—from her series of origami sculptures made from images of murdered Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten to the large-scale, wall-mounted series of screen-printed paintings called Stack. The latter is reminiscent of both the minimalist Untitled (Stack) works by sculptor Donald Judd, and the walls of Marshall speaker cabinets once used to produce heavily amplified sound in “cock rock” stadium concerts.
“That kind of combination is fairly specific to Myfanwy’s work, where she draws connections between art history and popular culture in a way that gives people who might not have background in art history a point of access to the work,” says Arnold. “But as you think more about it, it takes on all these other layers of meaning.” The title of the exhibition itself is a reference to the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien (which influenced some of Led Zeppelin’s song lyrics), and is meant to evoke a journey that transforms traditional perceptions of the commonplace.
Lawren Harris, Tamarack Swamp, Algoma (1920), oil on canvas. Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Gift of Mrs. Margaret H. Knox. Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery
Another new exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery also explores a journey of sorts. Lawren Harris: Canadian Visionary traces Lawren Stewart Harris’ (1885–1970) artistic evolution from the early twentieth century to the mid-1960s. Marking the Vancouver Art Gallery’s first major solo presentation of Harris works in more than 50 years, the career survey features 137 paintings, oil sketches and drawings by the member of the influential Group of Seven. Highlights include the groundbreaking painting Tamarack Swamp, Algoma—which, according to the exhibition release, “exemplifies how Harris turned a subject that was considered unattractive into a beautiful work of art”—and one of Harris’ sketchbooks, on view for the first time.
That sketchbook, as well as other drawings that are available on a related Tumblr site, provide a rare glimpse into Harris’ creative process and his then-daring move from representational art to abstraction. As described by Ian Thom, Senior Curator-Historical at the Vancouver Art Gallery, it’s a move that made Harris “the pioneer who brought abstraction to Canadian art.”
Lawren Harris, Composition No. 1 (1940), oil on canvas. Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Zack and McLean Foundation Funds. Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery
Like any good journey, both exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery offer unforgettable encounters and a few surprises along the way. Lawren Harris: Canadian Visionary is on display until May 4, 2014. Organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery and Museum London, Myfanwy MacLeod, or There and Back Again is on display until June 8, 2014. Visitors can additionally check out Artists’s Choice Cock and Bull, an exhibition featuring work from the Vancouver Art Gallery’s permanent collection, selected by Myfanwy MacLeod and Grant Arnold.
Robyn Jeffrey is a writer and editor based in Wakefield, Quebec.
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