Attila Richard Lukacs, Coo coo ka–chhoo, Mr. Robinson (1999), oil, enamel and bitumen on canvas. Collection of Salah Bachir and Jacob Yerex. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
Two exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) in Toronto are celebrating WorldPride 2014 by remembering artwork that celebrates the icons and tragedies of the AIDS epidemic at its peak in the early 1990s and its aftermath, while asking the important question: what comes next for Queer culture?
The National Gallery of Canada’s @NGC program, which enables partner institutions to stage exhibitions using the NGC collection, is staging the exhibition Par amour/Paramour that will examine the themes of the body, sexuality and morality.
“All of the artists in the exhibition were, or are a part of a generation of gay artists that came of age in a time when the body was under threat—and that will come through for people when they see this show,” explains the exhibition’s curator Jonathan Shaughnessy, the NGC’s Associate Curator of Contemporary Art. “It’s about finding strength, finding reasons to live, finding positivity, and finding happiness within a context where people are coming of age in an era of adversity and an awareness of mortality.”
The show contains work by four artists, and takes its title from Jean-Luc Verna’s work, Paramour 2010, a solvent transfer on drywall mounted on wood. The work plays on Paramount Studios iconic image of a mountain to reference an illicit lover, or an act of love. Stephen Andrew’s work Facsimile, Part 1 is a series of 50 graphite drawings of men who died as a result of AIDS-related health issues in the early 1990s.
The exhibition also contains eight chromogenic prints from Robert Flack’s series Empowerment that depict the seven chakra points on the body, accompanied by Andrew Zealley’s ambient audio soundtrack created specifically to accompany the Flack works. Flack, born in Guelph, Ontario in 1957, died of AIDS-related causes in 1993. He collaborated with General Idea, among other artists, and by his early thirties was already a rising star in Toronto’s art world. When Flack was diagnosed with HIV, Shaughnessy says his work took a less lighthearted turn as his interest in Eastern philosophy prompted him to examine his own mortality in new ways.
Robert Flack, Anatomical Garden (1990–91), 8 dye coupler prints. Gift of Audrey and Robert E. Flack, Brantford, Ontario, 1999. NGC. © Audrey and Robert Flack
“He was trying to come to terms with the body as something that was going to fail him,” says Shaughnessy. “He started to look at what happens when the body goes away or fails, and ask questions such as: are there other levels of consciousness out there for the mind that can save you? He was looking into transcending the body in some kind of way, because his body had come under attack in a way that he could not escape.”
The idea of looking beyond the present to what might happen next is also a major theme in MOCCA’s exhibition Over the Rainbow: Seduction and Identity, which will be on view in MOCCA’s main exhibition space at the same time as Par amour/Paramour. Drawn from the private collection of Salah Bachir and Jacob Yerex, Over the Rainbow will provide visitors with their first comprehensive look at one of Canada’s most unique and varied private collections of art, as more than 100 of the collection’s 3,000 works will be on display.
“I decided to go with the theme, or approach, of ‘over the rainbow’ as in ‘get over the rainbow’,” explains MOCCA’s Artistic Director and Curator David Liss. “A rainbow is a symbol of Queer culture and pride, but I’m thinking that what we as a society want to, or need to, get over is a lot of the stereotypes associated with Queer culture, because Queer and LGBT people are not a unified mass of people—thus the rainbow.”
Salah Bachir has a long history of philanthropy in Toronto and beyond, and has amassed what Liss describes as an eclectic collection of art motivated by passion, rather than honing a particular agenda or aesthetic with his assemblage. There will be photographs of celebrities associated with Queer culture such as Elizabeth Taylor by Annie Leibowitz, alongside works by General Idea, Stephen Andrews, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Attila Richard Lukacs and Herb Ritts.
Both exhibitions open on June 21 and run through August 17, 2014.
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