June 7 - July 6, 2013
How the great spiritual achievement of the self, the one, the monad, is the collapse of the self… into a spaciousness, an expanded subjectivity…
The singularity has no edge, no orifice, no being
But is itself an orifice, a cornucopia, a portal
-- Tom Dean, 2013
Here are some thoughts on Revelations:
Might the queer crowd allow an untethered prurience sufficient to disable incredulity and enable a robust ecstatic mysticism. -- Tom Dean, 2013
In the art world the queer identity politic of the 1980s, opened up by the feminist art discourse of the 1970s, was made raw with the advent of AIDS. It became a necessity to stare death in the face as artists in the international community were felled by the epidemic.
In Canada, amongst the many losses was Robert Flack (1957 - 1993). Flack was born in Guelph, Ontario and moved to Toronto to study at York University. He began working at Art Metropole in 1980 and worked on a variety of General Idea projects including layouts for FILE Megazine. The MacDonald Stewart Art Centre in Guelph mounted a survey exhibition in 1993.
"From the beginning, Flack's work expressed an otherworldliness - a quality that focused sharply with his HIV sero-conversion in 1988. From that point forward, Flack's vision rocketed almost exclusively into the internalized realms of psychic energy, the chakras and the etheric body." (artmetropole.com)
In Toronto, Flack's studio mate at the time was Stephen Andrews. Andrews was facing his own crisis of mortality as his partner Alex Wilson was claimed by AIDS in 1993. The advent of protease inhibitors in 1996 unexpectedly gave Andrews a profoundly new lease on life, a turning point that has reflected memory, identity and the body politic in his work.
During a studio visit with Andrews last year he referred to his recent paintings as autonomous holistic units and then asked not to be quoted since he wasn't sure what he meant by that yet, as if to say that he was painting towards its meaning. What he did know was that he was no longer working in series.
In 2010 our gallery mounted Inside The Solar Temple Of The Cosmic Leather Daddy, the final body of work by Will Munro (1975 - 2010). Munro was born in Sydney, Australia and raised in Mississauga, Ontario. He graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design in 2000 and in the ten years to follow brought cultural and social activism together in a way never before seen in Toronto. The Art Gallery of York University organized a retrospective of Munro's work in 2012 and will produce a catalogue of record later this year.
Munro's passing, the consequence of a brain tumour, broadened the fields of remembrance and loss beyond the borders of AIDS while at the same time enabling others to celebrate those lives lost.
In 2012, twenty years after Flack's final body of work Love Mind was first exhibited, our gallery remounted the exhibition in the same second floor space that just two years earlier had housed Munro's final show. The parallels between these exhibitions were clear and strong. Both artists, pondering their mortalities while completing their work, became standard bearers for their generations by virtue of what they had left behind and what their work continues to reveal about their humanity and ours.
It was in a series of conversations about Flack's work with the senior Toronto-based artist Tom Dean that this exhibition began to take form around the word revelations. And it was the morphologies of transcendence found in Dean's work that determined the contents of the show from that point on.
The bending of time is not accessible to us, except by revelation. We can only know by divining.
When you talk about God, you don't know what you're talking about. The singularity will not be accessible to us.
-- Tom Dean, 2013
Like Andrews, the work of contemporary American artist Glenn Ligon crosses media - painting, sculpture, drawing, print-making and video. Ligon addresses race and identity issues and, like all the artists in this exhibition, the fields of sexuality and desire.
The fusing together of Canadian Modernism with the mandala in Winnipeg-based artist Andrew Harwood's Automatiste Mandalas from his Psychic Friends (2009) exhibition led to Prairy Style (2011) and Prairy Colour Field. While negotiating freighted pop references both bodies of work rely on subtle gestures towards symbols of the universe and the dream-catching camp ironies of sequins and glitter suspended in drizzles of hot glue.
Asked once why he titled a past exhibition The Dreamer, senior Toronto-based artist Ron Giii replied, "because dreamers never give up." With a performance practice dating back to the early 1970s and a drawing practice that took over by the mid-1980s, Giii's figures, inscrutable and common, are always on the verge of atomizing. They are animated by their own internal cosmologies, ones that viewers can only imagine.
Returning to the thematic properties evident in Flack's psychedelic Love Mind and its pre-digital photographic means, and connecting with Munro's merging of Egyptology with the queer margins that he brought together and gave voice to, it becomes apparent that their works share important concerns. Along with Andrews, Dean and the other artists in this exhibition, their works integrate what we can call spiritual iconographies and invite the big questions about what we believe in and how we get there.
-- Paul Petro, 2013