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Oh Canada! U.S. museum hosts major survey of Canadian contemporary art

Sue Carter Flinn

Kim Adams’s Optic Nerve will be the first piece gallery-goers will encounter at Oh Canada!

This weekend, if you’ve got an itch to see some Canadian contemporary art, the best place to be is south of the border. Two hundred years after the war of 1812, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, MA, is hosting Oh, Canada, one of the largest survey exhibitions of Canadian contemporary art ever produced outside of the country.

MASS MoCA curator Denise Markonish spent three years making over 400 studio visits until she narrowed down her list of 800 Canadian artists to 62 who represent a variety of disciplines, including painting, performance and installation. Although there isn’t a single overarching theme to the show, it’s clear Markonish isn’t afraid of putting whimsy or humour on the walls. Hey, Canadians (and their art) can be funny! Who knew?

Besides its size, what I think is quite remarkable about Oh, Canada is who is exhibiting together. Markonish—free from the constraints or politics of the Canadian gallery and museum system—has mixed artists still young in their careers like David Harper (see his incredible taxidermied and embroidered animals here) and the Sobey Art Award–nominated Cedar Tavern Singers with big names like Michael Snow, Douglas Coupland and Rebecca Belmore. Regional representation—always an issue across this giant swath of land—is also admirable. Ironically, it’s hard to imagine this show actually happening in Canada.

The May 26 opening party keeps true to its red-and-white spirit with Brandon Canning from Broken Social Scene DJing a dance party (c’mon, does it get any more Canuck than that?), featuring musical performances by a few participating artists, including Halifax electro-dance outfit Pastoralia.

Here’s a video of Dawson City artist Eryn Foster (responsible for my favourite art-in-a-gym piece, Kardio Karaoke!!!) who is capturing airborne North Adams yeast to create a local version of sourdough bread that will be baked in an outdoor oven she had built as part of the show.

If you can’t make it to North Adams, may I suggest the next best thing: Janet Morton’s enormous lumberjack shirt at the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg, Ontario.




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