Sunday, February 05, 2006

Will Gill and Beth Oberholtzer at the Rooms

The Art

Having never before attended an opening at our hulking cultural behemoth of glass, steel and brick, I was really excited about comparing this event to the various other high budget art receptions I've attended at other provincial galleries in the past.

The art is really good, though I somehow think you could put a lump of dog shit in the contemporary gallery on level 4 of the Rooms and it would still inspire awe. It's just such a beautiful gallery. Not only is Will Gill possibly the nicest person in St. John's, his large scale paintings and sculpture on display are just lovely to look at. Whimsical, simple, mysterious and somehow a little sad, his work has the sweet and otherworldly feel of magical objects you might see in a child's storybook.

All of Gill's work in the show seems to circle around the theme of transformation. Fire transforms matter. Day becomes night. One of Gill's sculptures, a wax bowl, like a giant speaker installed into the wall, transforms the sounds of the gallery so that everything seems muted and close, like you were on the inside of a closet, speaking to yourself.

Oberholtzer's work deals with the transformative as well. It's all sperm and eggs all over the place, with vaginas made of flower petals on one wall and a necklace of detritus, literally stuff she found on the sidewalks of the city, hanging opposite. While Gill seems more concerned with a kind of elemental, external change in the world around him, Oberholtzer examines the world of the interior. The world of the fetus, obviously, but also the transformation of the idea into object. It's good work as well, but doesn't benefit from being shown beside Gill's monumental pieces. Her necklace piece for example, while interesting, is placed beside Gill's 28 foot tall sculpture of a ladder going up into a cloud, rendering her work almost invisible as a result. Too bad.

The Food, The Drinks, The Reception

The best opening I've ever been to was at Anna Leonowens gallery in Halifax. I have no idea what the art was all about, but the artist, a middle aged woman celebrating her graduation from art school, had kebabs cooking on a grill right there in the gallery. Man, that was good. When you go to an opening and they've got veggie and chicken kebabs there sizzling away, it just makes you feel really good about the future of art production in the world.

Such was not the case at the Rooms, however. I guess they've blown the budget on the architecture (or maybe its Gordon Laurin's severance package) cause three of four little fruit plates from Sobeys just doesn't cut it, dudes. And sure, there was free beer and wine, but the crowd of seventy or so went through the limited supply in shortly over an hour...but I guess with Dean Brinton in charge, we should be thankful it wasn't a cash bar with QV lager going for eight bucks a pop. Speaking of Brinton, does this guy actually attend events at the Rooms? Several people at the opening said he hasn't been to a single visual art reception, odd, since it would seem he'd want to reconcile with an art community that (at least before apathy set in) thought he was an asshole. Fat Chance.

The Schmooze

Shauna McCabe and Bruce Johnson were in attendance of course, and the two seem to have a steady if somewhat unspectacular vision for the future of the Rooms. I've known McCabe for a few years and I think she's an extremely capable director who won't rock Dean Brinton's boat too much. I've heard that she's applied for the big job on a more permanent basis, and I think she'd be a good one to keep around.

But man, the artists in St. John's sure are a funny group. They'll make fun of Johnson's dangle-y earrings until he's standing next to them, and then treat him with the kind of reverence and deferential treatment usually reserved for the Pope. It's unreal.

At Bianca's later in the evening, it was fascinating to watch nearly every artist in the room slowly make their way to the chair beside McCabe, a procession so over-friendly that I just wanted to tell them to give the woman your proposal and slide list and be done with it.


Blogger Jennifer B. said...

Well, I managed to pop over to The Rooms yesterday (free Saturday) to check out the Gill/Oberholtzer show myself. I have to agree, Gill's larger-scale works tend to over-shadow Oberholtzer's, as the works were all scattered about in the same area. That's cool with me, though, since I'm a bigger fan of Gill's. His work manages to be whimsical, but not that sickly, cheesy kind of whimsical that I usually associate with the word. His stars and clouds look almost delicate, but are constructed with wood and styrofoam. Pretty, yet masculine. And his work looks much different up close than when seen printed in a catalogue, like Lichtenstein's comic panel paintings.
As for Oberholtzer, I can tell that she has great respect for her materials and each piece seems to have been made and handled with great care. I just can't seem to relate to the work on a personal level. The room with the hanging seed-moon type orbs is quite lovely, however.

On a side note, I was tremedously UNimpressed with the Beauty Queens show. I especially despised the clipboard piece by local artist Jim Hansen (I think, please excuse me if that's incorrect). My friend and I spent about five minutes picking the thing apart before turning away in frustration. Why protect these everyday clipboards with pieces of glass? Why type a letter on fake loose-leaf instead of just hand-writing it? Why digitally print out photo-shopped images on fake loose-leaf? etc...
It looks as though he wanted these to look like authentic notes and images that were found strewn about on a desk, but they come off as fake and absurd. Why bother? And don't get me started on the puns.

11:06 p.m.  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

thanks for your comments, jennifer. I haven't gotten down to the Beauty Queens show as of yet, but am looking forward to it.

9:13 p.m.  
Blogger JustinBathurst said...

Based on an earlier visit when that Irish show was on, I have to agree about the Rooms Gallery space... anything and everything will shine in there. I also really think that the decision to leave the overhead open on that level imbues it with a slightly industrial feel that refuses to allow the gallery to get too precious, which could be a problem with exhibiting messier works...

2:09 p.m.  
Blogger Cara/Kevin said...

Hmm. I just discovered this blog via Paul Butler's book blog. You're a brave soul Craig.

About the Rooms show. I agree that the food was skimpy. I intentionally didn't have supper so I could load up on shrimps, cod nuggets and those scallops wrapped in bacon. Yeah, and where was Brinton? (Not that I could pick him out in a crowd of one.) But, I think there were more than 70 people there. Maybe twice that. And a varied crowd too. I think it showed that there is interest in the show outside of just viz artists.

Your comment about how Bruce dresses was just mean. To say that "they" make fun of him doesn't elide your complicity. I'm just saying.

About the show itself. I think Will's stuff really needs the space that this gallery allows. It's like an indoor sculpture park. Sublime in the romantic sense of 'I could be destroyed/swallowed/annihilated by this'.Another thing that I liked about the work was the quality of execution. As hand made objects there is an obvious skill in the craftspersonship. Whatever the mixedmediasculpture word for painterly is, yeah that.

Beth's work has never really appealed to me for the same reason that I like Will's. It always seemed sloppy. Whatever was happening conceptually was hidden by the shoddy workpersonship. But, this time around, I was really impressed. The bullet chandelier and the spermys were beautiful forms. Even the cod pieces worked for me this time when they didn't a few years ago at the Hall.

In all I liked the show and will go back and have another look for sure.

The opening was kind of fun and the Rooms looked great at night.

(thanks for providing this space Craig)


6:01 p.m.  
Blogger craigfrancis said...


You're right. It was mean of me to mention what was said about Bruce's earrings. I apologize.

8:48 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

craig, your reviews are great as always.
It's good to hear someone say it like it is. It is a good quality. it is good too that you don't claim to have it all figured out but want a discussion. Or maybe you think you do? that's part of the fun of it. As for the slide comment. you should said it out loud. or maybe that would have been mean.
keep keeping us interested

7:36 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

workpersonship? craftpersonship? Please don't tell me that artists have to talk like this now? leave that to the hippies. I went to art school so i could be an asshole. is that politically incorrect? I apologize.

7:44 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok. the slide comment, and even the notion that people treat Bruce with papal gloves are interesting because they are about power. to me, that's an interesting disussion.

as for Anon #2's comments. if you are making the case for anti-ismizationism, i agree. if you are taking serious comments made in a somewhat playful post then i sigh.


11:06 a.m.  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

for the record, I think Bruce has done alright as curator given what he's had to work with over the years. I've looked at quite a few exhibiton catalogues from the old AGNL and it even seems that shows are getting better as time goes on. I do however believe that the Rooms needs to reach out to the emerging artists of this province. There are some great younger artists in town who feel like they have no place or community in St. John's, and are just biding their time until they can move the hell outta here. The Rooms should tear a page from the mandate of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and have one major show a year dedicated to an outstanding emerging or group of emerging artists. Then, maybe, you wouldn't get the kind of trash talking I overheard at the Rooms for the Gill/Oberholtzer opening.

11:32 a.m.  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

and furthermore, I think the Rooms should bring in a curator from outside the province for more shows. Cliff Eyland curated a show at the old AGNL called "Rethinking The Rural", and it was pretty good... it just featured too many of the usual suspects that have dominated NL cultural production for seemingly eons. So yeah, there you go. Cliff Eyland should curate a whopper of an emerging artist show at the Rooms.

6:14 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not the first time I've been reminded that I'm getting a little long-in-the-tooth for this sily earring. So it goes . . .

Enjoyed the conversation . . . about time we heard immediate responses to art and stuff in this town.

Got ya bookmarked, looking forward to the gushing/gutting over our next three shows.

Still smiling over that papal thing. dominus illuminato mea.

10:27 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i don't have time to read the other comments right now... but just had to say that Bruce is a nice guy, and what's the problem?if my baby wouldn't pull on them I'd wear dangling earrings too. (-:

still looking for to the show though. I caught a bit of it on the ntv news the other night, and it looks strong (especially liked the moons.the delicacy was nice contrast to the brass pieces.)Need a closer look at the paintings.

4:39 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am really thrilled to see such a great contempory exhibition. It is a refreshing.

I do think that Will's works are over powering Beth's. And it will be much better to have them space out a little. I used to wonder why there is only one piece of sculpture sitting in the middle of a big room. Ha, this is why.

8:44 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am I the only person that can't get over the Patterson Ewen in Will's work? When I see Will's work I can't help wondering what he will be doing in 10 years time when there is more Will and less influence. I say this while celebrating Will's accomplishments. His work is really rather tender but is it derivative for me to call it derivative? Someone suggested that there be early work exhibited at the rooms. It is my feeling that the Gill/Oberholtzer exhibition was an exceptional example of just that. My comments do not diminish my respect for their accomplishments.

4:26 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for your comments. I am indeed influenced by Patterson Ewens work. How did you know, and in what respect do you think I am influenced?? What are the similarities, differences? Do you think there is a very close connection apart from the wall works? If so what pieces? Thanks for your time. This blog is a good read.

8:03 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't been back to the site for a while and if I wasn't so idle may never of stumbled on your response.

How did I sense Patterson? It is hard to put in words. Some things just seep into your consciousness. I think your snowflakes gave me the first sense of recognition. They brought to my mind his weather pieces. For example the routed rain or the tin circles nailed onto the plywood as snow.

If your exhibit was solely floor pieces I may never of sensed Patterson's presence. Overall your work reads to me to be emotionally less tortured and more intellectual than Patterson's.

Mind you I am really rather a fan of Patterson's work. I loved his full moon series. They sit nicely in my minds eye. But somehow they do seem of another time.

Your work definately has added more to the dialogue. I apologize for the glibness in sending off my original comment.

11:39 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

looking for bruce johnson please email me at

12:09 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:10 p.m.  

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