Exhibition view, Art Mûr, Scope, New York, 2013.
Photo: James Hall, courtesy of Art Mûr, Montréal
The 12th edition of SCOPE New York Art Fair premiered in an unusual location: the historic James A. Farley Post Office. This Neoclassical building, with its colonnade of 16m high Corinthian columns, was an impressive setting for an event that is typically of mixed quality. This year’s fair, boasting over seventy-five international galleries, was no exception (a life-size, mirrored horse sculpture near the entrance gave little cause for optimism).

The Art Mûr booth quickly allayed these reservations with the humorous sculptural installation Maintiens le droit (2012), consisting of a fallen, fiberglass “Mountie,” his legs chewed through by the taxidermic beaver at his feet. Doubling as the RCMP motto “Defend the Law,” the title hints that the artist duo Cooke-Sasseville perhaps implicates this woodland creature as a heroic defender of its own natural inclinations.

Art Mûr organized its offerings at SCOPE along themes of ecology and relations between Canada and First Nations people. Other artists addressing ecological concerns included Karine Giboulo and Diana Thorneycroft, who shone with the immediately understandable Group of Seven Awkward Moments (Davis Strait) (2007), a dark riff on Lawren Harris’ Icebergs, Davis Strait, in which sledders float on a dwindling shard of once-solid ice.

The First Nations-themed works commanded attention with three large red and white circular compositions that read like digital colour-field mandalas or abstract targets. These digital prints, Meditation on Red (2013) by Anishinaabe artist Nadia Myre, give a close-up view of beadwork in Canadian flag colours, conflating issues of nationalism, Aboriginal heritage, and aesthetic modernism so subtly that it’s easy to initially miss their nuanced worth. Sonny Assu showed an acrylic painting in pleasing, if familiar, tropes of Pacific-Northwestern Indigenous graphics, and Nicholas Galanin offered compelling examples from his S’igeika’awu: Ghost series (2009): three ceramic and horsehair masks in vaguely Northwest Coast Aboriginal style, covered in blue chinoiserie patterning, their Delft finish serving as a marker of the colonial tradition of appropriating and bastardizing indigenous art forms. Recent Laureate of the 2013 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts, Rebecca Belmore was represented by Fringe (2013), a large digital print of a woman lying on her side, facing away from the viewer, with a grizzly, diagonal suture dripping red beadwork down the length of her back. The title refers at once to the drape of traditional handicraft within the scene and also to a people’s ability to emerge from the outskirts of consideration, fashioning self-expression and autonomous creative domain from their own history, however challenging or difficult. In an art fair filled with its share of glitz and pageantry, the integrity and conceptual gravitas of these First Nations artists, though recondite, was a much-needed bright spot.

Enrico Gomez, Nadia Myre, Rebecca Belmore
This article also appears in the issue 78 - Hybrid Dance

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