Among the over forty artists and at least twice as many works from Builders currently on view at the National Gallery of Canada as part of the second installment* of the Canadian Biennial, there is a photograph from Max Dean's recent Objects Waiting series called Exit (Brick Wall). It depicts torn, imbricated layers of colourful photographic backdrop paper—the kind of ubiquitous photo-prop that would establish a world without context but most often reveals the very thing it attempts to hide: the studio. It is within the site of this creative workplace that Dean sought to interrogate various objects (a chair, a ladder, rope, a bucket of water, etc.) in a personal sense. He explores what meaning can be derived from them by staging a series of actions that pit artist and potentially symbolic items against the detached coolness of this "nowhere-place"; its grey walls only a few shades away from the neutrality of the equally ubiquitous and conventional white cube.
Dean has torn through the artifice of the seamless paper only to come up against a brick wall—itself another layer of deceptively real brick-patterned paper. This "exit strategy" could be futile, except for the presence of a ladder that leads out of frame, and except for the fact the photograph is more than satisfying aesthetically.
The Objects Waiting suite is full of references to previous works by Dean and, according to the artist himself, reveal a set of personal narratives that had been, until now, camouflaged in his practice. The NGC first collected his work in 1977 and owns major pieces by him including The Robotic Chair, As Yet Untitled, and now, Objects Waiting. The inclusion of recent works by Dean and others like Michael Snow, Vicky Alexander, Robert Fones, and Lynne Cohen within Builders attests to the show's premise of recognizing not only singular, watershed works but also long-standing and important contributions to Canadian art at large.
*This is apparently the second installment of the Biennial. No one seems to be counting the Canadian Biennial of Contemporary Art that occurred at the National Gallery in 1989 (artists aren't supposed to be good at math, but a lapse of more than twenty years is a little tough to reconcile). That show was curated by Diana Nemiroff, then Associate Curator of Contemporary Art. Interestingly, one artist was featured in both the '89 biennial and Builders:Will Gorlitz.
National Gallery of Canada: http://www.gallery.ca/en/
Builders: Canadian Biennial 2012 continues until January 20.
Andrew Wright is an artist based in Ottawa and the Interim Chair of the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Ottawa. He has exhibited widely and is the recipient of numerous awards. He was recently elected a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. He is Akimblog's Ottawa correspondent.