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Victor Coleman

Knowing: The surface (1972)
[Greg Curnoe]

artscanada, February, 1972
[ 812 words ]


When I first received the invitation for this show I got very excited about the 'conceptual' aspects; and, not knowing London so well, was led to believe by a mis-reading (I take a lot of stock in mis-readings), that the hotel where the show would be held was the Hotel London, which turns out to be a far sight posher, and pretty out of character for Greg Curnoe the native Londoner.

For the past 7-8 years I've been talking to artists about their hassles with 'the gallery space' artists, as they become more and more politicized, get less and less anxious to allow their work the trappings of preciosity. Many younger artists make little distinction between your average museum and a mausoleum. The artist is currently torn between producing a monument and merely recycling an old image. Conceptual art has little to sell but the body of the artist for a short period of time, and usually on his own terms. Up until this show I don't think anybody, painters, etc. has come up with any concrete answers to the rumblings of the artistic revolutionary. Curnoe, in this very simple showing of water-colours, clockings and measurements (which are leather hangings on which GC has tooled measurements with his Duchampish Device for Measuring London, Ontario and clocking plane trips and bus trips etc.) has broken the lineage of a very discoloured tradition.

ROOM 22 in the London House is nobody's idea of someplace from which to hustle 'European Originals'. The superintendent of the building came in to see the watercolours, etc., while I was there, and his face carried all the pathos I think Curnoe is most concerned with lately. Watching this man hug the walls of the small room, cocking his head to get a new perspective, looking puzzled at the rough-cut leather hangings, I was reminded of a poem the late Jack Spicer wrote:

SPORTING LIFE

The trouble with comparing a poet with a radio is that radios
   don't develop scar tissue. The tubes burn out or with a
   transistor, which most souls are, the battery or diagram
   burns out replaceable or not replaceable, but not like that
   punchdrunk fighter in the bar. The poet
Takes too many messages. The right to the ear that floored him
   in New Jersey. The right to say that he stood six rounds with
   a champion.
Then they sell beer or go on sporting commissions, or, if the
   scar tissue is too heavy, demonstrate in a bar where the
   invisible champions might not have hit him. Too many of
   them.
The poet is a radio. The poet is a liar. The poet is a
   counterpunching radio.
And those messages (God would not damn them do not even
   know they are champions.

In the eight days that this show was up in this very unlikely place, attendance was over 350; the biggest day being Saturday, when 71 people showed up to look around. Artists wondering whether Curnoe's investment of $201 (including the room, advertising, insurance, 500 invitations, postage and 4 cases of beer) was a good one need only note that 11 watercolours were sold at $150 each, plus a few more incidentals.

The London House goes under the wrecker's hammer sometime this summer; already a parking lot is in progress next door. All the rooms are singles and they are rented mostly by the week and month. The paintings in the hall were done by the same painter who decorated the York, where the Nihilist Spasm Band played every Monday night until they very recently moved over to the Victoria Tavern across from the Victoria Hospital.

When I talked to Greg he was suggesting to Robert Fones (whose studio we could see from the window of Room 22) that maybe three or four London artists could do a group show in the same hotel before they tear it down.

The whole act, as far as I'm concerned, says a lot to many younger painters about their modes of survival. Not that I think for a minute that many younger painters (or whatever) could make as much as Curnoe did; but I do think they should all be in a little less of a quandary over what to do next. Even the established artist in this country has a hard time making his material ends meet at the best of times; and more and more of them are becoming quite disgruntled with the general museum attitude. Greg Curnoe has at last shown us that obstacles to exhibition are largely a red herring for the artist, if he is, in fact, willing to attend his work and the possibilities of a fruitful future.

Lying on the metal dressing table in Room 22 was this telegram: 'Hope your new line goes well this year.' (signed) Av Isaacs, The Isaacs Gallery, Toronto.

artscanada, February, 1972

Text: © Victor Coleman. All rights reserved.

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