Register Monday | March 19 | 2018

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Art World

Controversy in Contemporary Canadian Art: A Retrospective

Istvan Kantor: Blood X Campaign

Media: blood, other artists’ work, walls

Montreal, the twentieth anniversary of the Musée d’Art Contemporain, 1985: Kantor splatters a giant X of his own blood on the gallery’s walls. The museum’s director tells Kantor he should have notified him beforehand—they would have scheduled an official performance.

Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1988: Kantor sprays his blood mark between two Picassos and reads from his manifesto before security arrives.

Physically banned from most major museums, Kantor is still bleeding for his art. In 2005, he offered to mix his blood into the concrete being used to renovate the Art Gallery of Ontario. He also proposed the gallery use the opportunity to mount a retrospective of his career. Kantor received the Governor General’s Award for Art in 2004.

“Inevitably some blood will always go on the [other] works.  My intervention creates an instant crisis.”

Jubal Brown: Art Barfing

Media: other artists’ work, food colouring, vomit

Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, 1996: Jubal Brown vomits Jell-O onto a painting by Raoul Dufy—a lively red spew enhanced by food colouring ingested beforehand. That same year, a work by Piet Mondrian at New York’s MoMA gets a stomach acid bath complete with blue Jell-O and blue cake icing.

Oh, the irony: Brown sells his own paintings—“nice, happy Sunday paintings”—which wouldn’t be out of a place at any flea market.

In 2001, as co-director of Art System, a Toronto gallery, Brown promoted the work of Jesse Power, who skinned a cat alive on video (Power was later charged by police). Jubal Brown is currently producing experimental music and videos for multimedia label FAMEFAME. With the Mondrian, Brown claims he didn’t even have to stick his finger down his throat. “I found its lifelessness threatening, and it made me  sick."

Attila Richard Lukacs Sexy Skinheads

Media: just paint

Lukacs achieved fame in the late 1980s for his monumental oil paintings of heroic, beefcake-y skinheads in homoerotic entanglements. Lukacs mixes classical realist references (Caravaggio, Goya, Rembrandt) with Nazi kitsch. The media tagged him as the enfant terrible of the Canadian art world.

As documented in the film Drawing Out the Demons, Lukacs’ rising star burns out after he moves to New York City and becomes addicted to crystal meth and pisses off everyone around him. Lukacs presently lives in Vancouver. His work has taken a surprising turn toward imagery from the natural world. His paintings fetch prices in the tens of thousands and are purchased by major galleries and celebrity collectors like Elton John.

“There’s nothing like a seventeen-year-old with a shaved head and a pair of boots … There’s a rawness that’s  really sincere. And they can be very…Romantic."

Jana Sterbak Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic (AKA the Meat Dress)

Media: steaks, some strong thread

Ottawa, National Art Gallery of Canada, 1987: Like some Dadaist débutantes’ ball, Sterbak’s meat dress is unveiled: fifty pounds of raw, unrefrigerated flank steak, knitted together and hung on a mannequin. Conservative politicians and vegetarians alike are outraged. Sterbak redresses the rotting work with new meat a few weeks later. With the meat dress, the art is in the nose of the beholder. When the meat began to cure in the museum’s recycled air, the look on art-goers’ faces was something to behold.

Continuing in the medium of unrefrigerated meat, Sterbak created Chair Apollinaire (1996), a deluxe club seat stitched together with flank steak. Sterbak was named Canada’s official representative to the 2003 Venice Biennale Exhibition of Art.

“Aging and ultimately death, the subject of Vanitas, is the common destiny of both men and women.”