According to Canadian curator Michael Klein, when people think of art in Vancouver, they think of photo-conceptualism. When they think of Winnipeg, it’s the Royal Art Lodge, the drawing collective founded in 1996 that launched the careers of talents like Marcel Dzama. But Toronto, on the other hand, resists such classifications — it’s one of the most diverse cities in the world, says Klein, and the same can be said for its art scene. So why do we automatically associate the city with the kind of clever, minimalist conceptual work that Klein shows at MKG127, the gallery he founded there in 2007? Blame the artist Micah Lexier — we covered his amazing A to B installation on Sight Unseen in 2010, and then proceeded to fall down the MKG rabbit hole, marveling both at the subtle, obsessive-compulsive thrills that characterize many of the works shown there and at the weird cohesiveness of Klein’s vision.
The gallerist, who’s an artist himself, went to school in the ’70s, and has been immersed in the conceptual scene ever since. After putting his own practice on hold for nearly a decade to help raise his family, a friend suggested he kickstart his career again by opening a gallery, and lo and behold he realized that the (sometimes-uncommercial) work he loved wasn’t being properly supported by other Toronto galleries. “There were artists that weren’t represented here that I thought deserved it,” Klein recalls. “I couldn’t understand why. So from the beginning the gallery was getting lots of attention in the press, because I was doing something not too many other galleries were doing — or maybe no other galleries were doing.” That included bringing artists like Michael Dumonthier or Ken Nichol — whose claim to fame is having pressed a single red button one million times — into the spotlight, or letting high conceptualists like Bill Burns conduct an all-day sheep-shearing in the gallery. It worked: Klein cemented his place in the Toronto art scene, and MKG127 became an important platform for more experimental Canadian talents.
Six years into his own experiment, Klein agreed to take a look back at his catalog for us and pick out eight of his favorite MKG127 shows (minus a few in his early years that he neglected to have properly photographed). Take the official curator’s tour in the slideshow at right.
There’s no object too mundane to catch Micah Lexier’s eye. He collects scraps torn off cardboard boxes, envelopes and papers lying in the street, even bathroom-cleaning checklists at restaurants — anything that deals with the passage of time or with systems, the driving forces behind his own work as an artist. “I love garbage day,” he says. “It’s hard for me to walk home and not find things. I keep a knife in my pocket just in case.” It’s not that Lexier necessarily uses these found items in his own pieces, like the 1994 series in which he photographed 75 men from age 1 to 75, all of whom were named David. They’re just another part of his lifelong fascination with the aesthetics of order, a way of seeing the world that was mapped out perfectly in the show he recently curated at Toronto’s MKG127 gallery, where curiosities from his collection sat alongside sequentially themed works by other artists.
Just walking into Bodega Gallery in Philadelphia’s Old City and being greeted by one of its five cool, young founders — or browsing its online archive of past exhibitions, which is peppered with names like Sam Falls and Travess Smalley — you could easily file it alongside similar edgy, high-brow art establishments in cities like L.A., New York, or Paris. And then you find yourself conversing with a few of said cool, young founders (all of them artists themselves and graduates of Hampshire College), and you hear them say things like “stuff is for sale if people want to buy it, but that’s not the driving force,” or “this is just a space — everything happens around it, and nothing happens at it,” and you realize that the economics of a place like Philly can be even more freeing for projects like this than you’d imagined. Bodega really is just a space, one that's run by Elyse Derosia, Ariela Kuh, Lydia Okrent, James Pettengill, and Eric Veit, but where it feels like almost anything could happen.
It's fitting that the boys from ROLU would choose to introduce the show they opened this past Saturday at Williamsburg's Sit and Read Gallery with this quote from American sculptor Richard Artschwager: "Everything matters. An itchy nose, scratching it; a distant train. A bit of coffee left in the mug. My hand grasping the mug, the thumb providing guidance. Every encounter with another person... etc." Beyond being a mantra as of late for the Minneapolis-based studio, its core message — everything matters — could easily describe the approach they and most of our other design friends took to ICFF weekend: Why do one show when you can cram in three, or four? Thus while Sit and Read's Kyle Garner was installing his hand-dyed Sling Chairs at our Modern Craft show at the Merchant's House Museum, he was also prepping his gallery for the exhibition with ROLU, who were also installing new pieces at the Boffo Show House and at the No Frontier show with Volume Gallery at Mondo Cane in Tribeca. As a working method, everything matters may actually be dangerous to one's health, but when applied to a single design project, it turns out the results are pretty stunning — in this case, a series of furnishings and experiments that will be on view at Sit and Read through July 1. Click through to see what ROLU co-founder Matt Olson had to say about the project, and watch a video documenting how one part of it came to life.