Art / by Jack Ruttan

Well-Mannered Mentors

Fine Arts Faculty Exhibition, at the Concordia Art Gallery until February 29, 1991.

There's a distinct feeling of comfort in this show by Concordia Fine Arts faculty members. It's almost as if you could move armchairs into the low-ceilinged gallery and enjoy a glass of brandy with your evening newspaper. The art has that assured look which comes from experience bolstered by a weekly pay check.

Perhaps being an art teacher, to be conservative is good. If they were all one-of-a-kind geniuses, students would be overwhelmed and probably end up doing poor copies of their mentor's work. There are enough little Betty Goodwins and Bush League Frank Stellas hanging in student shows already. With a skilled reliable teacher, students get grounded in the basics, and have something solid upon which to push away from and find their own styles.

On the other hand, there's the old saying "Those that can't do, teach." Probably lots of nervous art students are coming to this exhibition to see if their professors can actually perform, or whether he or she was the joker in the pack who got through with more charm than talent.

Luckily, there's very little overtly "bad" work in the show. The paintings always have a skilled touch, the brush brought down and taken up at the right time; harmonious colours chosen. But somehow, seeing over 40 works by different artists makes each individual piece lose its flavour. As in a long poetry reading, the works pile up on each other, and the earlier, quieter, not so garish ones are lost. It's also hard to come up with fresh responses for each new work when they aren't connected thematically: the dreaded "museum fatigue syndrome" sets in. We are left looking for high points, giving thumbs up or thumbs down rather than having a satisfactory total experience.

A step out of this mainstream is a picture by Jerome Krause called 'An Immature Ziggurat Lost in the Forest.' It's a painting of exactly what the title says: a little building wandering in the woods. The unblended flat colours are purple and green, in shades which seem exactly calculated to be wrong or ugly. Krause isn't unaware of the rules, he just knows which ones to break.

Many of these works seem intensely conscious of the kind of effect they want to produce. The Amiga computer in Corrine Cory's installation 'Sketch from "Letters to Dad"' stands like a tombstone on an antique table. On the screen is a portrait of a man, presumably Dad. "Please/the face/the glasses/the tie/the shirt" the computer politely insists, asking you to move the mouse that operates the little onscreen arrow. Pleasingly, or frustratingly (depending on your mood) you don't always have to follow the instructions to get results. Or you can follow them carefully and nothing happens. Funny how the more art is based on machinery, which is supposed to regularise and give control, the more random it often ends up being.

Lise Helene Larin's tiny, well-named sculptures called 'Parasites' seem to infest the gallery. You come upon them in at least a couple of places, things made out of metal and rubber which look like rolled-up wet and rotting banana peels. They add a hint of queasiness in what is generally a too well-mannered show.

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