Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Milliner's Daughter

August 2017 - Toronto ON

The Milliner’s Daughter is not an oblique title: It refers to Ydessa Hendeles mother's hat shop in Zawierce, Poland, consumed in the Nazi invasion of 1939 and the ensuing chaos of the Second World War.

Hendeles, now 68, is nothing less than a Canadian art legend. In the 1980s, she opened the Ydessa Gallery, on Queen St. near Spadina, where she helped launch the careers of Canadian artists like Jeff Wall and Rodney Graham, among the country’s biggest art exports of all time. But she was destined for even bigger things. In 1988, she opened the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation on King St., a two-storey brick warehouse whose innards she had polished to an international art-museum sheen.

By the time she closed the foundation in 2012, her position as an artist had become less a notion than a fact. Its closure signaled a shift, both for the city — which had caught up, finally, with her vision of an intermingled local and international scene — and for Hendeles herself.

As she began to split time between Toronto and New York, she started to divest her collection. She had already donated 32 works to the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2009, but in 2013, she sold 144 pieces, many of them monumental, to the Glenstone Museum, a privately owned institution near Washington, D.C.

This is a free exhibit at The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Canada's leading public gallery devoted exclusively to contemporary visual art.

Exhibit information was taken from the website.

From her wooden sleep…, a major work by the German-born Canadian artist-curator, Ydessa Hendeles. In this work, Hendeles draws together disparate elements to compose a tightly choreographed tableau vivant. Central to the installation is a remarkable and unique collection of 150 wooden artists’ manikins assembled by Hendeles over twenty years. Ranging from 1520 to 1930 and in scale from palm-size to life-size, the manikins surround a lone figure that stands exposed in their collective gaze. The intense focus of the scenario suggests a community gathering—perhaps in a courtroom, or at an auction, anatomy lesson or drawing class.

At first it felt like a classroom or a church. Is it a courtroom?
There are rows and rows of them, entire families and groups all staring to the front. Others have taken up position around the walls, on tables and in several vitrines. What are they waiting for?
Why are there dozens of wooden eyes watching us? It feels like they are following us but perhaps they are dully fixated on something else entirely as they wait patiently.

“We all want to get along, and be part of the group,” says Ydessa Hendeles, the author of the piece, and everything else here. “But what happens when you isolate someone, when you stereotype, stigmatize?”

They’re mannequins, not people. There are over 150 of these articulated wooden figures – from little peg dolls to life-sized men and women – filling the room that we entered through a heavy grey curtain.

The earliest mannequins date from about 1520, and there are examples from every century since. Some are toys, most are figures used by artists as stand-ins for live models.

From her wooden sleep… continues Hendeles’s exploration of difference and diversity, in particular of the way representation and distortion, appropriation and assimilation filter group and individual identities. The title of the show is taken from Florence K. Upton’s best-selling 1895 children’s book, The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg, about the nocturnal adventures of two wooden peg dolls. Created and named by Upton, Golliwogg was the first black protagonist in English picture books. He became a much-loved character among children, who were oblivious to its relationship to prevalent racial stereotypes considered acceptable at the time. His far-reaching popularity was superseded only by the teddy bear’s. He also bridged the gap between popular culture and high art by inspiring the most popular movement of Claude Debussy’s Children’s Corner suite. In the mid-20th century, however, the character became a controversial symbol of racism, his very name becoming a racist insult. Like earlier Hendeles curatorial compositions, From her wooden sleep… graphically realizes her interest in the way crazes define culture and social dynamics—for better and for worse.


Keys suggest secrets held, passageways forbidden. In Blue Beard, a new work for this show, a pair of plaster mannequins, male and female, stand back to back. Difference, it suggests can be irreconcilable, and the female figure, holding the male’s head in her hand, would agree.

The next shrouded room contained THE BIRD THAT MADE THE BREEZE TO BLOW which challenges conventional assumptions about the boundaries between artistic production, collecting, curating and exhibiting. The show is conceived to provide viewers with the integrated experience of an art installation, but it is also presented as a group of autonomous works, each standing on its own outside the context of the exhibition. It is comprised of photographs and text pieces in conjunction with antique clockwork key-wind tin toys and a custom-fabricated, painted-metal automaton that performs in a large mahogany vitrine.

In this room's main space Aero­Car No. 500, 2011 dominates. The mint green engorged version of what was once a toy made in the U.S. sector of West Germany, sits proudly in a teardrop-shaped vitrine. The gallery attendant hit a button and the chromed lever at its rear moves slowly down, wings sprout from its sides, and a propeller emerges from its nose. The prop whirls away, yet the room-sized toy remains still in an almost heartbreaking kind of way.

Large scans and reprints of Gustav Doré’s illustrations to Coolridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” with the page’s corresponding text hang out of order along the walls.

In Crypt, an intricate figure lies prone under a tight pyramid of glass, the reflection of its fine features pinwheeling in a kaleidoscope of reflections. Nearby, another figure sits hunched against the wall, its face smoothly erased, its hands wooden paws — the erasures of the modern, burying the complexities of the past, at its knowing peril.

This one definitely followed us!

Things get more personal upstairs. The exhibition homes in on Marburg and Canada, again through the use of toys and reproductions.

Canadian Child, 2009 combines a photograph of Hendeles riding her bike on the day that Queen Elizabeth came to visit with a reproduction of an oversized bell, used in the late 19th century as a promotional gimmick in a bike shop, placed on a knee-high pedestal.

Image result for hendeles canadian child photograph

Ydessa Hendeles’s “The Dead Jumbo.” is an allegorical reference to the largest systematic, state-sponsored extermination program in the history of the world. It includes wall panels based on material published in Harper’s Weekly in 1885 and a Blomer & Schuler clockwork tin toy of a French bulldog (c. 1950) with the company’s “Jumbo” logo on its collar tag.

The African elephant named Jumbo would become the first live animal superstar in popular culture, his celebrity appeal becoming equally great on both sides of the Atlantic and his influence pervasive and enduring. His name quickly entered the English language as an adjective to describe any supersized object, and his image and name is still used to market and promote a wide variety of goods and services, from hot dogs to jet airliners.

Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810-1891) was already one of the most flamboyant characters in American popular entertainment, an impresario and huckster whose travelling shows and entertainments – “The Greatest Show on Earth” – drew big crowds with a wide array of genuine and fraudulent oddities, freaks and sports of nature. After Barnum merged his operation with three similar shows owned by James Bailey (1847-1906) and James L. Hutchinson (1838-1902), the three were looking out for new and bigger attractions. When a scout cited Jumbo as the biggest thing he’d seen on his travels, the circus owners asked the zoo for a price. Bartlett set it quite quickly at £2,000. It took a while for the American showmen to follow through – ironically, Barnum was not enthusiastic initially – but they finally signaled their firm intent to bring Jumbo to North America.

For the 1885 season, Barnum had revamped the Greatest Show on Earth program, and was laying plans to take Jumbo to western states that had not seen him yet and on an international tour back to Europe and to Australia. On Sept. 15, however, the show was in St. Thomas in southwestern Ontario, the town then being an important intersection for Canadian and U.S. railways.
After the show finished that evening, Barnum’s crew packed up to move on to the next destination. There are numerous accounts of what happened, but it appears that Jumbo and a young elephant, named Tom Thumb, were moving down an empty railway track to board their own train when Scott, who was minding them, saw the lights of a freight train bearing down on them from behind. According to one account, Jumbo heaved the young elephant out of the way in time, though it’s more likely that the train hit them both. Tom Thumb was injured, but survived; for Jumbo, the clash with the freight locomotive proved fatal. Scott, who by this time had been with the elephant for 20 years, broke down and reportedly lay on the body for hours weeping and sobbing.

Marburg! The Early Bird!, Hendeles’ first official work as an artist. It was made not only about, but for a show in the town of her birth, in Marburg’s main museum.

This room revolved around the French fairy tale Puss in Boots and the saying the early bird catches the worm, which inspired the exhibition's title.

A vitrine with the impoverished fairy tale hero and his inheritance, Puss in Boots.

On the floor at the entrance is a very enlarged version of Gustave Doré's illustrated Puss in Boots book with an over-sized pair of spectacles.


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