Volume 97, Issue 3
Thursday, June 5, 2003

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ART REVIEW: Greg Curnoe's Life & Stuff

Greg Curnoe
Greg Curnoe: Life and Stuff
Museum London

By Nicole Laidler
Gazette Staff

If you only see one art show this year, make sure it is Greg Curnoe: Life and Stuff.

This retrospective of one of Canada's most important modern painters takes the viewer on a trip back to the exuberance and irreverence of the 1960s and '70s. It may also be your only opportunity to see "Homage to the R34," a controversial mural hidden from the public for over 30 years.

The 110-foot-long mural was installed in the international arrivals area at Montreal's Dorval Airport in 1968. The work was quickly criticized for its anti-American sentiment, as the figure of an amputee bears a striking resemblance to former United States President Lyndon Johnson. And what were American visitors to make of the text describing boxer Cassius Clay's refusal to fight in Vietnam?

All 26 panels were removed after only four days and the mural has not been displayed in its entirety until this exhibition. Unfortunately, the gallery layout prevents the viewer from stepping back to take in the whole spectacle.

Despite receiving important government commissions, Curnoe, a London native and resident, tried to reject the elitism of the art world. His large, bright canvases successfully destroy the somewhat sanctified atmosphere of the museum.

Many of the 120 paintings, sketches, collages and installations on display take on a diary-like quality. Curnoe used art to explore his life passions – family, friends, politics and cycling. He was an avid comic book reader and often peppered his paintings with stenciled phrases.

In "24 Hourly Note (1415 December, 1966)," Curnoe actually recorded his hourly actions and thoughts on 24 square panels. The words create a kind of concrete poetry and can be experienced on both a visual and literal level.

Curnoe's desire to merge life and art is also evident in the playful collages he created from everyday objects, such as bus transfers, movie tickets and candy wrappers.

Three of Curnoe's most famous images lean nonchalantly against a gallery wall. These detailed, multi-coloured, life-size bicycles are an expression of his love of cycling; Curnoe was killed in a bike accident in 1992.

Life and Stuff
is more than just an art show. Stations, such as Home Foyer and Arts & Politics invite the viewer into Curnoe's most private spaces. Complemented by video of the artist at work, as well as journals and bits and pieces of the "stuff" he collected for inspiration, these displays offer a fascinating glimpse into a time when London was at the centre of the Canadian art scene.

Greg Curnoe: Life and Stuff continues at Museum London (421 Ridout St. N.) until June 22.


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