Critics’ Picks

Shary Boyle, Live Old, 2009, porcelain, china paint, beads, luster glaze, 12 x 10 x 8 1/2”.

Toronto

Shary Boyle

Art Gallery of Ontario
317 Dundas Street West
September 15–December 5, 2010

Inside one of several recessed vitrines in a darkened gallery, a tiny polymer clay figurine titled Birth, 2008, by Shary Boyle, depicts a young woman moments after labor, on her knees and still tethered to her baby via an umbilical cord, her face seeming blankly indifferent toward the life form that has just emerged from her body. Though it is one of the smallest works on view, Birth is a poignant key to the underlying themes of Boyle’s exhibition, titled “Flesh and Blood,” as it is these substantial yet abject components of human existence that she employs to denote both the alien and the familiar. This exhibition of recent work superbly demonstrates the artist’s diverse, underrated output, ranging from wall works and large installations to more intimate porcelain sculptures. Ornament prevails as Boyle ably straddles the line between beauty and grotesquerie while hovering in an escapist’s fantasy. Her works scale those monumental themes of humanity—sex, desire, birth, and death—with a skewed yet shockingly honest feminist politic.

In one gallery, the artist appropriates the techniques and display conventions of eighteenth-century porcelain in her own exquisite sculptures. These gilded tableaux—such as a feminized Ganesh figure wading in a pool of beads (Live Old, 2009)—are vehicles for her allegorical imaginings. In another gallery, butterflies are a recurrent motif, appearing in the colorful psychedelic pattern projected onto the sculptural body of a Hellenistic maiden in Virus (White Wedding), 2009. Nearby, a small, prone female figure shrouded in butterflies (Untitled, 2002) is simultaneously beautiful and perverse. While Boyle’s larger installations are striking, it is smaller pieces like these that are ultimately more potent.