Critics’ Picks

Tim Whiten, Who-Man/Amen (detail), 2015-16, handcrafted crystal clear glass, mixed media, human, 18 1/2 x 66 1/2 x 26 1/2".

Tim Whiten, Who-Man/Amen (detail), 2015-16, handcrafted crystal clear glass, mixed media, human, 18 1/2 x 66 1/2 x 26 1/2".

Toronto

Tim Whiten

Olga Korper Gallery
17 Morrow Avenue
January 17–February 16, 2019

An altar, a prayer book, a reliquary, a miniature temple, and two crosses are arranged around a casket at the center of Tim Whiten’s solo exhibition “Suspend.” Glowing eerily in the natural light, the crystalline glass of the casket, Who-Man/Amen, 2015-16, protects a wrapped skeleton, whose toes are visible through oval windows along the top of the sculpture. The surrounding works might be read as props for a funerary rite, objects of devotion, or tools for warding off evil spirits. This ambiguity between threat and protector, decay and renewal, sets the stage for the show’s dramatic take on spirituality and ancient origins.

Whiten has been a prolific artist since the 1960s, and the exhibition revisits many of his earlier material strategies. Awk, 1989, the oldest sculpture on view, is the most confrontational: A shark's gaping jaw has been embedded in a leather dress where the wearer’s chest cavity would be. Pinned to the wall, the fabric wrinkles around the bone like old skin. In Re-cognizing Asterion, 2017, a pair of horns from a bull is fitted to a glass ring with shiny brass hardware, evoking the power and ferocity of the minotaur. Two related sculptures, Hallelujah I, 2014 (a glass cane), and Hallelujah II, 2015 (an umbrella handle fused to a stick with many tendrils), hang from lilac branches and suggest a traveler's respite on a long, treacherous journey.

At odds with the primal force of these implements are the delicate objects that Whiten has crafted to house human remains. Akin to the casket, Reliquaire (II), 2014–15, holds a human skull embellished with gold leaf within its translucent casing. The artist describes these pieces as cultural objects, in the vein of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, but Whiten's translations of everyday things are less concerned with the exchange of commodities and more invested in material transcendence.