Joanne Tod

S. L. Simpson Gallery

In her new series of paintings, Joanne Tod asserts the value of painting and painterliness against the more ascetic qualities of lately trendier art forms—although her only innovation in these very large works is to paint on layers of nylon mesh. The panel underneath appears hazily through the top layer, which is half obscured by figures. All the works replicate a museum or gallery interior, such as the Henry Moore room at the Art Gallery of Ontario, or Matthew Barney’s installation at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York. In front of these scenes a couture-clad model appears, hard-edged against the mesh, but seemingly suspended in space. In She Was Here (all works 1993) she floats in front of Shu Lea Chang’s complex video installation, Those Fluttering Objects of Desire, 1992, at New York’s Exit Art. The model seems more real, more solid, more salable than the dimly viewed array of monitors, telephones, and pedestals. Tod seems to be commenting on the gallery-cum-corporation, implicitly comparing the high investment required for installations such as Cheang’s or Barney’s with the relatively modest outlay required to hang a painting show, even for such monumental works as hers. The artist, who persisted in painting even when it was at its least fashionable, seems to be exulting in the medium’s return to favor. In her painstaking reproduction of the site of Cheang’s project, she captures the reflection of the video monitors on the gallery floor in rich swirls of blue and violet, as though teasing a cool medium with a relatively warm one.

The ominously titled Red Morning bodes more ill for the gallery scene. Over Barney’s equipment at Gladstone, perhaps the morning after one of his late-night solo workouts, a silver GM automobile floats smugly. The gallery may be obscured behind nylon mesh, as though in a sentimental dream of how things used to be, but corporate presence in the art world is all too apparent. In She’s Here, a model in a Jean-Paul Gaultier “homeboy” hat saunters in front of the staff at American Fine Arts. The “she” of She’s Here and She Was Here is an apparition from that other world of conspicuous consumption and obsolescence. Fashion, Tod seems to suggest, is the bad conscience of the gallery system.

Tod’s work in the past has tended to brilliant hues, jarring or seductive. Color in this show, however, reflects the preference for muted tones that the fashion press has been urging on us, balm to eyes smarting from the gaudy opulence of the ’80s and adjusting to the meager light of a restricted economy (felt especially severely in Canada). Overall tones of brown and taupe make these works amenable to recession-era decor. However, this new compromise seems not to reflect upon, but merely to reflect, these changes. In the end, Tod’s critique is hamstrung by her own location in the gallery system. The show amounts not so much to an exposé of a surfeited and compromised art world as to a series of love bites at the hand that feeds.

Laura U. Marks