KIS-Smart

20 February 2020 – There is nothing Stupid about Keeping It Simple. It is Smart. And challenging. It takes time, thought and skill to present complex ideas in a way that is both accessible, and intelligent.

Much easier to throw out a smokescreen of obscurantist jargon.

Can you tell I am on a rant? My target is artspeak.

My gallery-going friends and I, all of us reasonably intelligent and articulate, are fed up. We read the poly-syllabic babble aloud to each other, and snarl. If you feel the same way, take heart.

It’s not you. It’s them. Those sign-writers lack either the skill, or the desire, to communicate effectively with the “intelligent outsiders” who form the bulk of their audience. It is not our job to learn jargon. It is their job to offer us a way to connect with the images, using intelligent, everyday language that adds clarity without sacrificing nuance.

Enough snarling. On to the joy of a gallery that gets it right. A gallery whose acronym could not be more misleading: the Surrey Art Gallery (second-largest public art museum in Metro Vancouver) does not make you sag, it expands your heart and mind with every visit.

The tree reflection rippling in the courtyard pool is a foretaste of the art/nature celebrations to come.

First, the Don Li-Leger exhibit. A Surrey-based artist, recently deceased, and we had never heard of him. Here’s how the Gallery describes him:

Don Li-Leger (1948-2019) had a five-decade long art practice marked by a deep and enduring curiosity for nature. Over his career, he explored flora, fauna, and landscapes through a variety of media. This exhibition brings togther selections of late video works alongside a series of paintings the artist made in response to the 2017 “super bloom” of wildflowers in Southern California and Arizona. Vivid colours and abstraction point to Li-Leger’s enduring ecological vision, rooted in life and light.

You see?  Clear, concise, and information-rich.

We watch a loop of short videos, and step through zigzag curtains to find ourselves in a darkened room, with wildflowers glowing from every wall.

We just … breathe for a moment, amazed. Then we look. Then we bend close to a wall, to read.

Nothing baffling here; every word intelligent, relevant, and clear. The text adds to our appreciation, right down to those last few sentences that put the exhibition title, Counting the Steps of the Sun, in context.

We linger over large images …

and ones that are relatively small …

and then move on to the Gallery’s other major exhibition, the work of Musqueam artist Susan Point.

We know this name, and maybe you do too.

“Over the past three and a half decades,” says the Gallery online introduction,

artist Susan Point has received acclaim for her accomplished and wide-ranging works that compellingly assert the vitality of Coast Salish culture, both past and present. … On tour from the Vancouver Art Gallery, Susan Point: Spindle Whorl showcases her silkscreen prints and their significant role in her practice, with a focus on the recurring motif of the Coast Salish spindle whorl. Comprised of a small (usually) wooden disk with a pole inserted through the centre, this tool was traditionally used by Coast Salish women to prepare wool that would be woven into garments and ceremonial blankets…

Point’s artistic vocabulary is entirely other than that of Li-Leger, and deeply rooted in her culture. There is Gallery signage to explain it to us.

(Oooooo, imagine the scope for artspeak.)

Absolutely clear. Not easy, but clear. A resource, along with the spindle explanation, to help us connect with the images.

Point herself wrote the title and text for this work: Salish Vision.

I could just enjoy the image. But, thanks to the quality of the signage, I am offered a way to explore at a deeper level.

We walk, we pause, we look, and we sometimes bend in to read as well.

My eyes keep flicking back to this work, and eventually my feet physically bring me back, to linger another moment before we leave the Gallery.

This time the signage consists of the title, nothing more — and that’s enough.

Raven’s Song.

I laugh, delighted. Isn’t that exactly how they sound?

 

 

 

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3 Comments

  1. I love the Li-Leger. So bright. 🙂

    I’m not a fan of art speak either. It’s so annoyingly pretentious.

    Reply
  2. Anne V Fleming

     /  21 February 2020

    Thanks for the Coast Salish design vocabulary! Helpful on many levels

    Reply
  3. I hear ya about artspeak! It seems to really get its claws into people when they’re in grad school. I love your statement that it’s not our job to learn the jargon, but it’s theirs to help viewers connect. The Li-Leger paintings must have been a balm for the soul on a late winter day. ‘Raven’s Song’ does have that weirdly guttural quality and the sense of being pitched at different levels – well, it’s impossible to describe but it’s pretty amazing, how she expressed a raven’s call in that form. THank you for the tour, Penny!

    Reply

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