Pipe Dreams of Madame Récamier
January 10 – March 3, 2013
January 10 – March 3, 2013
[En anglais] Clint Neufeld, a sculptor who lives on acreage near Osler, Saskatchewan, had been somewhat floating on the peripheries of the Canadian art scene until he was featured in the exhibition Oh, Canada at MASS MoCA in 2012. Earlier this year, Pipe Dreams of Madame Récamier marked the first solo exhibition of his work in Toronto. The title of the show — curated by the Koffler’s Mona Filip — is as cleverly crafted as the works themselves, referring to the impossibly surreal tableau that a room full of Neufeld’s sculptures can create.
Upon entering General Hardware Contemporary, visitors were greeted by a full-sized scoop of an excavation shovel cast in wax; the graceless object sat awkwardly upon a dainty chaise longue (also known as a récamier) beneath a glittering crystal chandelier. Across the way, the individual teeth of the scoop, which had been cast dozens of times, were displayed on ledges like curious, precious objects. The title of this work, Are You My Mother, seemed to gently ease the viewer into the “pipe dream” that made up this smart collection of pieces.
The rest of the gallery opened up like a feverish hallucination; on display were enormous vintage car engines and transmissions cast in ceramic, which sat, as though they were feather-light, upon various pieces of immaculately preserved Victorian furniture. Painted in delicate pastel colours and splashed with fine-china floral decals, the dichotomy created between the conventional male and female symbolism was hard to miss. However, the poetry in Neufeld’s work isn’t necessarily in the innuendo of meaning (indeed the artist stated in an interview with Canadian Art Magazine last year that he has never been too specific about what he wants people to take away from his art), but in the capacity for the objects he creates to be ripe with inherent symbolism that can be both deeply personal to the artist and purely exciting for the viewer.
Walking through this exhibition, one may have felt a sort of controlled giddiness that can only occur from the unadulterated rush of understanding and appreciation that thoughtful art can evoke. Neufeld displays his objects on furniture because he doesn’t enjoy the plinth — it is that sort of simple gesture from the artist that makes these sculptures such a pleasure to contemplate. The work seems to question the functionality of beauty, even articulating the ever-present divide between art and cultural artifact; in this sense, these works are a perfect balance of smart and playful, which is always welcome in our contemporary moment when art can feel very heavy.