"Silence is so accurate."

Thirteen years ago, when Nellie and I moved into our first Toronto apartment together, we needed some art to stick on the walls. We did what a lot of people do when they’re only a year out of university and don’t have much money: they buy prints from a generic art store. We perused the offerings at Alternative Arts, near the University of Toronto campus, and I became particularly enamored with one print by a gentleman named Mark Rothko. I knew nothing about art and so didn’t recognize his name, but I loved the simplicity and starkness and richness of the image. We walked out with it.

Untitled 1960

I learned a little more about Rothko later, about his importance in the mid-20th-century abstract expressionist movement. Over the next several years I’d make a point of seeing his work in museums like MoMA, the Guggenheim and The Met in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and most especially at the Tate Modern  during my visit to London in 2002. The series of “Seagram Murals” on display there, in a very dark room, moved me more than any other paintings I’d seen before or have seen since. I spent a long time sitting on a bench, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness, feeling choked up by paintings. Rothko’s earlier, brighter paintings don’t really do much for me, but I’m intensely drawn to his later, darker works.

So, when I heard a play had been made about Rothko — specifically about the period during which he was painting the Seagram murals — and that, after winning several Tony awards last year it was coming to Toronto, I jumped at the chance to buy tickets for Nellie, myself and our friends CBJ+M, to see it last night.

It would be silly for me to try to say much about the play beyond that it was fantastic, that Jim Mezon was incredible as Rothko and that it left me with a whole new dread and appreciation for those paintings which became increasingly dark, even black, as Rothko’s suicide loomed. The play was interesting, animated, physical, philosophical, enlightening and magnifying. I believe there are still tickets left for the Toronto run; I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

We still have that first print, by the way. All of our other cheap starter art has been given to goodwill and replaced with more original work, but I could just never part with the Rothko. I still walk past it every morning on my way out the door, and every night when I get home. But this morning, twelve hours after seeing the play, it seemed to have new life. Or I do. I’m not sure.

An evening of summer dreams

On Thursday Nellie and I stepped into a bit of a different world. Through a work connection we somehow ended up at the ROM as guests for a charity event supporting Camp Oochigeas, a getaway camp in Muskoka for kids with cancer. It was our first time at a shindig like this and, while a little weird for us, it was a ton of fun.

The evening started with cocktails, the most delicious Kobe beef sliders I’ve ever tasted and a silent auction on dozens, maybe hundreds of items ranging from individual bottles of wine to trips, TVs, celebrity-designed paddles and many more. The one item that caught our eye was a painting, provided by Canvas Jam. The Pollock-esque painting had been done by Ooch kids, and it had the extremely rare quality of appealing to both Nellie and I. Seriously, we never like the same art, and that it had a backstory this special made it pretty appealing to us. We made an initial bid, and agreed on a limit for later when the bidding really heated up.

The crowd was moved into the main hall for dinner, introductory remarks and a virtually never-ending supply of wine. The emcee for the evening was Q107’s John Derringer, and he pointed out Beverly Thomson and Mike Komisarek (to whom, as a Habs fan, I am obliged to say: “boooo!”) in the crowd, but the real star of the night was a young lady named Heidi Hayes.

Heidi is an energetic, athletic, ridiculously charming girl who’s done some acting (including a part in The History Of Violence) and who happens to be recovering from some form of cancer that I can’t remember and couldn’t pronounce if I did. She was, of course, a former Ooch camper and was there to tell her story. Needless to say, by the end of her story the crowd was standing, clapping and shedding a few tears, utterly charmed by miss Hayes and unlikely to ever forget her. As Mr. Derringer pointed out after returning to the microphone, so long as Heidi is willing to tell her story for Ooch they’ll never have trouble raising the funds they need.

Those funds, in this particular case, were for their Summer Dreams program. Since so many kids are unable to get away from the hospital or their families for two weeks, Ooch is coming to them, building a location near the Toronto hospital district. To that end, the evening features a live auction for some premium items to go along with the silent auction and general donations throughout the evening. And this is where it got fun.

Somewhere between the $15,000 it took to win a Muskoka getaway and round of golf with Bobby Orr, and the $13,000 bid on a 52-bottle fridge filled with some unbelievable wines (1990 Lafite anybody?), we realized that we simple folk from farm and military base were faaaaaar from home. But damn, it was fun. One table spent $40,000 on 3 lots. I don’t know where those guys work but I hope they’re hiring.

Anyway, with that excitement done, we were in for a little of our own. We got back to the silent action. Somebody had bid very aggressively on our painting, but we matched. Then he threw up another big bid. We snuck one more bid in at the last minute, and he came back, ready to bid again. Nellie shrewdly engaged him in conversation as they compared notes about who wanted it more. While they discussed it the staff came around and collected the books with the winning bids…so I guess we wanted it more!

We were now the proud owners of some Ooch art (sorry for the shaky iPhone pic). I immediately began to worry that this wouldn’t seem like such a great idea the next (sober) morning, but there’s been no buyer’s remorse as yet. We’ll pick it up next week but we already have a few walls in mind. Oh, and T-Bone won dinner at Nota Bene, so we all made out well.

Overall a really fun, interesting night with good friends for a fantastic cause. And art! Hard to beat that.

Maybe it's something to do with being an asshat

In today’s instalment of “What’s the most ridiculous and offensive thing said today by someone who should be educated enough to know better?” we have art critic Brian Sewell, as quoted in The Independent. Emphasis is mine:

“The art market is not sexist,” Mr Sewell said. “The likes of Bridget Riley and Louise Bourgeois are of the second and third rank. There has never been a first-rank woman artist.

Only men are capable of aesthetic greatness. Women make up 50 per cent or more of classes at art school. Yet they fade away in their late 20s or 30s. Maybe it’s something to do with bearing children.”

Bravo, Mr. Sewell. I think you take today’s prize. I won’t even go after you about the “never been a first-rank woman artist” as an art critic would surely have a better sense of the historical ranking among artists than I, and I don’t know what you consider first-rank, so you could at least point out some kind of evidence to support your argument. How good that evidence is I can’t say since, as I said, I know next to nothing about art.

However, to state that “only men are capable of aesthetic greatness” is patently absurd. I’m pretty open to any argument if it can be backed up with some evidence or logic, but this one’s indefensible.

Also, I’m pretty sure, assuming you’re straight, that you’ll never ever get laid again. Cheers.