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Paris show of Winnipeg artists solidifies city's reputation as hot bed for art

Posted by Robert Enright, Art critic

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"Early Snow with Bob and Doug",  Diana Thorneycroft, 2005 (Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art)

The opening June 22 of "My Winnipeg", the 73 artist-strong exhibition at the prestigious Maison rouge in Paris, is a further sign that artists from one of the coldest cities in the country are continuing to heat up the art world.

The show includes artists who have lived in the city - like Marcel Dzama and Jon Pylypchuk - and those who continue to live there - like Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber, all members of the legendary art collective, the Royal Art Lodge.

This vast show includes a series of discrete spaces and the room containing the RAL works is exemplary, as is the space allocated to Sarah Anne Johnson's installation called, House on Fire (which is on loan from the Art Gallery of Ontario). 
The exhibition, which borrows its name from Guy Maddin's docu-fantasia, was chosen by a number of curators, among them Paula Aisemberg, the director of the Maison rouge, and Anthony Kiendl from Winnipeg's Plug In ICA.

The other curator to note is filmmaker Noam Gonick, who put together "Winter Kept Us Warm", a selection of erotic works that draws attention to the fact that Winnipeg artists have been able to find things to do during the winter months other than make art. The quality and range of the sexual acts equals in imagination the more workman-like choices in the larger exhibition. In every sense of the term, Winnipeg art is now sexy.

The quality of the work throughout "My Winnipeg" is consistently excellent and adds up to a who's who and a who's-going-to-be of the best artists in the city. Even a partial list (Daniel Barrow, Kent Monkman, Eleanor Bond, Paul Butler, Sharron Zenith Corne, William Eakin, Simon Hughes, Wanda Koop and Adrian Williams) gives an idea of the quality and quantity of the artists who have come in from the cold.

This view seems to be accepted here in Paris. The opening night audience numbered some two thousand, and all the major newspapers, Le Monde, Le Figaro and Liberation, sent writers to cover the show. A number of the 30 artists who  came in for the opening have been approached by French dealers about representation. And the celebration continues, with a performance tonight by Shary Boyle, who collaborates with Winnipeg musician, Christine Fellows.

After "My Winnipeg" closes in Paris on September 25, it will go on to the Misee International des Arts Modestes in Sete from November until early May. For anyone unlucky enough not to see the exhibition in France, it will return to Plug In sometime in 2012.

There is also a brilliant 246 page catalogue accompanying the show in the form of a travel guide to Winnipeg's artistic scene. It includes a number of essays, as well as 53 combined biographies and critical summaries written by Meeka Walsh, the editor of Border Crossings, the magazine that has been covering the artists at the heart of this groundbreaking exhibition for 32 years.   

Robert Enright spoke with Terry MacLeod, of Information Radio, CBC Radio 1 in Manitoba, on the morning after the opening.

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Robert Enright is a professor of art criticism at Guelph.  (Grant Martin)