Much depends on a bottle, or an egg, or a candle, or a single red sock in Michael Dumontier's lovely, revelatory new show at Plug In ICA.
The 37-year-old Dumontier was a founding member of the Royal Art Lodge, the influential Winnipeg artists' collective. Just like when a band break ups and everyone starts making solo albums, the former Lodgers are now going their own ways, and Dumontier's way turns out to be thoughtful, quiet, almost minimalist. A yellow mailing envelope is constructed from MDF board; a tree is made out of string and a fishing weight.
Michael Dumontier, Untitled (bottle), 2011, acrylic on MDF (Michael Dumontier)
This isn't that chilly, uptight minimalism, though. Dumontier's approach is quirky and warm, with his small, pared-down objects exerting an unexpected emotional pull. The show hints at the mysterious lives of things, as a magnet yearns towards a nail, or a candle leans drunkenly, or a sock lies abandoned.
Dumontier is very much influenced by children's drawings and by children's picture books (many of them scavenged at the big annual Children's Hospital Book Sale at St. Vital Centre). The title of the exhibition, A Moon or a Button, comes from a 1959 children's book by Ruth Krauss and Remy Charlip. There's a child-like sweetness to many of these works and, when I stopped in to watch the show going up, a lingering kindergarten smell of white glue. Dumontier can seem a bit like Harold and his purple crayon -- another big kids' book inspiration for the artist -- just creating his own wondrous world as he goes along.
But Dumontier's art is also smart, deliberate and carefully controlled, packed with art-historical allusions (Soviet Constructivism, hard-edged abstraction) and visual puns. Take his trompe l'oeil needles and pins, which are actually made with a foil-stamping machine, or his little pebbles, which are really painted chunks of particle board.
Michael Dumontier, Untitled (box), 2011, acrylic on MDF, 18 x 18 cm, (Michael Dumontier)
The show seems simple, but it slowly unpacks into layers and layers. Even as Dumontier draws on images from children's picture dictionaries, he's asking a big conceptual question: How far can you pare down representation while ensuring that a sock is still recognizable as a sock?
Also opening at Plug In is Like-Minded, an inventive, witty group show made up of 36 local, national and international artists, including Turner Prize-winning Scottish artist Martin Creed
, Canadian elder statesmen Arnaud Maggs
and Michael Snow
, and Winnipeggers Jake Kosciuk and Paul Butler.
Plug In ICA's mandate is to showcase Manitoba art while connecting to the wider world. The pairing of these two shows - both curated by the Winnipeg-born, Toronto-based artist Micah Lexier -- fulfills that mandate, and not in a gimmicky way. Like-Minded is a perfect, super- compressed show in its own right, while also working as a responsive riff on Dumontier's art.
Alison Gillmor (CBC Reviewer)