Art Toronto 2009 has asked none other than Jeffrey Spalding to put together its main exposition. In speaking with Jeffrey Spalding, his message is clear and simple: the art of accomplished Canadian artists deserves to be celebrated as the great art it is. Moreover, the way to treat art as great is to place it prominently amongst the great art of the world. Entitled Heartland, Jeffrey Spalding’s project for Toronto Art 2009 is, in his words, “an impassioned plea to draw attention to certain artists who are consistently outstanding yet fail to attract the international attention they deserve.”
Installed at the entrance of Art Toronto, you have no choice but to walk through Heartland upon entering and exiting the fair. Heartland’s focus – an overall reflection on the international achievement of extraordinary Canadian artists (both established and emerging) – visually mirrors what Art Toronto 2009 is about: A 2009 salute to its tenth year anniversary, as well as what it’s always been about, a celebration of Canadian contemporary art amidst the international contemporary art scene.
BUT… and there is a but. The “but” surfaces in Jeffrey Spalding’s quote extracted from the press release for the Heartland Project: “Nevertheless, much extraordinary Canadian talent remains under the radar and out of view of the international scene.” In other words, If Canadian art is so great, why haven’t our artists received the superstar status of artists such as Bruce Nauman who this year represented the United States at the 53rd Venice Biennale?
This is an important question that only serves to unwittingly undermine our artists and their art. I asked Jeffrey Spalding why he thought this was and, not surprisingly, he had a few things to say on the subject. He pointed out that we, as a nation, are not confident enough in the extraordinary artistic talent that we have. It’s as if our artists reach a certain pinnacle and then we (whether this stems from our Canadian sensibility of everything in moderation) say to them, “Okay, now that we’ve identified your consistently outstanding talent, it’s time for us to look at someone new”. To this end, Jeffrey Spalding made an interesting analogy to Tiger Woods. Imagine anyone even thinking to say, “Listen Tiger, you won last week so maybe you shouldn’t play this week.” Absurd, and yet this is the consistent message we give our accomplished artists when we ignore them in our pursuit of the latest “hot” talent. Great artists, who have consistently continued to produce extraordinary work, need to be rewarded by being given the opportunity to be extolled in the public forum so that they may continue to grow by leaps and bounds. Only by placing Canadian art on an international forum, and by placing international art on a Canadian forum, can an international dialogue – and by extension, an international recognition – truly occur.
It is interesting that Jeffrey Spalding has chosen art that speaks with a “passionate intensity”. The word “passion” invokes many things: love, respect, intensity, obsession. Place this word in an international forum and it also invokes dialogue and exchange – Tell me about what you love and I will tell you about what I love. International dialogue is at the heart of Heartland and at the heart of Toronto Art. For Jeffrey Spalding, international dialogue is also at the heart of what is missing in the Canadian art scene. In the same way we fail to extol our artists on an international public platform, we (mostly due to insufficient funding) fail to extol the work of great international artists. Think about this. It makes sense. After all, how can you possibly say “notice me” and not expect the other one to say, “Sure, but you should notice me too.”