Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Goodwater Gallery Closes - National Post Jan. 31/04

Queen Street West hasn’t stopped its bunny-farm behaviour as far as popping out galleries every couple of weeks. The latest set of doors to swing open is at SPIN Gallery, near Queen and Dovercourt. Art dealers Stewart Pollock and Juno Youn have renovated the second floor of a dusty brick building, transforming the old kitchen appliance warehouse into one of the largest galleries on the strip. It’s gorgeous, with wooden floors and ceiling and two arched windows facing south. Natural light fills 5000 square feet of uninterrupted open space.

At last Saturday’s dj’d opening the gallery was bustling with artists, young collectors, and lawyer-types keeping warm on cheap chardonay and raucous partying.

The other gallery to unofficially open that night was Jeff Stober’s hot little multimillion-dollar Drake Hotel, which isn’t really a gallery but ... sort of is since every inch of renovation has been conceptualized with local artists, designers and architects Stober has cherry picked over the past couple of years. An art crowd of one hundred or so was among the first to partake in the Drake Experience. Before dinner, guests lounged on vintage couches and admired the Rorchach Inkblot wall flocking and various video projections while trays of winter cocktails and mushroom sushi floated around the room.

While all this new Queen West party-friendly glamour gives the distinct impression Toronto’s hyped but economically fragile commercial gallery scene is having one of its finer moments, and may not go down at the first sign of another SARS outbreak afterall, a quiet death has taken place on Dundas Street with today’s closing of Goodwater Gallery, the decidedly anti-Queen Street West alt space that barely anyone really knew about.

Which is too bad since the Goodwater team—dealers Roger Bywater and John Goodwin—brought a particularly smart and highly idiosyncratic selection of works by international and national conceptual artists to their tiny, offbeat gallery over the past two years.

Among the artists they have showcased: Rodney Graham, Garry Neill Kennedy, Mark Dion, Jeremy Deller, and Moyra Davey – all names that turn up at top galleries around the globe but are barely on the radar in Toronto.

A typical Goodwater show was a minimal presentation of one or two works by an invited artist. The dealers’ tastes for big-C Conceptualism left many miffed by what they were showing. In June 2002, for instance, Nova Scotia’s father of conceptual art Garry Neill Kennedy painted a large yellow square on the wall of the gallery that was filled with names. Titled Consent, the press release described the cryptic installation as "an alphabetical listing of everyone, alive or dead, who had any connection to Sir Winston Churchill. … Regrettably, no Bywaters, Goodwins or Goodwaters made the final cut."

Nestor Kruger’s hard-edge triangle patterns in shades of grey, also painted directly on the walls, were just as curiously oblique. Bywater and Goodwin wasted very little time in trying to fill in the creative logic for anyone who might not already know the artist’s work. "We had a cult following, at best," says Bywater. In fact viewers were secondary to the goal of the gallery. Opening hours were a mere 11 hours each week and messages left on their phone went unanswered for days.

Disinterest in walk-in traffic was in part because Bywater and Goodwin showed only what they liked. That they opened a gallery at all and at a location that required a detour off of the usual gallery route, was a statement in itself, about Toronto’s general lack of understanding and impatience for conceptual art. It was like they were saying: Here’s what real art looks like, folks, and you’ve got to go out of your way a little to get to it.

Most people hate that kind of snobbery. Normally I do too, but Goodwater’s arty elitism was something different. It actually wasn’t intimidating at all. You could see the whole exhibition any day or night just by looking in the window, which is about as snooty as a McDonald’s drive-thru. Two of the best shows I saw were viewed through the window: Sandy Plotnikoff’s wacky photograph of a man buried head-first in a large shrub, and Mark Dion’s stuffed toy polar bear in an aluminum bucket of black tar.

The Goodwater brand will continue. Bywater and Goodwin plan to keep doing what they did before, which is to create art multiples, artist books, and collaborate with artists on projects that don’t require a fixed address. I’m one who will miss the gallery. - Catherine Osborne

Goodwater Gallery closes today with a final exhibition of works by Mark Dion. 800 Dundas St W, at the rear.