The Art Gallery of Ontarios (AGO) latest blockbuster, I’m here: Home movies and everyday masterpieces (until August 14), shows a very unknown work by a known name. Highlighting the extensive show inspired by film archivist Rick Prelinger and co-curated by Jim Shedden and Alexa Greist, which AGO Director Stephan Jost says includes “everything from shopping lists to TikToks”, is a massive screen by David Hockney titled Santa Monica Boulevard (1978-80). It has been rolled up and tucked away at the Hockney Foundation for almost 30 years and has never been seen in North America. In fact, it has only been shown publicly once, back in 1994 in Japan.
Santa Monica Boulevard is hard to miss. It stretches a full 24 feet in width, just below the women’s world record in the long jump, to put it in perspective. A spokesman for the Hockney Foundation acknowledged that it is one of his greatest works on a single piece of canvas, and it captures the scene for a tee. “It’s almost the effect of driving on the street,” she said. Or, as Hockney put it, “Architecture is made to be seen when you move fast.”
After being under wraps for so long, it appears very fresh. “The condition is fantastic – it was a pleasure to roll it out,” the spokesman added. “The colors are so vibrant.” Hockney used a new kind of acrylic paint at the time.
It seems unfinished, a reflection of the artist’s experimental streak. “It was at the end of something, then he was on to something else,” the spokesman suggested. “He was breaking new ground. Maybe it was of less interest to him then. He is constantly pushing boundaries.”
The spokesman had a sweet story to tell. The play apparently appears in a large Taschen book about Hockney’s work, which also includes a drawing of a street scene in Bradford, his hometown, made when he was very young. By comparing it to the Santa Monica work, he is said to have joked, “You can see why I had to go.”
There are many brighter sides of the show as it fits the title, but as co-curator Shedden put it: “We also embraced a dark side.” It appears from Arthur Jafa’s much talked about video collage Love is the Message, the Message is Death (2016), which is set to Kanye West’s song Ultralight beam. It is just over seven minutes long with a mix of disturbing scenes and happier moments, including glimpses of inspiring characters and stars in sports and pop music. It is so captivating that it requires an extra look.
The show starts with Werner Herzog’s film Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), which takes us back to much earlier times. It is followed a little later by works by Jan Steen and Pieter Brueghel the Younger. The latter’s painting Peasants’ Wedding (16th-17th century) is a pleasure. But most of what is offered is from our own lifetime, or almost that.
The New York scene is well represented, including nearly a dozen canvases and drawings by Jean-Michel Basquiat, among them TV dinner and American Chinese food (both 1986). His mentor, Andy Warhol, is also involved. His Time Capsule – 2 (circa 1968) contains a note from his publisher referring to “Castrelli Gallery” (do it Castelli), an early Fantastic four cartoon and a poster for a Jean Dubuffet show at the Pace Gallery.
No AGO show would be complete without a significant Canadian component. Among those associated with Canada are William Kurelek, Greg Curnoe, Jack Bush, Jack Chambers, Denyse Thomasos (also present at the ongoing Toronto Biennale and the just-opened Whitney Biennale), Mary Pratt and Annie Pootoogook. Not to forget the painter William Fisk, who is described as a “random collector”. He has put together a fantastic selection of cameras, projectors, splices, staplers, pencil sharpeners and other items that we once found indispensable but which are now almost forgotten.
Rock and rollers also strut with their stuff, and Patti Smith’s image of her father’s favorite coffee cup bought at Charles Dickens’ house in London is particularly touching. There’s Nike Air Jordan sneakers worn by an E Street Band member (who conjures up images of Brian Jungen’s current Biennale contribution) and an interesting bid for the Beatles’ White album. A big screen from 2015 by Carnegie Award winner Nicole Eisenman takes its name from a Brian Eno album, Another green worldas stated in the work.
Stars of a different kind, Barack and Michelle Obama, are also present. Their portraits, by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC in 2018, have been on a national tour, including a stop at the Art Institute of Chicago, which forms the backdrop for a collection of 58 selfies displayed . on an iPad. The installation is accompanied by a list of photographers.
“Selfie”, where did that expression come from? Apparently from a drunk Aussie who described a self-portrait photo back in 2002. Here’s to you, mate.
- I’m here: Home movies and everyday masterpiecesuntil August 14, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.