New Stan Douglas display at The Power Plant Gallery
19 December 2011 No Comments
Entertainment: Selections from Midcentury Studio
The Power Plant Gallery
231 Queen’s Quay
on view to March 4, 2012
By Anya Wassenberg
Everything old is new again in Entertainment, an exhibition that brings the work of Vancouver based artist Stan Douglas to Toronto. The expansive white space of the Power Plant Gallery gives the show of new black and white photography a dramatic and theatrical kind of presence that adds to its impact.
The show includes pieces from a larger group of work under the Midcentury name at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York City. In his re-examination of that era, Stan recreated a professional photographer’s studio circa 1946 – 51. He used authentic period equipment and present day actors in thematic groupings that present the era’s obsessions: sports, spectacle, fashion and entertainment. He captures the optimistic mood of the times, an era eager for distraction and looking to shake off the post-war blues. The prints have a nicely dimensional quality.
One wall displays a double row of the “Malabar People” portraits, ostensibly patrons and staff of a fictional 1950′s nightclub of the same name. They include various types like Single Woman I and II, a Taxi Driver, waitress, owner/bartender and a Female Impersonator who’s dressed as conservatively as the Student, albeit with an ascot tie.
Half the show includes much larger images which take up half a wall on their own. There is a circus theme with a knife juggling woman, and a vividly freakish clown who juggles oranges. Along a sports theme, a field full of genteel and white clad gentleman play cricket. The images were shot in Vancouver but could be any North American city.
My favourites were Dancers I and II. Captured in strobe lighting, the images are elegantly kinetic. I was also captivated by Hockey Fight, which looks at a scuffle in the stands from above. I liked the sense of composition; it captured the combination of staginess and spontaneous action common to photography of the period. His approach is journalistic, and inspired by photographers and influences of the time.
In re-examining the past, the artist draws parallels with the present. On the fashion side alone, I was struck by our respective era’s mutual affection for fedoras, long wavy hair, pearls and full skirts. His subjects are multi-racial, in contrast to the overwhelmingly Caucasian images actually represented in mainstream post-war advertising of that era in North America.
The results seem neither truly dated nor entirely contemporary. They have a kind of timeless quality that doesn’t accept easy categorization, despite their accessibility. It’s an interesting show that’s worth checking out.
Stan Douglas is an internationally recognized artist whose work has been shown all over North America and in Europe. Recent solo exhibitions have included the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2005), Centre Pompidou, Paris (2007), and Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart (2007). He has been included in recent group exhibitions at such venues as the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC (2008), International Center of Photography, New York (2008 and 2009), ZKM/Museum für Neue Kunst, Karlsruhe (2010), and Guggenheim Museum, New York (2010). His work is represented by David Zwirner, New York.