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Inside the Hyper-Modern Mind of Douglas Coupland

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Coupland-mania comes to the city as two museums, one gallery and a department store showcase the celebrated Canadian artist

For the next few months, it feels as easy to find a Douglas Coupland show in Toronto as it is to find free wifi – and in a way, it is.

First of all, there are currently four new places to see Coupland’s work in real life across the city. On concurrently at two of Canada’s top cultural institutions, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything is a two-part retrospective of the contemporary Canadian artist’s output over the last decade. Essentially, it’s a late-20th/ early-21st-century time capsule, touching on historical events like 9/11 and the 1998 ice storm that hit parts of Ontario and Quebec. Meanwhile, upscale retailer Holt Renfrew Men hosts Gumhead, a sculpture which invites suit-and-tie shoppers to stick a piece of chewing gum to a black, two-metre-high replica of Coupland’s head. Finally, in Toronto’s west end, Daniel Faria Gallery displays Our Modern World, a collection of Coupland’s latest works.

Now for the newfangled twist. Gen Y and Z-ers who can’t pull themselves away from their laptops – or art-lovers who can’t make it to Toronto – can opt to navigate Coupland’s retrospective online, Google Street View-style. The Vancouver Art Gallery – which debuted the massive show now divided between the ROM and MOCCA – collaborated with Google Art Project to have the exhibition photographed while it was on view out west last summer.

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So far, the number of #CouplandTO photos shared on social media are proving that the internet did not kill the gallery star. In fact, the conversation that Coupland’s work inspires about the relationship between the virtual and the physical is part of what makes everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything so affecting. On display at the ROM, artwork that looks whimsical at first becomes much deeper and darker when visitors try to capture it with a smartphone. One piece, The Poet, resembles an abstract composition of dots, but is revealed to actually be a photo of a jumper falling from the original World Trade Center in its final hours.

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Not all of Coupland’s artwork is that sombre, but all of it is that clever – and that relevant. The zeitgeist-chasing social commentator’s retrospective name checks every hyper-modern expression added to the Oxford English Dictionary in the past five years. Crazy Lego towers were “crowdsourced,” a trippy wallpaper pattern features hundreds of hidden “QR codes,” and a wall of painted word art pieces captures our ongoing struggle with conditions like “internet fatigue.”

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While he is certainly plugged-in to the present, Coupland also draws from the past in a number of tributes to his predecessors. A wall of framed wigs that resemble Andy Warhol’s trademark mop share space with a painting, Better Living Through Windows, done in Roy Lichtenstein’s signature dotted style. More clues into Coupland’s early influences can be found in The Brain, a collection of hundreds of objects that the artist’s hoarder tendencies led him to purchase on eBay and at flea markets, arranged here into a composition that speaks to the storage of memories and the transmission of ideas. Many of the objects featured are ones with sentimental value – like a string of sausages, a nod to Coupland’s birth at a Royal Canadian Air Force base in Germany.

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At MOCCA, the artist’s retrospective gets even more playful. The Canuck-themed National Pantry collects unique-to-Canada objects like clear white vinegar bottles, while Growing Up Utopian explores the duality of Lego as both a tool for creativity and a way of promoting sameness. Dozens of Lego models of identical suburban homes sit alongside a collection of spectacular metropolis towers that suggest what can be built when the mind is set free. The piece feels especially relevant installed at the West Queen West gallery, which is searching for a new location now that the property it currently occupies is slated to be turned into yet another Toronto condo development.

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For true Coupland fanatics, the new works on display at Daniel Faria Gallery are also well worth the trek. In one space: portraits that obscure subjects’ faces to fend off facial recognition algorithms, and a collection of globes covered in spectacular splashes of paint – a nod to how our fascination with beautiful objects is destroying the earth. The gallery’s back area is occupied by a spectacular display of found-object collages, made using everything from Nespresso capsules to shipping labels. As Coupland’s shows prove, when it comes to art, anything can be everything.

To hear Coupland’s own insights into everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything – and to find out what he thought about the Lego movie – read our Q&A with the artist.

Everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything is on the Royal Ontario Museum until April 26, and at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art until April 19. Gumhead is on at Holt Renfrew Men until March 9. Our Modern World is on at Daniel Faria Gallery until March 21. Designlines readers are entitled to $4 off each ticket purchase at the Royal Ontario Museum. Use promo code: AZURE

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