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7 Stellar Works of Art Up for Auction at Mercer Union

The artist-run contemporary art centre near Bloor and Lansdowne holds its biannual benefit auction this Wednesday

By Eric Mutrie

Taking place at 7pm on May 13, Mercer Union‘s Stellar Living 2015 fundraiser auction includes 60 standout works contributed by both Canadian and international artists. Tickets cost $90, and some pieces are expected to sell for as much as $12,000.

Ahead of the sale, lots are on display to the public in Mercer Union’s gallery space at 1286 Bloor St W. Including signs, sculptures, photographs, paintings and mixed-media canvases, the group of works makes for a great introduction to the themes, processes and ideas contemporary artists are currently exploring.

Below, we flag seven striking pieces sure to resonate with the architecture and design crowd.

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Take note: Memphis is back
Founded in the 1980s, the Memphis Group was an Italian collective known for furniture and fabric designs that made playful use of shapes and colour. As Kartell’s Memphis-themed exhibition at last month’s Salone del Mobile in Milan established, the style is making a serious comeback. Here, Toronto artists do their part to contribute to the revival. Torontonian Vanessa Maltese’s toy-like Ornament Swatch hinges together three rectangular blocks of wood, each topped with a row of geometric shapes: red pyramids, yellow cylinders or pale blue hemispheres. The sculpture solidifies motifs that appear in many of Maltese’s oil paintings. Other Memphis-like works on display include Roula Partheniou’s Untilted (Cuts) geometric sculpture, and Anthony Burnham’s oil painting of a winged cone, Two identifications of a Memphis object.

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A still-life captures the beauty and absurdity of domesticity
Resembling an outtake from a bizarro edition of an I Spy puzzle book, Pieces of Stuff by Toronto collective VSVSVS presents a tablescape covered in obscure household tools and tchotkes. Here, the challenge is not finding hidden objects in the composition but rather parsing the origins of those included. Some – like a muffin tin – are easy to identify; others are much more difficult. But don’t get too caught up in the perplexing particulars of the set up – it’s better just to appreciate the zen-like serenity of the scene’s structured arrangement.

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Masking tape unmasks the artistic process
Saskatoon’s Tammi Campbell’s acrylic cube paintings initially appear unfinished – in both, a section of the canvas’ subject has not yet been painted. Instead, the missing portion of each polygon is bordered with masking tape. This technique reveals Campbell’s process, drawing attention to the methods she uses to ensure precision when painting. Cream-coloured adhesive tape is also used to exaggerate the edges of the overlapping panels in Roula Partheniou’s Construction #1 composition and appears again, more conventionally, in Ryan Park’s photos of two beat-up shipping boxes.

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A multi-coloured mirror encourages reflection
These days, any artwork that involves mirrors is prone to attract selfie-takers. However, the void at the centre of Jade Rude’s mirrored Colour Wheel means that phone photographers’ faces get left out of any Instagrams snapped in front of the piece. Instead, the work encourages observers to focus on their surroundings. Seeing the same environment cast in many different colours draws attention to the distinct perspectives people have on the same place, and the relationships that exist between their outlooks.

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Graphic-based works offer signs of the times
Torontonian James Carl’s aluminum signs speak to life’s rituals – sleeping, socializing and getting dressed – with four different symbols: slippers, a pair of briefs, a toothbrush and a pipe. The latter calls to mind Belgian surrealist René Magritte’s The Treachery of Images, which famously declared “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” Another sign in the auction, Pattison by Halifax artist Garry Neill Kennedy, suggests a purple and gold logo for Vancouver real estate marketer Bob Rennie, who often gets called the city’s “condo king.”

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An architect-turned-sculptor creates miniature monoliths
A practiced architect – and currently an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto’s architecture school – An Te Liu’s expert grasp of solids and voids is evident in his renowned sculptures. Here, he contributes a piece from his Eilodon series of small figures that evoke Greek mythology. Although only 22-centimetres tall, the refined stoneware work holds as much presence as the Parthenon.

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Found industrial objects clean up well
Materials resurface in unexpected ways in Georgia Dickie’s wall sculpture. The Toronto-based visual artist turns something resembling a tractor gear shift into a whimsical composition. Industrial objects also fuel Jeremy Jansen’s work. For Gobbledygook, the Toronto artist screenprinted an image of a chain-link pattern onto a galvanized steel plate. Both pieces serve as a reminder that there’s plenty of beauty to be found in the urban environment.


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