The Art Gallery of Ontario has a stellar featured exhibit currently on display, Brian Jungen Friendship Centre. Torontonicity was invited to the media preview of the exhibit, and treated to a curatorial tour led by Jungen himself, accompanied by curator Kitty Scott. The show contains over 80 pieces of the artists’ impressive body of work, including an all new piece created earlier this year titled Tombstone: a turtle shell-like sculpture that sits atop a collection of black office filing cabinets.
Upon first entering the exhibit, guests will notice that the entire area has been transformed into one large gymnasium-like space. There are no dividing walls that snake guests through a carefully curated timeline of works. Instead, Jungen chose to recreate the type of space that is so important to the everyday life of Indigenous communities. Main halls are the meeting grounds for festivities, activities, celebrations and meetings. The exhibit space even has special flooring that resembles the basketball court markings, but with added pops of colour.
The title Brian Jungen Friendship Centre references the non-governmental agencies and spaces that are non-governmental and offer programs and services to urban Indigenous peoples across the nation.
At the centre of the space is a circular display platform featuring the series that gained Jungen notoriety in the art world Prototype for New Understanding. Many Canadians aren’t familiar with Jungen’s work, but he first made waves in the sneakerhead community, when he reworked 23 pairs of Nike’s classic Air Jordans, and transformed them into sculptures that resembled BC Northwest coast Indigenous masks.
This exhibit gives you a chance to observe the details and craftsmanship of individual pieces. One amazing piece of information we learned on the tour was that Jungen created the hair-like elements of the masks by pulling the fibers from the shoelaces apart – every detail you see on Prototype for New Understanding and Warrior series comes directly from the shoes Jungen used, with no outside materials.
On the curatorial tour, Jungen explained that the sculptures in the main space are laid out like basketball players on a court, with the tall, totem-like pieces standing in for referees. The totems are part of the AGO’s permanent collection, and almost 400 cm in height. They’re made of athletic bags, mainly golf totes, and stick to Jungen’s thematic tendencies of reworking mass-produced items from popular culture into pieces resembling imagery from Indigenous cultures.
One area that many guests may miss, but is essential to the entire collection and exhibit is what Jungen and Curator Kitty Scott refer to as the archives: a wall that once held all tapes, papers, news clippings, and any other item that the artist kept as a resource for the pieces within the exhibit. Many of the items have been digitized, and are on display at the very entrance of the space. Guests can sit atop gymnasium mattresses that to watch footage of the artist preparing works, personal photographs, or notes.
I have been a fan of Brian Jungen for a very long time, and must admit that the digitized footage may be the best part of this entire exhibit. Jungen’s work speaks to the process fan in me, as I adore hearing about how artists create their works and the steps taken to reach the final piece that’s on display. If you similarly enjoy the process of creation, and not just the final product, I would highly recommend taking the time to watch as much of the footage from the archives as possible. It is an absolute treat to get even a sliver of insight into the inspiration behind an artist the caliber of Jungen.
The main gymnasium space isn’t the only room available for guests to enjoy, as the gorgeous Cetology is on display in one of two back spaces. The 2002 sculpture resembles a whale skeleton that Jungen constructed out of old plastic lawn chairs. On the tour the artist revealed that he did not create the piece with the assistance of any computer program (!!!), but simply worked within the exhibition space, testing his own creativity. Having Cetology on display in this large space allows guests to move around the sculpture and really appreciate the details of the work.
In that same space, there are five diesel jugs that Jungen has transformed the exterior of by meticulously carving miniscule holes in intricate patterns on. This is another example of mass produced items available readily in northern communities. Many people wouldn’t think twice about a plastic diesel jug but they are important to daily life and play a crucial role in various aspects of life in isolated communities without direct access to essential services.
The final room is a multi-panel film that plays the hunting trip Jungen took with fellow artist Duane Linklater. It may seem that some of the panels stop working at times, but the panels are removed to help the viewer focus on one specific aspect or to prevent a sense of disorientation. It’s a beautiful landscape, and quite calming to watch the hunting party, so make sure to take a moment and watch.
Thanks to increased support from organizations like the BMO Financial Group, the AGO has introduced a new membership fee range! This includes free admission to all visitors 25 years and under, and Brian Jungen Friendship Centre is the perfect exhibit to enjoy this new membership model with as there is no extra charge or special exhibit fee to see it. This means that the Brian Jungen exhibit at Art Gallery of Ontario is available with the regular price of admission and is on until August 25, 2019.