For the coolest gallery show in Toronto head to the McMichael Gallery

Remember when Perry Farrell of the iconic alternative rock bank Porno for Pyros put on a devastating and surreal show at the Woodstock anniversary concert — yes, the one with the minor riots and water shortage. At the end, he uttered the words “this is your Woodstock now.” I was reminded of that very line when checking out the new Marcel Dzama show at the McMichael Gallery.

Let me explain. The show, Ghosts of Canoe Lake, New Work by Marcel Dzama, deconstructs another iconic moment in art: the venerable Canadian artists in the Group of Seven, and more specifically Tom Thomson. It runs until June 9.

The Group of Seven were a collective of Canadian landscape painters who revolutionized the country’s art scene by capturing the raw beauty and essence of its wilderness in their distinctive style.

Utilizing a range of art form and media from allegorical triptychs to short film, Dzama revisits, scrutinizes and otherwise slaps around the Group of Seven to create a new, darker and wilder vision that still centres our incredible natural places but also puts the climate crisis and our lack of action in the mix.

 

Marcel Dzama, already a renowned artist known for his intricate and whimsical drawings and his clear affinity for Salvador Dali with a distinct Andy Warhol bent, takes centre stage at the perfect setting for this particular exhibition given the McMichael Canadian Art Collection is the home of the Group of Seven.

Dzama’s journey into the ethereal landscapes of Canada’s wilderness and the mystique of its folklore is evident in every stroke of his work. His delicate use of ink, watercolour, and, yes, root beer (an unconventional yet signature medium) transports viewers into a realm where reality and fantasy intertwine. I wouldn’t say they interview seamlessly. It is a chaotic and wonderful vision.

Born in Winnipeg and now based in Brooklyn, Dzama’s art reflects his deep-rooted connection to the Canadian landscape. He is a founding member of the Royal Art Lodge, once considered as a new and avant-garde Group of Seven.

At the heart of Ghosts of Canoe Lake lies Dzama’s fascination with the iconic Canadian artist Tom Thomson and the renowned Group of Seven.

Through paintings, installations, and video, Dzama invites audiences reflect on where we have come since the nature-loving days of the Group of Seven when Canadian wilderness was still something to see with a sense of awe and wonder. No longer. Now, it is seen, through Dzama’s eyes, as something that is burning, neglected and cracked, something that is spiralling out of control.

The exhibition isn’t just an homage. It is also a bit of a slap in our collective Canadian faces to help us wake up.

In Dzama’s short film, which can be viewed in a tent, the construction of which is also a fusion of old-timey design and modern fabric adorned with polka dots, the artist himself plays Tom Thomson. He is seen painting a painting of a bear with trees nearby (played by people of course), before he is killed by drunk suit-wearing fools throwing fish at him. He is then given a properly off-the-wall funeral march.

Marcel Dzama, “To Live on the Moon (for Lorca),” 2023, pearlescent acrylic, ink, watercolour and graphite on paper, 11″ x 17″ (courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner © Marcel Dzama)

We know that Tom Thomson died at Canoe Lake. We know it took eight days to find the body, and what happened has always been surrounded by a sense of mystery. Dzama takes this and runs with it.

The exhibition not only pays homage to these artistic influences but also serves as a testament to Dzama’s evolution as an artist, incorporating elements of performance and sculpture into his repertoire. Visitors are invited to immerse themselves in Dzama’s surreal universe, where ghostly apparitions and mythical creatures dance amidst the canopies of enchanted forests.

Among the captivating pieces featured in the exhibition are “We can not abandon such beauty,” “Grandmother passing the ecstatic forest in a swarm of starlight,” “The Sisters of Nature,” and “Waiting on Tom’s ghost.” Each artwork offers a glimpse into Dzama’s unique perspective, inviting viewers to contemplate the interconnectedness of art, nature, folklore, and our place in it. And, quite frankly, how we royally messed everything up.