Sunday, August 12, 2007


The McMaster Art Gallery is currently hosting an exhibit entitled ''Northern Art in the Age of Cock, Dürer, Rubens & Rembrandt''. Composed of pieces from the collection of H.H. Levy, the exhibit contains some of the great works of German, Dutch and Flemish Baroque painting and Northern printmaking. To call the works ''breathtaking'' would be an understatement.

In the next room, they have an exhibit of German painting, print, and sculpture from the 20th century entitled ''The Goethe Project''. The placement is a bit unfair. While it's wonderful to see so many classics of Wiemar Expressionism in one place, it's hard not to feel like there's a step down in regards to pure craftsmanship from the one exhibit to the other . Make no mistake- the Expressionist works all have the same emotional power. But it's hard to go from Albrecht Dürer to Georg Grosz and not feel like you're going from an advanced level of work to something lower. They don't call it 'primitivism' for nothing. It's some of my favorite art, but I'm not impressed by the actual work so much as the composition and vision behind it.

And downstairs they have an exhibit of contemporary art with an audio element. Actually, most of the pieces are digital videos. Which brings us to an even different level- there is literally no craftsmanship whatsoever in these pieces. One of them is a static shot of a violinist and the other is a handheld shot of a crowd of musicians. Turning on a camera and pointing it at something is as much in the realm of craftsmanship as pointing a gun at something and shooting it is in the realm of sculpture.

Which brings me to a question that has been on my mind as of late, but which would have seemed completely blasphemous to me just a few years ago...

Do photography and video really belong in an art gallery?

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