Writing Award 2012 Best Review: Generation: Getting Familiar with “History, Glamour, Magic”

3 April 2012

by Lena Suksi

The AGYU, “out there” in North York, has enough acreage to feel palatial even when occupied by spare, easily eye-occupyable objects, but History, Glamour, Magic would have had a gala effect in a closet. By account of the available journalism and the older, more popular strangers at the opening, Will Munro, whose retrospective this is, was a manufacturer of good times. A swathe of wall in the exhibition is dedicated to an array of his own psychedelic, hand-printed silkscreened posters for Vazaleen dance parties at the El Mocambo and later, The Beaver. The dance posters, along with every work in the show invite thoughts of their production, of the arc of anticipation, noisy promotion, and final, regenerative ecstasy of a party produced.

Bigger proof of fun is the project of the triple hang-lines of dazzling, renewed men’s briefs, stitched, beaded and homo-metal appliqué canvasses and polyester fantasies hung high enough for heavenly bodies. The greatest proof of all is the soothing, uterine closing note of the show, a “lezbro” room with contributions from Munro’s friends including an elaborate crocheted chillout space(!) inspired by an incredibly relaxing and hand-stretching-sounding collaboration Will initiated called the Westside Stitches Couture Club. This last room, for me, encouraged no action so much as a thrown down body on a pile of personalized throw cushions, a surprising vibe in a public gallery, far removed from any kind of “child’s space” and a welcome one after the assault—this is a hundred-object show—of sensuality: old clothes, concurrent conversation, and actual rhinestones. This space offered time to absorb, to stitch maybe, to consider, perhaps, an extension of all the colour and craft and generation.

And it was effective. While much of the work was of glamorous decorative service to a late-night cult of personalities – quilted recreations of Pettibon album covers, beautiful stuffed phalli—the work moved well beyond hedonism/narcissism to a communal purposing that was not entirely orgiastic. In an interview under the vitrines chronicling Munro’s press, the artist mentions that the Y-front, now and then the uniform of gay clones, had its origins in the military. His exertion of and encouragement of subversion of the dead/sexy uniform is evident in every piece of art in this retrospective, towards a more playful, personable queer aesthetics—owing much to collaboration but always asserting individuality. Certainly within days of my attendance, the flimsiest of this lady’s briefs had been torn open and altered in a haphazard tribute. WRONG WORLD, mine say, snipped out of a t-shirt, but a single sequin refracts bigger possibilities. I can only hope that when I wear these that they will in turn inspire others to alter; this was my first sewing lesson and it was sweet to master.

Of course History, Glamour, Magic, with its title suggesting regeneration and immortality, is dealing and is meant to deal with the artist’s very early death. In that sense, the show’s mandate is different from the typical critically positioned retrospective. With such an evidently public and generous person, local boy, as its author, it was also a wake. As wakes can be, while the exhibition is certainly celebratory, lush, and sentimental (the side by side documentation and installation of Munro’s collaboration with Jeremy Laing, the gorgeous, materially rich Puff Pavilion, oddly evoking family videos), it was also vaguely exclusive to those who knew Munro, littered with references to places, faces, and events he’d had a flesh-in-blood hand in, and visited by people who clearly knew the artist and his own curation of fun folks. This baby queer recognized her own, but the tone of the audience was cliquish. Perhaps, however, it was the friendliness and literal accessibility—every stitch visible, every second-hand sourced textile familiar—of the work that lent Munro’s pop work such un-pop warmth, though. The work is inviting even when the references are, as they were to me, new. Located on a student campus, it seems certain that a generation of students who didn’t ever meet Munro will take up, in celebration, their needles.

Lena Suksi is an aspiring seamstress and a student of printmaking and curating, with a particular interest in denting the gallery walls with her squeegee. Since writing this review, she’s thrilled to be spending more time with Will’s work as AGYU’s summer intern, attempting not to dent.

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