ARTIST CELEBRATES CHANGE WITH CERAMICS EXHIBIT AT THE GARDINER MUSEUM
Story by Erin Lucuik
Joanne Tod knows her way around a canvas. With several decades of experience under her belt, Tod’s paintings of people and places have secured her status as one of Canada’s foremost visual artists.
For her latest show, Invited Invasion, Tod has picked up her paintbrush once again, but this time there’s a twist. Tod is working with ceramics for the first time in her career. Working with a new medium presented a few challenges, but Tod easily found her niche. “I thought, I’m not going to make ceramics; I’m not a potter,” she explains. “But painting on a vitreous china surface felt comfortable to me.” For her foray into clay, Tod approached the Gardiner Museum, Canada’s National ceramics museum, about the possibility of staging a show. The resulting exhibition, which is on display through November 11th, marks the institution’s inaugural artist intervention.
To prepare for her show, Tod literally invaded the Gardiner’s permanent collection of more than 3000 objects. The 20 objects that Tod selected as inspiration for her work represent a cross-section of the entire collection, which spans from ancient times to the present. Each of Tod’s pieces started as ceramic blanks that she transformed using paint. Her work reinterprets the subject matter and motifs found on the original object while looking through a modern lens. In many of her pieces, Tod uses celebrities and familiar locales, which work to bridge the gap between old and new. For “Wood Turbine and Liberty Grand”, Tod uses Toronto landmarks to reinterpret an English cup and saucer circa 1790. Other pieces, like “Occupy Toronto”, illustrate Tod’s willingness to address relevant political and social issues through her art. No matter the subject matter, Tod manages to inject a sense of humour into her work, which she admits has always been part of “her métier”.
This playfulness continues into the unconventional placement of Tod’s ceramics. Instead of being displayed as a group, her objects are seamlessly integrated with the permanent collection in glass cases and vitrines throughout the gallery space. Although a map is available if you want to locate all of Tod’s objects ahead of time, it isn’t necessary. Half the fun of this exhibition is re-discovering the permanent collection through Tod’s perspective.
The crux of the show is Tod’s ceramics, but three paintings round out the series. In another unexpected twist, the contents of three museum vitrines have been removed. Each empty vitrine contains a painting that depicts what was once in the case. In these instances, Tod once again playfully asks the viewer to re-examine the museum object from a different point of view.
Tod’s exhibit celebrates the idea of change, something that is traditionally a difficult concept for most museums to grasp. Her unique display is a triumph for both artist and institution, as the Gardiner Museum should also be applauded for a brilliant beginning to its ongoing artist intervention series.
While the artist intervention isn’t a new concept, Tod’s reinterpretation of the objects is entirely original. Looking at the bigger picture, the objects represent Tod’s ability to reinvent her practice and stay relevant. When asked about her key to success she admits, “The artist has to be proactive. It’s indicative of how you have to work nowadays.” Invited Invitation is a perfect example of Tod’s drive and determination.