Angela Grauerholz: A Disruptive Influence

Angela Grauerholz, Floating Frame, 2014, inkjet print on arches paper. Courtesy of the artist, Art 45, Montreal and the Olga Korper Gallery, Toronto 

One of the threads running through the Angela Grauerholz survey exhibition is the artist’s exploration of new territory in her artistic practice. Intrigued by what curators at the Ryerson Image Centre (RIC) have conjured, Grauerholz is even considering writing a lecture around their take on her work.

In May 2015, Grauerholz won the Scotiabank Photography Award for a body of work she has been building since the 1980s. To celebrate her achievements, Scotiabank Photography Award: Angela Grauerholz is currently on view in the RIC’s Main Gallery in Toronto. The show is also one of the key exhibitions in the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.

The exhibition includes more than 70 of Grauerholz’s photographs, along with one large installation. Some of the images are from the national collection, and visitors to the Toronto exhibition may recognize the artist’s work from her 2010 National Gallery of Canada (NGC) exhibition, Angela Grauerholz: The Inexhaustible Image.

Grauerholz’s output is prolific, so RIC curators refined their choices based on a recurring theme within her oeuvre: the artist’s interpretation of archival and museum spaces, where public memories are stored. “You see a thread running through the work, where Grauerholz is interested in disrupting and distorting,” said curator Gaëlle Morel in an interview with NGC Magazine. “We looked at the ways in which this artist disrupts the order, as well as norms in how art and objects are shown.”

Angela Grauerholz, Sofa,1988, azo dye print. Courtesy of the artist, Art 45, Montreal and the Olga Korper Gallery, Toronto 

One example is Grauerholz’s work Sofa (1988), which depicts an empty sofa in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The sofa is curved in shape but placed in a corner of the gallery, so the design and architectural elements speak to one another. This is typical of Grauerholz’s work, says Morel. “She likes corners because they show a closed perspective. Looking at this piece, you feel a bit stuck.”

Grauerholz agrees, and admits that the RIC’s curatorial treatment has her thinking in fresh ways about this aspect of her work. “This sense of being stuck evokes an unseen or foreboding sense of lack of accessibility,” she said in an interview with NGC Magazine. “I need to think more deeply about that, because it’s only recently become clear to me. I think there might be a new lecture in it!”

A key piece in the exhibition — and one that underscores Grauerholz’s disquiet about lack of accessibility in the art world — is an interactive installation called Sententia I–LXII (1998), on loan from the NGC. The work features a series of 62 silver gelatin prints framed in a wood cabinet, and each print slides out on a narrow panel for viewing.

Angela Grauerholz, detail from Sententia I-LXII, 1998, 62 gelatin silver prints framed in a wood cabinet. © Toni Hafkenscheid. Courtesy of the artist, Art 45, Montreal and the Olga Korper Gallery, Toronto

Sententia I–LXII speaks to what is not being seen in art galleries, as opposed to what curators choose to display, says Grauerholz. “Whatever is shown is not even a tenth of what’s in a museum’s vaults.” Interacting with Sententia I–LXII gives viewers a sense that they are exploring hidden art. In the past, it has inspired audiences to respond with a unique ferocity — almost anger. “When the work was first shown, it was practically looted,” says Grauerholz. “People seemed to feel strongly that there was something foreboding about it.”

The exhibition also includes works from Grauerholz’s Privation Book (2001) series, featuring images of books damaged in a fire at her home. Grauerholz says that the process of documenting these pieces facilitated her transition from analog to digital photography — a transition she had resisted for some time because, “I didn’t know how to make the change.”

Angela Grauerholz, Privation Book No. 54, 2001, inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist, Art 45, Montreal and the Olga Korper Gallery, Toronto    

Morel adds that Privation Book is typical of the technical rigour and quality of Grauerholz’s work, and of her disruptive, yet quiet treatment of her subjects. “It’s a beautiful portrait of her. These were her books — her own collection — and you can tell a lot about her as a reader and intellectual.”

Morel says the exhibition will appeal to viewers well versed in Grauerholz’s work, as well as more casual observers. “This show is multi-layered and intriguing. But a wonderful thing about this artist is that it’s very aesthetically enjoyable to spend time with her work. This show is for everyone.”

Scotiabank Photography Award: Angela Grauerholz is on display in the Main Gallery of the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto until August 21, 2016. As part of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada is presenting Cutline: The Photography Archives of The Globe and Mail at the Old Press Hall in Toronto until June 26. Cutline will also be on view at the NGC from October 28, 2016 until February 12, 2017.


About the Author