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BGL at Parisian Laundry: boobies and frat boy humour? Really?

Oh, BGL. You cheeky, meta-, hyper-referential bunch of SOBs. You totally know how to lure me in. Just look at your latest exhibition, Concessionnaire, now on display at the Parisian Laundry. Sure, you ply all of your regular moves: rubbing up against Mother Nature, winking across the room at cultural capital, that cool little dance you do with re-contextualized goods and your own recycled works. Oh—and your play on Quebec identity never goes unnoticed. Non, monsieur. But here, in this expansive, gorgeous gallery space, you’re working out something else. Something a little new. And I dig it. I really do.


BGL's Concessionnaire exhibit, Parisian Laundry

In fact, as soon as I stepped foot into the gallery, I wanted to take Chronos (2011) home. Who doesn’t love a tiny owl in a seashell hat? And Un Bûcher (2010)? Fuggedaboutit. A massive, neon-coloured collection of Plexiglass flames, riddled with bullet holes. Just magic. Yeah, I know it’s a continued riff on some of your older stuff (Fire (2010), Cauldron / Tribute to the Group of Seven (2009)), but hell. I’d love to wake up to that everyday. And the way you direct gallery traffic to the “all-important” wall spaces with your Fancy Fences (2011)? The lengths you’ll go to to crack me up with Contreplaqué (2012)? And hey, wow—that absurd still life arrangement in Nature Morte Avec LED (2011)? So fun and sharp and cleverly subversive, je dois dire, les gars—you had me at "bonjour".


BGL's Concessionnaire exhibit, Parisian Laundry

But BGL? Elles Battent Des Queues (2011)? Both 1 and 2? Why you gotta play a sister out like that? Sure, I could accept both works for what they are; two large collages of buxom, naked ladies cut out from nudie mags, their bottom halves obscured (and ostensibly hobbled) by the addition of mermaid tails (some of which flap, thanks to a soft breeze blown from a “speaker fan”). I could see what you want me to see—the beauty of the (highly augmented) female form, and how you’re playing with fantasy, on both a fairytale and pornographic level. And yes, I could even just stand back and enjoy each piece for its colourful, puerile sensibility. But, whichever way I look at it, something ends up rubbing me the wrong way. Especially when I see that you’ve set up a burnt, wooden fox (Prédateur (2011)) to stare hungrily at the first bunch of Queues. Did I mention the fox has a pair of siren red panties stretched across its snout? Oh, it doesn’t take long to get the joke about women, fishes, and odiferous genitalia.

I expect more out of you, BGL, than easy frat boy humour. If you’re going to say something witty about women, sex and/or the gendered gaze, I’d ask that you dig a little deeper.

Truly, the main reason I expect more is because the majority of your exhibit works so well. Thematically, all of the pieces are on track, picking fights and raising issue with the commercial value of art in private gallery spaces, the function of the art dealer (and by extension, the art patron), and the hierarchy of worth vis-à-vis certain art forms. There’s so much good and new and provocative here. I just don’t want you to taint it all with a sophomoric punch line (“Heh heh—boobies!”)


James Abbott McNeill Whistler's The Golden Scab: Eruption in Filthy Lucre [The Creditor] (1879), an inspiration for Michael Jones McKean's sculpture installation The Gilded Scab, on view at Parisian Laundry

Speaking of ruining it all, well, I’m looking at you, Michael Jones McKean. I really can’t say that I’m your biggest fan. I will, however, praise you for the clever title you gave your sculpture installation down in the bunker space of the Parisian Laundry. The title in question, The Gilded Scab (2012), seems to be a nod or wink or riff off of artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s painting, The Gold Scab: Eruption in Filthy Lucre [The Creditor] (1879). As the story goes, after a falling out with longtime patron Frederick Leyland over matters of financial restitution, Whistler went about painting a scathingly satirical, 6-foot portrait of Leyland as a deranged peacock playing the piano.



Michael Jones McKean's The Gilded Scab installation, on view at Parisian Laundry

So kudos to McKean for engaging in conversation with the BGL’s "Concessionnaire" theme—just because you’re down below, doesn’t mean you can’t be heard. However, the meat of the matter is not the name of sculpture, but the sculpture itself. Which feels like, plainly put, tampon-in-a-teacup art. With its blatantly fecund “female” symbols (e.g.—breasts, vessels and vases, plants, etc.) and neutered “male” symbols (a hairy, broken arm/hand elevated above the crotch of a pair of flaccid men’s trousers) this looks like something a third year art student back in the '90s would produce for their year-end show. Though I can appreciate the work and process put into it (and in its construction, it far surpasses the efforts of most third-year students), I can’t quite make out the theatricality and “looping” storytelling of the piece (something I was told was quite pivotal to this work). There are representations of life, of death, of man and woman, but…but what? I’m left in the dark, like a gallery visitor caught in the bunker after hours.


BGL Concessionnaire and Michael Jones McKean The Gilded Scab
Until February 25th
Parisian Laundry | 3550 St-Antoine West | parisianlaundry.com