Home / Culture  / A numbers game

A numbers game

Micah Lexier’s monumental installation at The Power Plant this fall includes a solo show and a curated ‘portrait’
of the Toronto artistic community with 221 objects made by 101 artists, duos and collectives

This fall, art lovers will be treated to a peek inside the brain (and heart) of one of the most interesting artists around when The Power Plant turns itself over to three Micah Lexier projects titled One, Two and More Than Two: a solo exhibition featuring four of his seminal artworks; an overview of some of his most compelling collaborations with writers; and a curated “portrait” of the Toronto artistic community consisting of 221 objects made by 101 artists, duos and collectives. Together, these projects will illuminate Lexier’s rigorous methods and human concerns, not to mention his inclusive spirit.

There is much to say about Micah Lexier’s wide-ranging artistic and curatorial practice: logic, precision, classification and measurement define much of what he does, with text and collaboration being key ingredients in Lexier’s mix.

 Self-Portrait as a Wall (1998/2013) was first conceived and produced when Lexier was 37 years old. The device is spelled out in the text (black for life lived and white for life to come) and is a seemingly simple concept with a powerful, graphic visual. At The Power Plant, this version will be paired (and compared) with the updated work created by the now 54-year-old. All of the motifs inherent in the earlier version are heightened as the area of black becomes decidedly bigger while white ground shrinks. Much of Lexier’s work addresses lifespan, aging and mortality in this clear-eyed fashion, though my eyes get misty just thinking about it.

1334 Words for 1334 Students is a collaboration between Lexier, the acclaimed Irish writer Colm Tóibín and every student at Cawthra Park Secondary School. In 2008, Lexier commissioned Tóibín to write a story with precisely 1334 words, one for each student in the school.  The resulting book project consists of the story with each word hand-written by a different student. The story itself is a tender one, with a protagonist of high school age, matching a conceptual framework that strikes me as particularly poignant and generous. Sometimes constraints can be liberating, but everyone involved approached this puzzle/project with intelligence and joy.

Coins have figured multiple times in Lexier’s projects as a measure, a counter, a symbol and collectible object, but perhaps never as dynamically as I am the Coin, an installation of 20,000 custom minted coins which when installed in a wall-sized grid, spell out a story written by Toronto writer Derek McCormack. Written from the perspective of one of the installed coins, the story reflexively reveals tidbits about the installation, the process and the makers, all the while providing clues about which particular coin happens to be the narrator. My brain isn’t necessarily elastic or patient enough to engage in these gymnastics, but the idea of a puzzle, a narrative and a collaboration between two flexible minds is enough to fill my mind with wonder and my eyes with an enveloping, gorgeous installation.

More than Two:
With 101 artists (and collectives) in this curated project—for which he spent six months researching and conducting countless studio visits—Lexier sheds light on how many amazing young artists are working in Toronto at this moment—more than half of the participants are younger than 40. But equally important was to place these artists on a continuum with many who have come before and continue to produce important work. With the youngest artist in the exhibition at 23 and the eldest at 84, let’s preview an artist in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s for an abbreviated overview.

Jillian Kay Ross’ F864111H is a minimalist painting in the tradition of Jo Baer or Richard Tuttle, but her methods are anything but typical. She creates “paintings” in the computer by manipulating found digital imagery and then uses this creation like a sketch on which to base her subtle, gestural paintings.

Jim Verberg’s Test #4 is part of his ongoing Untitled (divided/defined) series and consists of a photocopied circle that has been folded and refolded creating multiple lines that bisect its black surface.  It is geometric, elegant and precise, but taken in context with the artist’s predilection for exploring the intricacies of human relationships, it becomes a poetic mapping and measuring of the fragments that form personal, emotional connections.

Tania Kitchell’s This and That is an aptly titled selection of machined ABS plastic forms, some clearly organic, others geometric. Together they are a playful, primary-hued exploration of the many typologies of sculptural form particularly related to architecture and nature.

James Carl’s deck is part of his seminal series of simplified, essential forms referencing electronics that are now long outdated and obsolete. Carved in stone, the permanence of the sculpture is at odds with the disposable nature of consumer goods, though the forms are surprisingly modern and timeless.

Margaret Priest is known for impeccably intricate graphite drawings of modern architecture, often highlighting materials, surface, light effects. The Shard refers to all of these things in simplified, sculptural form. Rendered in matte grey mdf, the form references negative space, shadow and the body.

Kai Chan’s Study #509 is rendered in silver but has the fragile appearance of toothpicks (another material he sometimes uses). Chan renders quiet moments, drawn from his daily life, in ephemeral materials. Minimalist in form, Chan’s work is a tenuous balance between the present and tradition.

Michael Snow’s One Foldage is a most modestly scaled object representing a most eminent Toronto-based artist, but embodies all of his ideas and experiments with form and shape that he produced in the bountiful early ’60s, including the Walking Woman silhouette which often became a “foldage.”

Perhaps you can detect a thread that runs throughout these projects. Ephemeral, essential, elegant, economical. Emotional. Lexier characterizes many of these works as “deceptively simple,” words that might describe every element of One, and Two, and More Than Two.

PAMELA meredith Is TD Bank Group’s senior curator.