The third floor of City Hall in downtown St. Catharines has hosted a number of exhibitions in the hallway (sometimes even in Council Chambers) to the left, and then right, of the Mayor’s office. There’s alternately two to four exhibits annually in City Hall. When visiting (I believe I was last here for a large juried show about #Canada150, but there’s been past curated excerpts from the City of St. Catharines collection) its good to apply some of the same rules as when engaging with art in the public sphere / public art. Unlike the usual, somewhat uniform visitors to a gallery space or an artist’s studio, very diverse communities will encounter this work (there’s a litany from City Hall about it being “our” building, which is something more than just a marketing campaign. After all, during the farcical Van Zon / Interkom “consultations” around Rodman Hall, many people expressed appreciation for the grounds of that beautiful site as their own, as they should).
MUSE is a small exhibition of two dimensional works on display for the rest of the Summer. I’ll sample the following from the didactic panel: “Muse focuses on…artists and their muses. A muse is defined as a source of inspiration…The works on display demonstrate how our shared artists continue to find muses in their everyday lives and continue to express the worlds around them. An exhibit brought to you by the City of St. Catharines Cultural Services Office.”
The works have a certain nostalgic quality to them, with a prevalence of landscapes. Sandy Middleton’s Ghost Trees (2009) is an example of her photographic works that are printed on a variety of non traditional surfaces (several years ago, at an open studio she hosted during In The Soil, her many images of Cuba were printed on wood and the inherent texture and colour seemed to give the scenes a humid, tropical light). This work is printed on metal and the sheen and shimmer makes the scene haunting and ethereal.
Pete Malaguti’s Port Weller at Dawn also has an atmospheric quality to rival Middleton’s photograph (both Middleton and Malaguti’s pieces are part of the City of St. Catharines Collection. I’d like to see more from this collection, as displaying works that have historical and regional relevance has been wonderful to see in Emma German’s Up Close and In Motion, at Rodman Hall). Malaguti’s scene seems to bleed and ripple, like sunlight on water, and the mirroring that happens in the painted image has a quality of memory over realism, a moment suspended and captured in time – and paint (faint to vibrant yellows, mauves giving way to deeper indigos).
Middleton’s Ghost Trees offers gradations of greys, steel to ash to charcoal, and has a quiet quality that suggests C.S. Lewis’ “wood between the worlds” from The Magician’s Nephew in his Narnia series. The forest is a place of wonder and danger, perhaps with a funerary quality (all the fairy tales warn you about it, remember). If you know Caspar David Friedrich’s Monastery Ruins in the Snow, this emotional quality is familiar.
Other works here are vibrant and expressive: Joseph Hallam’s St. Catharines, Upper Canada, Ed Hausmann’s St. Paul St. on a Friday Night, Sybil Atteck’s Bélè Dancers, Angus Bascombe’s Shipping Post, Leo Glasgow’s Boats and George Enns’ Resting Shells. But MUSE is an uneven show. Several of the works will reward your attention with an evocative quality that communicates not just the artist’s vision but their inspiration, but many are too easily passed by (whether this is the danger of installing in non traditional spaces, or that not all works are of the same quality, I leave to the visitor to decide).
MUSE will be on display on the third floor of City Hall at 50 Church Street in downtown St. Catharines until September 14, 2018, during regular City Hall hours.
Sandy Middleton will be having a reception and sale of works at her studio (36 James Street, Studio 202, in downtown STC) on Friday, August 3rd (5:30 – 8:30 PM) and Saturday, August 4th (11 AM – 2 PM).
Bart Gazzola (also known as #artcriticfromhell) is an arts writer/critic who has published with Magenta Magazine, Canadian Art, New Art Gazette, Galleries West, PrairieSeen, Long Exposure and BlackFlash (where he was Editorial Chair for 3 years). He is Assistant Editor at thesound.rocks and a frequent contributor to various cultural spaces in Niagara.