Culture  Fairytale abstraction

Parisian Laundry’s latest offering is fun, but with little substance

The art gallery Parisian Laundry began the new year with work from mixed-media artist Valerie Blass and photographer Susi Brister. A recent addition to the Museé d’art contemporain Museum of Contemporary Art, Blass’s new piece Femme Panier sparked lots of conversation amongst the curious onlookers. Many dissected the various facets of the mannequin-like sculpture, often with the humdrum conclusion of “Mmmhmm…well it really just speaks to me.” Speaks to me, speaks to me, speaks to me. “Speaks what, exactly?” remained my unanswered question.

Having covered art exhibitions in the past, specifically at Parisian Laundry, my experience generally goes something like this: Step one: I glance at the first piece of art, then at the intimidating, funky Montreal art crowd around me and immediately believe I don’t understand the art nor am I qualified to be there. Step two: I take a deep breath, or possibly a sip of the free vernissage wine, and do my journalism thing. Unfortunately this time around, I never quite made it to step two.

Blass’s show “Petit Losange Laqué Veiné”  (Lacquered, Veined Small Lozenge) consists of 16 personal works, three of which were created in 2011. In Femme Panier she uses found objects, from either thrift stores or the urban setting, juxtaposing tacky seventies shirts onto mannequins with hands painted as skulls. The result is incredibly fun to look at, sexy in a fierce sort of way as the mannequin’s fishnets tightly stretch over her bent body. With only a basket as a torso, the compilation of many parts of Femme Panier work together for a very unique effect, but one specific meaning is lost amongst its overflow of elements. Much like the many twenty-somethings at the wine table, Femme Panier looked like it belonged in an Urban Outfitters store window with the angular pose of an American Apparel model. Only this vintage piece sells for $20,000.

Featured in “The Bunker” (the basement) of Parisian Laundry, Susi Brister’s show “Menagerie” is the Austin based photographer’s first solo exhibition. Described by the press release as “blurring the line between nature and humans,” Brister’s work explores the dichotomy between man and animal by photographing figures draped in furs or sheepskin blankets.

Extremely charming, D and Blonde Bear in Grass features a small white bear cub. That is, until one takes a closer look, revealing a child in a white blanket sitting on the autumn ground. Similar to that of Blass, the artwork is fun, yet superficial. Where Blass attempts too many meanings, Brister’s work only has one. To see one of her photographs is to have seen them all.

As the director of Parisian Laundry Jeanie Riddle recently said in an interview with La Presse, the show is “the Planet of the Apes meets fairy tales and abstract language.” I do like fairy tales, and at least the original sixties version of Planet of the Apes was cool, but it is precisely this “abstract language” that makes modern art so inaccessible at times.

Valerie Blass and Susie Brister are at Parisian Laundry, 3550 St Antoine O., Metro Lionel-Groulx until February 19. Entry free.