Art mixes with fantasy to create a “wonderful” show

Art | by Gregory Beatty

I’m going to be honest here. The first thing I thought of when I saw Toronto artist Shary Boyle’s installation Scarecrow was The Wizard of Oz. In my defense, I know from doing the listings that a touring production of the musical was here on Dec. 13-14. Plus, it is holiday season, and that’s usually when the 1939 classic starring Judy Garland airs on TV.

Big deal, most of you are probably thinking. So I link the installation to a heart-warming fairy tale about a teenage girl going on an exotic adventure and finding out at the end that home is where her heart truly does lie. Why should I feel the need to come clean on that?

Well, as you can see from the accompanying photo, Boyle’s installation is decidedly un-Wizard of Oz like. In fact, it’s downright steamy. It’s reinforced, too, by a cartoon-style drawing on acetate which shows the same characters — in my reading, the Scarecrow and Dorothy — in an amorous embrace in a hayloft.

So yeah, I see Boyle’s installation, I think of Dorothy getting it on with the Scarecrow.

I could probably build a review around that, delving into the sexual undertones that The Wizard of Oz, like any good fairy tale, has. Dorothy being a blossoming young woman, her aunt and uncle employing three handsome farmhands (the one who was the Scarecrow in Dorothy’s adventure, by the way, was named Hunk).  But I’m not. Instead, I’m going focus on all the binaries that Boyle plays with in the show.

Scarecrow is part of the MacKenzie’s Collection Insight Series where artists are invited to present work in conjunction with select pieces from the permanent collection to animate the collection and inspire new ways to think about it.

It was the art Boyle chose to accompany her central sculpture, in fact, that inspired thoughts of “binary” for me. When you enter the space, you see two suites of eight works arranged on opposing walls. In size, shape and location (six framed drawings/paintings bracketed by two wall-mounted sculptures) they match up like mirror images.

Artistically, though, they have radically different origins. On one wall, Boyle has placed a selection of antiquities and Renaissance era works (all by unidentified artists) that embody the classical ideal of a fine art or history museum. Images of saints and nobles abound, which adds to their academic luster.

The works on the opposite wall share some similarities in subject matter, but they’re in the style of folk or naïve art. While that genre, in Saskatchewan anyway, has long been accepted as legitimate, that’s not necessarily so in the broader art world. By pairing these disparate styles of art, Boyle invites us to consider a range of dualities.

On one side, we have the Old World with all the Eurocentric history that that implies; on the other, we have the New World/Saskatchewan during the colonization/settlement era. Yes, the four artists (W. C. McCargar, Jan Wyers, Dmytro Stryjek and Fred Moulding) all have European roots. But the humble nature of their paper drawings and wood sculptures, in comparison to the Old World works, which are mostly on canvas, with two in ornate frames, speak to such issues as class, wealth, lifestyle and privilege.

Even Boyle’s central sculpture of the Scarecrow and Dorothy in a hayloft — or, at least, a scarecrow and a nude female made of plaster and porcelain — inspires thoughts of binaries. Male vs. female, rural vs. urban, sacred vs. profane, agriculture as a primary industry vs. art as a creative industry, human vs. domesticated animal (as depicted in some of the permanent collection works) and more.

Plenty of questions surround the two figures too — especially in the current climate, where a growing number of formerly respected and influential men have been outed for abusive and exploitive behavior toward women.

The sex between the scarecrow and woman appears consensual, as she is semi-embracing him. Although the coupling doesn’t exactly scream “passion!” — so make of that what you will, outside of Boyle perhaps depicting the lovers in post-coital quiescence with the scarecrow collapsed on his partner.

Regardless, this is a trippy show to see (and write about).