Johnarriottselfie-male-enSometimes when galleries send out press releases on upcoming exhibitions you can get a pretty good handle on what they’re about. Other times, you maybe get an idea, but until you see the actual show it’s pretty hard to flesh out a firm understanding.

This exhibition by Toronto artist John Marriott falls into the latter camp. As described by Dunlop Gallery curator Blair Fornwald, Sympathy For The Institution consists of a selection of collages, paintings, photographs and sculpture that “create sharp and dryly funny observations that probe and provoke as they consider our relationship to how meaning is made in the wake of modernism.”

Modernism, as I understand it, was an art movement that was big from the 1940s though mid-60s. It was the culmination of about a century-long drift by artists away from a representational style of art-making (which began to fall out of favour when photography came along in the 1840s) toward a more formal exploration of colour, texture, scale, shape, etc.

Beginning in the mid ’60s though, artists began to move away from modernism, and re-engage with society though critiques of pop culture, personal identity (gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc), hot-button political issues and whatnot. Often, these explorations occurred on what was regarded as the margin of society, and employed strategies such as appropriation, irony and the championing of alternative histories and viewpoints to provoke the viewer.

That set up a tension between artists, art institutions, collectors, and the general public that has played out in a whole range of different ways — some of them inspiring, some of them discouraging.

Above is sample work from Marriott’s exhibition called Selfie (Male). The title obviously references the current mania in our exhibitionist/voyeuristic society of taking personal photographs and posting them on-line. The work also recalls the long-standing tradition of artists creating sculptural busts of prominent people, while the patinated bronze surface and abstracted face recall modernist sculpture.

It’s that kind of blend of traditional, modernist and postmodernist influences that seems at the heart of Sympathy For The Institution. Anyway, the exhibition opens at the Dunlop on Friday, Sept. 18. There’s an artist talk by Marriott at 6 p.m., and it’s followed by a reception at 7 p.m. There’s also a curatorial tour on Oct. 10 at 2 p.m.