On Thursday, 22 September, the opening of Thompson Landry Gallery’s 10th Anniversary: Special Group Exhibition was characterized by precisely this: tactility. Yet, the tactility of the exhibition did not cause the visitor to meander. On the contrary, it enveloped the visitor in its total and cohesive experience. The exhibition showcased one hundred contemporary works of painting and sculpture by nineteen of Thompson Landry Gallery’s artists.
Thompson Landry Gallery boasts two venues: the locations which housed this exhibition, Stone Building (established in 2006), and the second space, Cooperage Space (established in 2008). Both venues are housed in Toronto’s Distillery District. Joanne Thompson, the Gallery’s owner and director, noted that the Gallery has evolved significantly from its earliest days, remarking that, originally, the gallery’s space was “very raw.”
From the beginning, Thompson Landry sought to represent up-and-coming Québecois artists — of which there are numerous. Artists such as Sylvain Tremblay, Yoakim Bélanger and Virginie Beaucaire have achieved international recognition; yet, there remains a strong sense of loyalty to Thompson Landry, a gallery that has provided them with consistent support and artistic freedom. Sylvain Tremblay, the first-ever artist on the gallery’s roster, was even present at Thursday night’s opening to perform an interactive work of art. Even so, Thursday night’s exhibition also featured work by artists who had more recently entered the Thompson Landry fold. United by their Québecois origins, Thompson Landry’s artists have arrived at the Gallery from eclectic vocational backgrounds — and this is precisely in line with the gallery’s goals. One theme is infinitely apparent among the gallery’s artists and the gallery itself: newness. Evolution. Change. Artists are continually exploring new avenues and Thompson Landry happily provides its blessing. Joanne Thompson emphasized that the Gallery’s success was due to the quality of work exhibited by the artists, as well as the risks that the artists have taken, and continue to take, within their oeuvre. This exhibition is a visual testament to this cohesive mosaic of artists and artworks that has distinguished Thompson Landry for a decade.
Before even entering the gallery, the visitor may notice the tactility of the building’s exterior. Honouring its mandate of showcasing Québecois artists, the Thomas Landry Gallery alludes to Québec’s tradition of stone houses through its rustic brickwork. Whether the visitor is aware of this invocation or not, it is immediately presented to him. While the entire Distillery District is characterized by similarly-bricked structures, it is difficult to ignore this particular brickwork and its connections to both the gallery and the exhibition. One could determine whether the brick exterior ought to influence the visitor’s experience; however, this is beyond the scope of this piece. The gallery’s brick exterior primes the visitor for the experience within — the visitor’s unawareness thereof proving how effectively the gallery does so.
Once inside, the visitor has entered not an exhibition space, but a type of gallery-wide installation. The tactility that may have been discerned from outside is manifest once in the space. Canvases are built-up with thick ridges of paint that overflow into the viewer’s space. Steel is wound into two dogs chasing each other. Ceramic glaze bubbles beneath the gallery lights. The paintings and sculptures detect the tactility from the exterior (and interior) brick walls and, like a frequency tower, emit this same tactility outward throughout the gallery space. With each work that the viewer interacts with, the current of tactility is heightened. Each and every exhibited work complements each and every other.
I equate this entire exhibition with an installation because, by definition, the latter both transforms the viewer’s space and is tailored to a specific location. No other characterization of this exhibition could be more accurate or more complementary. This exhibition is a total experience, a gesamtkunstwerk in the truest sense. The works seem to emanate from the gallery and the structure envelops the viewer with its consistently-curated rhythm. It is as though the works had always existed, and should always exist, within the gallery. The viewer is the temporary component circulating the exhibition, not the works of art.
The cadence of the thick impasto paint, earthy wooden beams and carefully-moulded steel crescendo into an immersive expression of tactility. This tactility echoes the gallery’s entire physical space, as well as the continuity of the initial “raw” quality described by Thompson. Ensconcing the visitor, 10th Anniversary: Special Group Exhibition offers an installation-like experience where one can commune with the building and its essence: the artworks exhibited within. This exhibition recalls Louis Sullivan’s famous maxim stating that “form follows function.” Departing with the residue of the exhibition’s united scheme, and bearing Sullivan’s words in mind, one knows to expect only exciting and innovative projects from the Thompson Landry Gallery.
*Exhibition information: September 22 – October 16, 2016, Thompson Landry Gallery Stone Distillery, 32 Distillery Lane, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue – Sat, 11 am – 6 pm; Sun, 12 – 5 pm.