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Lady Gaga Meat Dress

March 16, 2012 by staff 

Lady Gaga Meat Dress, About a decade before Lady Gaga donned a meat dress at the 2010 Video Music Awards, a similar fleshy ensemble was attracting controversy at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

Jana Sterbak’s Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic featured 50 pounds of raw flank steaks stitched together. A city councillor called it a “decadent and perverse waste of taxpayers’ money.”

“It was my big introduction to controversy,” says Diana Nemiroff who was the senior curator at the gallery when it showed the Sterbak exhibition in 1991. “I had to think hard about how we talk about art. We’re used to talking about art with people who are on our side, who are also interested in art; but how can we talk about art more generally?”

Both Sterbak and Nemiroff were honoured in Toronto Tuesday with Governor General’s Awards in visual and media arts for their contribution to Canada’s art scene. Six other laureates also received $25,000 and a special medallion to be presented at Rideau Hall on March 28. They are: photographer Geoffrey James, performance artist Margaret Dragu and sculptor Royden Rabinowitch; artist-goldsmith Charles Lewton-Brain received the Saidye Bronfman Award while Toronto-based painter Ron Martin and Jan Peacck, who teaches at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design were recognized for their excellence in visual art.

The National Gallery of Canada will exhibit their works from March 30 to June 17. The laureates spoke to the Post about their ground-breaking art: If they could chose one work to grace the cover of their biography, which would it be?

Charles Lewton-Brain, artist-goldsmith, Calgary: “It would be a piece of folded and hammered metal. I developed a system for metal working that has never been done before. They look like leaves and shells and they just take minutes to do. It’s about nature and listening to the material and the beauty that you can let out of it if you do the right thing.”

Jana Sterbak, visual artist, Montreal: ”It’s a piece called Dissolution (Auditorium). It’s about 16 chairs with metal legs but the backrest and the seats are made out of ice, cast new each day. During the course of the day at the museum, they melt and the legs come crashing down with great noise. It summarizes all of my concerns: transformation, the passage of time and the importance of the now.”

Diana Nemiroff, art gallery director and curator, Ottawa: My Jana Sterbak exhibition in 1991. Her work was so out there at the time, so daring and so completely original. Because of the controversy with the flesh dress I thought the artist takes risk and I as a curator also need to take risks; I have to be strong and persuasive when I talk about their work.

Royden Rabinowitch, sculptor, Ghent, Belgium/Cambridge, U.K./Waterloo, Ont.: “I probably wouldn’t choose a work. Even though all of the work that I’ve done since 1962 are discourses of the same content, they’re very different.”

Jan Peacck, visual artist, Halifax: “It would have to be Reader by the Window. It’s a video installation in which I worked with seven years of walks through urban and rural landscapes. It’s all about remembering places. It was the first time that I understood that I could collect stuff for years and not know what it was for.”

Geoffrey James, photographer, Toronto: “It’s a picture of the boulevard right in front of the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris. I took it in 1992. The other great influence in my life was a photographer called Eugene Atget. That picture was an homage to him.”

Ron Martin, visual artist, Toronto: “The All in One series. They’re very radical. They invite the viewer to reconstruct their relationship constantly with the work. That’s consistent with what I’ve done since 1971 – with the World Paintings, you have to constantly participate.”

Margaret Dragu, performance artist, Vancouver/Richmond, B.C.: “It would be an MRI picture of the brain connected to the heart. That represents what I believe in about art and performance. It’s the intellect, the body and the heart; it’s also the part you can’t see – the spirit.”

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