Glenn Lewis
The New York Corres Sponge Dance School of Vancouver and Other Works
with Derya Akay

and Glenn Lewis’s kimchi performance
11.06.15, 6pm

Cooper Cole Gallery
1161 Dundas Street West

Kunstverein Toronto is pleased to present a survey exhibition of work by Vancouver artist Glenn Lewis – his first solo exhibition in Toronto since 1975.

Lewis is a classically trained potter, a performance artist, poet, photographer, collaborator, radio personality, chef, topiary enthusiast, master of disguise and wearer of many hats. At times he is known as Flakey Rrosehip or E.E. Claire. In the early 1960s, Lewis studied ceramics under Bernard Leach, the renowned studio potter who employed both Western and Eastern methods and philosophies, and he has been making pots and bowls ever since. In the late ‘60s, he created a series of vessels and phallic ceramic saltshakers sometimes encased in bright Plexiglas boxes. They could have been made today. Outside of the studio, Lewis helped form the Vancouver artistic community as we know it. In the 1970s, he co-founded both Western Front and the live-work space New Era Social Club, and was an early board member at Intermedia, offering alternatives to the existing institutions and practices. Lewis and his friends hosted dinner parties, pageants, performances, mayoral campaigns, galas, radio programs, pickling sessions, experiments in gardening and forest retreats under the umbrella of art-making.

The exhibition at Kunstverein Toronto presents decades of ceramics, sculptures, photography, performance props and other ephemera, creating no hierarchy between Lewis’s many artistic pursuits. Often his performative and pottery-based practices move harmoniously on parallel paths; occasionally they come together. Amid the material of a long and varied career, the exhibition features several major works: Song Bowls for East Hastings (2012), and three of Lewis’s early ceramic and Plexi works, which are lesser known in Toronto – Invincible Beauty Box (1969), Travellers Companion Series (Fairy Ring) (1968) and Milky Way Room Freshener (1968).

Alongside the exhibition, Lewis will reconvene the New York Corres Sponge Dance School of Vancouver – a mail-art exchange group formed by Lewis in 1970. Part of a network of artists that included General Idea, Ant Farm in San Francisco and Ray Johnson’s New York Correspondence School, the NYCSDSOV camouflaged its meetings as synchronized swim routines during public hours at the Crystal Pool in Vancouver, with participants clad in shark fin swimming caps made by artist Kate Craig. On June 27, Kunstverein Toronto and the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery/University of Toronto Art Centre will co-present a new performance of the New York Corres Sponge Dance School of Vancouver at the historic Hart House Pool. Lewis will spend the month of June working with a group of swimmers (local artists, curators and writers) for Toronto’s first meeting of the NYCSDSOV.

With the NYCSDSOV and elsewhere, Lewis works in relation to others – Bernard Leach, Kate Craig, Michael Morris, Hank Bull, to list a few. At Kunstverein Toronto, he is joined by Derya Akay – a young Vancouver-based artist, ceramicist, painter and cook. Akay presents a new installation in the gallery’s window: a series of painted, semi-transparent geometric shapes, half-circles and hexagons of glass, mirror and Plexi, together with ceramic appendages and works on paper stained with organic matter – leftover sardine oil, coffee, tea and a solution of copper and vinegar. Maybe there is a pickle jar. Akay is invested in the alchemy of heat and light, and in half-living objects; in the process of transformation one finds in the kitchen, in the hardening of clay, the mutability of glaze and the chemical process of photography.

It may be a tenuous link from Lewis to Akay, but there is something about an untethered artistic practice founded in ceramics, with roots in the domestic, in the act of hosting, and in the pleasure of a non-sequitur.

Glenn Lewis is a senior Vancouver conceptual artist whose artistic career spans almost 55 years. Born in Chemainus, BC in 1935 and educated at the Vancouver School of Art, the University of British Columbia, and Leach Pottery in St. Ives, Cornwall, England, Lewis has worked in ceramics, sculpture, video, film, performance, writing and photography. He has also taught ceramics, sculpture, drawing and art teaching methods at the University of British Columbia, and media workshops at the National Film Board in Vancouver. Lewis also served on several boards including Intermedia, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Western Front, various Canada Council juries, and was head of the Media Arts Section of the Canada Council from 1987-1990.

As co-founder of the Western Front, the New Era Social Club and Intermedia, Lewis was one of an internationally recognized group of artists who established social practice as an artistic medium in Vancouver. Lewis worked with peers to develop alternate channels for artistic exchange such as mail art, dance and performance events, parades and dinner parties – where he utilized video and computer technology to expand this international network and sphere of activity. Through the course of his career, Lewis has integrated a material acuity with site-specific performance, video work and installation.

The exhibition is made possible with thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts, Canada Council Art Bank, the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery/University of Toronto Art Centre, Cooper Cole, The Apartment and Kunstverein Toronto’s members and volunteers.

View exhibition documentation