Would Sotheby's Lie? Visiting Critic Ola Wlusek Asks Big Questions | Live Culture
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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Would Sotheby's Lie? Visiting Critic Ola Wlusek Asks Big Questions

Posted By on Thu, Nov 12, 2015 at 1:42 PM

click to enlarge "My Wife's Lovers" by Carl Kahler - COURTESY OF SOTHEBY'S
  • Courtesy of Sotheby's
  • "My Wife's Lovers" by Carl Kahler
One of the first images displayed in Ola Wlusek's lecture "The Burden of (Art) History?" was a picture of her cat. This Wednesday evening, the second of Burlington City Arts' visiting critics held court in BCA's second floor gallery space, surrounded by Sabra Field prints tacked to the walls, and spoke articulately about her myriad curatorial projects. All of them have involved artists who in some fashion address history as a construct meant to be tampered with. 

Wlusek, an independent curator based in southern Ontario, promised that her cat picture was related to her talk, and followed it with a slide of an 1893 oil painting by Carl Kahler. She learned through the arts blog Hyperallergic that the painting, titled "My Wife's Lovers," was sold at auction by 
click to enlarge Installation view of "Don't They Ever Stop Migrating?" by Jinny Yu - COURTESY OF JINNY YU
  • Courtesy of Jinny Yu
  • Installation view of "Don't They Ever Stop Migrating?" by Jinny Yu
Sotheby's for $826,000. Wlusek quoted the Sotheby's description, which reveals that, while approximately 3,000 people died in the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, this painting survived.

Her first reaction, Wlusek noted, was incredulity. "I thought, would Sotheby's lie?" she said, laughing. 

The crux, for her, was twofold. First, Wlusek suggested, the value placed on Kahler's painting might mean that, in terms of visual culture, society has not evolved very much in recent centuries.

"As a culture of sharing, we are quite transparent in what amuses us," she said, following with the questions, "How do we represent and buy into excess?" and "What do historical paintings reveal about our current selves?"

click to enlarge Detail of "Tea Table Reconfigured Into a Press to Preserve a Bouquet of Chrysanthemums" by Jon Sasaki - COURTESY OF JON SASAKI
  • Courtesy of Jon Sasaki
  • Detail of "Tea Table Reconfigured Into a Press to Preserve a Bouquet of Chrysanthemums" by Jon Sasaki
Second, Wlusek hinted at the absurdity that a cat painting commissioned by a millionaire would be a valued artifact today, in the context of a devastating and deadly natural disaster. "Three thousand people died, but who cares? It poses so many interesting social questions." 

Wlusek went on to discuss five artists with whom she has collaborated as curator: Jon Sasaki, Howie Tsui, Jinny Yu, Basil AlZeri and Remi Theriault. While in Vermont, Wlusek will visit four artists for studio visits to view and discuss their work from a curatorial perspective.  

The third and last of the visiting critics in this series will be Montréal-based art critic and curator Anaïs Castro, April dates TBA. 


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Rachel Elizabeth Jones

Rachel Elizabeth Jones

Bio:
Rachel is an arts staff writer at Seven Days. She writes from the intersections of art, visual culture and anthropology, and has contributed to The New Inquiry, The LA Review of Books and Artforum, among other publications.

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