Of Cree and Irish descent, Toronto’s Kent Monkman is renowned for finding extravagantly subversive ways of breaking down social and cultural stereotypes. While his paintings sell for thousands of dollars, his performance art is perhaps more flamboyant. It’s animated by Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, his female alter ego inspired by Native Canadian folklore.
Monkman’s love for spectacle is on full display in The Art Game, which he created especially for Art Toronto. Comprised of a life-sized maze with a ringmaster ushering in viewers, the installation presents a vaudevillian take on the contemporary art world. Within the maze are four rooms, each painted in one of four colours – red, yellow, black or white – representing the sacred shades of Native tradition, according to Monkman. Everywhere else the surrounding white walls are stamped with over-the-top art-biz headlines like “Dumped by collector!” “Venice Biennale solo!” and “Museum acquisition!”
Inspired by old-fashioned circus personae, live performers act out their particular roles in the art world in each room. Dressed like a magician, the Dealer sits in the black room playing cards; in the white room, the Collector wears the head of a raven, a bird that craves shiny objects. In the yellow room, The World’s Most Prolific Artist puts his 12 hands to use churning out paintings. The red room’s Curator, meanwhile, takes the form of a disembodied head that’s “all brains.” It protrudes from a tabletop covered in textbooks.
A slapstick takedown of the business of making, selling and buying art, Monkman’s installation is a refreshing main attraction at an art fair where dealers are schmoozing clientele, collectors are being wined and dined, and curators and artists walk the aisles looking to see what’s sold and what hasn’t.
The Art Game and Art Toronto is on until 6 p.m. today at Metro Toronto Convention Centre.