Ron Terada: Being There
It’s always a thrill to see an exhibition of a Vancouver-based artist outside of the city. It’s certainly exciting to witness local talent receiving much-deserved recognition abroad, but there’s also something both strange and enlightening about seeing a familiar artist, and even familiar work, in a different environment and a new context. When we headed to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago it was practically a Canadian homecoming, with Vancouver-based Ron Terada splitting one of the museum’s considerable floors with a survey exhibition of Iain Baxter&’s work organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario. Although we had seen Terada’s most recent exhibition at Catriona Jeffries Gallery in September, it did not adequately prepare us for the power of this ambitious and provocative survey exhibition, Terada’s first solo show in the United States.
Ron Terada: Being There contains selections from all aspects of the artist’s multi-disciplinary practice, including his meticulously rendered Ad Paintings which recreate Artforum advertisements to highlight the fraught relationship between artists and the institutions that support them. The exhibition also features a number of the aluminum and neon sign pieces for which he is best known, and his most recent work that examines the tragic life of Jack Goldstein, a post-conceptual artist who rode the 1980s art boom to critical and commercial success before existing in relative obscurity for years and ultimately taking his own life 2003. This new series, which takes the form of a photograph and a series of paintings that excerpt a portion of Goldstein’s memoir, represents both a return to painting for Terada and an indication of his continuing interest in exposing art world machinations and undermining notions of authorial identity. A particular highlight of the show is Terada’s recent irreverent sculptural work, Who I Think I Am. Comprised of an arrangement of replicas of the boxes that held catalogues for Terada’s touring exhibition and catalogue of the same name, Who I Think I Am, references minimalist sculpture and offers a humourous take on Terada’s own position in the art world.
While Terada’s conceptually-based practice is typically interpreted as a manifestation of the artist’s interest in language and popular culture, Michael Darling, the curator of Being There, offers a more personal and autobiographical reading of Terada’s work. In this particular grouping, Darling traces the artist’s attempt to determine his own self-worth and identity as both an individual and an artist. References to Vancouver are everywhere, and although we had seen many of these works previously, seeing them together for the first time outside of the confines of the Vancouver art world allowed us to view them from a different perspective. Sometimes you have to escape the familiar in order to see things in a new light.
Photo Credits: Installation view, Ron Terada: Being There, MCA Chicago. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago