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John Lurie @ the MMFA

Posted by Denis / August 6, 2007

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Celebrities who paint: Sylvester Stallone. Tony Bennett. Martin Mull. Josh friggin' Hartnett. André motherf#$%ing 3000?!?

Thank God John Lurie isn't your typical celebrity. In fact, many people may be wondering who the hell he is, but he is famous, and up until now, visual art had little or nothing to do with it. Lurie has the distinction of already having multiple artistic talents and endeavours, ranging from acting to music and, strangely enough, sport fishing. So painting shouldn't come as that much of surprise, considering the company he kept in the 80's: Schnabel, Basquiat, Warhol...

What is surprising is that a) it's sorta good; and b) he didn't start showing his stuff until seven years ago, even though he'd been painting for ages.

His show in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts' ongoing FREEFORM SERIES, spotlighting contemporary art, The Erotic Poetry of Hoog, is his first in a museum. Sure, a lot of the other things he's done have been art too, but you know you're a 'well-known personality' when all it takes is two gallery shows to get you into a pretty well-respected museum.

For the most part, the paintings are a funky acrylic and watery-techni-colour bestiary, somewhat remeniscent of several of the people Lurie's known in the eighties and beyond. Basquiat certainly comes to mind, that sort of anything goes mishmash of semi-abstract images into a playful whole that is identifiable and childlike in its presentation and form. The odd, funny titles (m favourite being 'Tyrell Owens Vs. Nature' don't help the references either, but having seen some of his films and interviews and clips of his fishing expeditions(!), it's easy to surmise that that part is all Lurie.

The little engraved plaquettes adorning each of the frames with their titltes are a fun touch, though it could be argued that the painting might standup better without them. Most of the time, the title is already written in the painting itself and you get the feeling that that kind of treatment is there to 'elevate' the work and make the whole room look a bit like a classical picture gallery. Though the black frames against the black walls seemingly work to negate that idea as the frames, made important by the tags, fade into the background. Why? Dunno. It was kid of annoying, visually speaking. Oh, and, despite the apparent darkness of the room when you arrive via the elevators, the room and exhibition is open - it's just lights up when you approach. Why? Dunno. Doesn't adds much, though it doesn't take away from either.

Then there's the cabinet at the center of the room, featuring the array of 'precious pen and ink drawings'. There nice and all, but they're a lot like the 'precious pen and ink drawing' of many, many other artists, and a new staple of contemporary art exhibitions. 'Precious pen and ink drawings' that follow the same pattern, over and over again: Small image on a large-ish sheet of paper, perhaps using scratchy penwork; the image is either wildly strange and/or sexual and is most definitely spartan, almost minimalist in its treatment, probably child-like; there could be a smudge here or there, definitely a scribbled out drawing the artist wasn't happy with; add in a couple words or a sentence etched into the corner opposite the image, as far away as possible from and... voila: 'precious pen and ink drawings.'

Too bad too, cause I love me some pen and ink drawings. Like Marcel Dzama's and Stephen Lack's work. Hell, I make pen and ink drawings all the time. But this is where the references just seem a little too obvious and the originality that infects the paintings despite themselves all gone.

All in all, the exhibition is okay. It's free and the museum is AIR CONDITIONED, after all. It's just unfortunate that it couldn't make me shake one particular thought: would this be here if this guy wasn't already well-known outside of painting and drawing?

John Lurie's The Erotic Poetry of Hoog is on until September 16, on level S2 of the Jean-Noel Desmarais Pavilion.

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