Marc Adornato’s “I’ve Got Some Bad News” is a show intended to inundate. The artist is a long time lover and critic of the media’s coverage of social issues and he is here to inform us of the consequences of our apathy, albeit in the most aesthetically pleasing way possible.
When you walk into the Ottawa Art Gallery‘s Art Rental and Sales, you are confronted by the feature work, a floor to ceiling installation of his most recent “Ruined Landscapes” series. There are 20 paintings in the series and some 80 items in the show. This is not a minimalist installation, folks. This is a full-scale gallery takeover. Adornato claims to have drawn inspiration from the baroque-era salons of the 1600s. The initial overwhelm brings to mind Picasso’s quote “Give me a museum and I’ll fill it”. It seems he and Adornato have the same decorator.
Known for public and incendiary social media presence, Adornato’s show takes his usual tongue-in-cheek satirical stunts and brings a new level of refinement. The Ruined Landscapes series features landscape paintings culled from every thrift store, estate sale and messy basement in the city. The paintings and delicate antique frames are carefully cleaned and repaired, brought to life often after years of disregard. After lovingly restoring these group-of-seven wannabees, Adornato proceeds to crash oil tankers, derail trains, and riddle hazmat suits through every single one. The pieces are a fascinating comment on Canada’s environmental policies, with a hefty jab at our love of the Great Canadian Landscape worked in there as well.
The works are already garnering their share of attention too. The City of Ottawa has already purchased one of the largest pieces in the series and other collectors of his work include Canadian singer-songwriter Jim Bryson, Jen Traplin of Live 88.5, Eugene Haslam, founder and former owner of Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ian Capstick of MediaStyle and Summer Baird, owner of the Hintonburg Public House to name a few. But don’t let the lofty list of collectors fool you. Adornato is insistent that this work is for everyone.
“My work is priced between $50 and $1,500. I try to keep my prices very accessible. I believe that contemporary fine art shouldn’t just be for the high-rolling wealthy collectors, but for everybody to be able to afford and enjoy. If my accessible pricing scheme turns off some wealthy collectors, well, I wouldn’t want my work to be in their collection anyway. Art is for everybody,” the artist insists, and is selling smaller print versions of these epic landscapes; in a deliberate nod to the small-time art buyers.
Off in one corner of the show is a series of surveillance cameras in antique frames. “I call the 8 piece installation, ‘I CAN C-51 YOU’ named after the intrusive surveillance legislation passed by the Harper government. I’m hoping to sell it to CSIS or CSEC, Canada’s spy agencies. I think it would look great in the lobby of their office buildings.” The artist seems gleeful at the prospect of his “frankentiques” making their way into the most highly secured corners of Ottawa’s surveilling bodies. His “Arbie Goes Rogue” series of RBC painting competition fame is also on display.
Contrary to what you may think, the hacked landscapes and bomb-throwing bank mascots may not actually be the most incendiary thing in the show. Adornato has also included several of his “blow-up dolls” referred to on his site as everything from “Pop Tots” to “Cabbage Blast Kids”. These sculptural works consist of a Cabbage Patch Doll dressed in suicide bomb mock-ups made from telephone keypads and tube radio parts. The dolls are suspended above the doorway and sit directly above the logos for Adornato’s (presumably very open minded) sponsors.
Ah yes the sponsors. In keeping with the artist’s mandate to do things his own way, Adornato is actually not seen in many of Ottawa’s galleries. Despite being part of hundreds of private collections in the city, his work is politically charged and one can see how some galleries might think he’s a bit of a handful. Adornato also doesn’t tend to go after public funding and so has several private sponsors including Shitty Shades, Hintonburg Public House, Jackpine and, of course, Apt613. “Rather than a lengthy application process to get public money or an exhibition assistance grant, I just went and asked these folks if they’d help me put on my show, and they said yes – with no reservations or attempts to influence my creative vision at all” Adornato states.
In addition to a heavy dose of traditional advertising, Adornato has also put together several trailer-style videos in preparation for the show, which can be found on his YouTube channel. The videos are an accurate microcosm of the show itself in many ways: densely packed with image after image, piece after piece, all attacking our reluctance to be politically informed, to demand social justice. The work in this show insists, at the very least, that we shake out of our consumer-culture reverie and take a serious look around.
“I’ve Got Some Bad News” will be on at the Ottawa Art Gallery until July 23rd. There will be an opening reception Thursday, June 23rd, at 6pm. For more on Marc Adornato, see his website, or find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube.