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by Pan Wendt

Sky Boots, 1965, acrylic on found objects by Geoffrey Hendricks.

This summer's slate of exhibitions at the Confederation Centre is particularly strong. There are several exciting offerings that really capitalize on the expansive space of the West Gallery, as well as an enthralling selection of portraits from the permanent collection, among other highlights.

The shows are weighted toward contemporary work, and Robert Harris is rather less prominent than usual for the tourist season. For those who can't get enough of it, however, a generous fix of Harris's 19th century academic painting is provided in Conversations/ Portraits/Artists/Models/Viewers, curated by Kevin Rice. This exhibition juxtaposes portraits from the permanent collection to illuminate how representation has changed historically. It also exposes viewers to Andy Warhol's tacky/brilliant portrayal of Wayne Gretzky. Other highlights include Brian Burke's eerie and expressive 1985 painting of Milton Acorn, entitled Poet, and Yvon Gallant's hilarious Sketch For Afterbirth/La Delivre of 1998.

Upstairs is adjunct curator Andrew Hunter's Donnelly Project. Like Hunter's previous shows at the Centre, it is a kind of hybrid exhibition in which disparate objects are brought together to tell (or rather re-tell) a layered story, in this case that of a notorious crime family of 19th century southern Ontario. The booklet that accompanies the exhibition is wonderful, but the show itself doesn't always work, despite the strength of its various elements. Hunter's exhibitions often teeter on the edge of cacophony, but that can be a plus, as he offers lively and unexpected ways of experiencing objects. This time, in what I think is his weakest effort here, it doesn't quite mesh.

The Lower West Gallery features Geoffrey Hendricks' complex and fascinating Between Earth and Sky, curated by Shauna McCabe, which features the reclusive Fluxus artist's beautiful sky paintings. These are embedded among a selection of semi-autobiographical objects that include pieces of slate, old workboots painted with a skyscape, and assemblages that feature ladders reaching upward to the darkened gallery above. The show is about delicately exploring and negotiating the boundary between art and life, and fittingly it seems to exhibit a generosity and delicacy in relation to the show that occupies the metaphorical sky-space above it, Taras Polataiko's Moth.

For Moth, the windows of the Upper West Gallery were covered in dark cloth, and two giant video projections dominate the resulting blackness. On one wall is a looped video of a moth flinging itself against the video camera's light source; opposite it are the artists hands, slowly floating toward and away from the viewer in mock-creepy fashion. This show seemed sort of obvious at first, but like Polataiko's best work, it economically sets up a dramatic and reverberating interplay of ideas, rewarding repeated viewing.

Finally there is Lucy Hogg's recently installed Artist Politic, a selection of her paintings juxtaposed with Jean Paul Lemieux's ubiquitous painting Fathers of Confederation in the entrance gallery. The large paintings are seductive, witty and acerbic takes on the history of painting and representation in general, in unnatural tones of green and purple.

Pan Wendt returns to his Charlottetown home every summer. He is studying for his Doctorate in Art History at Yale University.

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