A review of the Gardiner Museum’s World Pride-affiliated summer exhibit exploring the Queer Baroque in ceramic art

On Sunday, the LGBTTIQQ2SA community took to the city’s streets in a celebratory march for World Pride. Blocks away, three gay Canadian artists displayed at the temporary collections space at the Gardiner Museum. Curated by Robin Metcalfe, the exhibition, Camp Fires, features the work of Léopold L. Foulem, Paul Mathieu, and Richard Milette.

The inclusion of fire in the title of the exhibit references the artists’ shared medium, ceramics — a somewhat gendered practice, historically associated with women. The word camp references a subcultural phenomenon heavily linked to queer expressions. Camp is all about artifice, glamour, exaggeration, and pleasure. Accordingly, and perhaps stereotypically, the walls and plinths in the gallery are various shades of pink.

Foulem, Mathieu, and Milette each play with excess, humour, and vulgarity in their work, exemplifying camp at its campiest. A sculpture series by Foulem comprises a number of bicycle seats, aptly titled Bicycle Seats (1977), each featuring its own hard, ceramic penis. Foulem’s Juicy Banana (1976) is a neon pink banana with glittery green ridges, lying in a pool of thick, white liquid. Mathieu’s Cute Boy series (2005) includes portraits of notable gay personalities amid overwhelmingly elaborate ceramic wall pieces. Milette produces a peculiar interplay by carving words like Jealousy (1997), Seduction (1996), and Sacrifice (1996) into various ancient water jugs.

Apart from its affinity for the frivolous, camp can be summarized as a form of resistance against dominant order, concerned with challenging the social conventions that marginalize queer individuals and oppress queer cultures.

Each of the artists in Camp Fires appears highly concerned with queer history. Foulem’s Banana and Cross (1976) — in which a half-peeled banana mimics the shape of a cross — references the tensions in the relationship between homosexuality and Catholicism. Milette’s Maththaios (1987) is a sculpture of a teacup on a plate, using only leather and studs, evoking S&M. The plate is in the shape of a triangle: recalling the use of the triangle badge in Nazi concentration camps as a way of identifying gay prisoners. The works in Camp Fires are simultaneously beautiful and ugly, wild and serious, straightforward and complex.

Camp Fires: The Queer Baroque of Léopold L. Foulem, Paul Mathieu, and Richard Milette is on display at the Gardiner until September 1.

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