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Unreal exhibit aims to unhinge

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Artist Jock Macdonald's The Black Quartet, a 1946 ink/watercolour on paper, is part of an exhibit called Unreal, coming to the Kelowna Art Gallery.
If you look at certain artwork and say, "But it doesn't look real," this exhibition is not for you.
No, it's not realistic. Unreal is exactly that. This is the title for an exhibition from the Vancouver Art Gallery coming to the Kelowna Art Gallery beginning Saturday and running to March 9.
Don't expect a tree to necessarily look like a tree. The 28 artists on display in this collection can be counted on to stretch us outside the realm of reality. Maybe even to unhinge us a little.
Does that mean the exhibition will only appeal to art junkies?
"Not at all," said Joshua Desnoyers of the Kelowna Art Gallery. "It's for everyone."
He explained these artworks are usually stored away at the Vancouver Art Gallery. "But this is world-class. You would see these kinds of works at the Metropolitan in New York. This is a one-time chance to see these pieces in Kelowna."
The earliest artist in the collection is Canadian Jock Macdonald, (1897-1960.) He played a significant role in developing abstract art in Canada, both as a teacher and artist.
Macdonald probably spoke for all
28 artists in Unreal when he said in 1940, "Art now reaches the place where it becomes the expression of ideals and spiritual aspirations. The artist no longer strives to imitate the exact appearance of nature but, rather, to express the spirit therein."
Expect to see Macdonald's The Black Quartet, an ink and watercolour piece on paper. If he piques your interest, you'll want to look up his Thunder Clouds over Okanagan Lake. It's a dramatic piece that perfectly illustrates how an artist takes a scene from nature and, instead of making an exact duplicate, pulls out the power and spirit of the scene with his palette. In this case, it's the power and spirit of our Okanagan.
It's no surprise Macdonald, a close friend of Emily Carr and contemporary of the Group of Seven, became a mentor to a whole generation of abstract painters and a founder of Painters Eleven, Toronto's first abstract art society.
Macdonald is the earliest artist in the show with automatic surrealist works.
Other pieces range in medium from oil paintings to mixed-media works on paper, through printmaking and three-dimensional sculptures.
About half the artists in Unreal are contemporary Canadians, while others, such as Macdonald, worked in the last century, some in Canada and some abroad.
The exhibition's theme refers to "areas of thought and experience beyond the everyday," said Desnoyers.
The zone of the fantastic contains works that represent utopian values (idealized perfection.) But you'll also find those that speak to degradation and diminished quality of life, or dystopian values. The show explores both poles.
Be ready for a wild ride through the world of the Unreal. The works are grouped by sub-theme: The Unconscious, The Haunted, The Absurd, and The Disassembled.
Most of the artists have never been in Kelowna shows before. For example, Francis Bacon (1909-1992), the Irish-born painter famed for his screaming papal heads. "The imagery is pretty stark," said Desnoyers.
Check out American photography-based artist Cindy Sherman, who made a name for works in which she dressed and posed as women in old master paintings and Hollywood movies.
One of the more contemporary artists in the show is Marcel Dzama, born in 1974 in Winnipeg. You'll see his 2003 untitled work, a whimsical piece done in ink, watercolour and root-beer wash. Yes, that's right. Root beer. Hey, if it works, why not?
Contemporary artist Roy Arden's 2007 piece, The Terrible One, is sure to give you pause for thought. It's an ink jet print that is essentially an intricate collage of car parts.
Opening reception for Unreal will be Friday at the Kelowna Art Gallery, 7-9 p.m., a free event open to members and their invited guests. An exhibition tour will be offered at 7 p.m. by Stephanie Rebick, assistant curator, Vancouver Art Gallery.
The exhibition is organized and circulated with support of the Killy Foundation, curated by Diana Augaitis, chief curator and associate director, Vancouver Art Gallery.

What: Unreal touring exhibition
Where: Kelowna Art Gallery, 1315 Water St., Kelowna
When: Jan. 11 - March 9, 2014

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