But visionary spectacles emerge as the most prominent style — seemingly dredged up from the unconscious, often involving toys, doll houses, dioramas, fairy tales, cartoons, carnivals, "naïve"/folksy drawing, and other stuff associated with youth.
Shary Boyle, who's been selected to represent Canada in the 2013 Venice Biennale, is best known for monstery drawings and feminist fairy-tale porcelain sculptures. In recent years, she's blown them up into life-sized dreamy installations like White Light (2010), a seemingly naked spider-woman tangled in a web and disappearing into (blacklight) darkness save for her long gold hair and watching, beckoning, haunted, glowing green eyes.
David Hoffos's mini dioramas describe a vast midnight forest or snow blowing through billowing curtains in a dark kitchen lit only by an open refrigerator door. Daniel Barrow's giant cartoony projection depicts a skeletal hand stroking a naked person lying in a puddle on a ballroom floor next to a cracked mirror, while out the balcony window a mermaid drifts across a moonlit sea. Patrick Bernatchez's live-action film Chrysalide -Empereur shows Ronald McDonald seated comatose in a car filling up with water that finally drowns his head. Nicolas Baier's Vanité/Vanitas is a shiny metal recreation of his own office desk — including computers, half-eaten sandwich, crumpled papers, and tangle of power cords — in a glass vitrine. It feels like sleek Apple design, bronzed baby shoes, and the vacuum of space.
On the sunnier side, Graeme Patterson fashions a dollhouse-scaled mountain with a mini art-studio lair secreted inside, stocked with teensy art-making materials, an ice hockey arcade game, and band rehearsal space. Outside the museum, the collective BGL offers carnival swings constructed from crowd-control barricades that visitors can ride — an intended reference, though not obvious, to international exchange as well as barriers across the US-Canadian border. Noam Gonick and Luis Jacob's Wildflowers of Manitoba installation is a Whole Earth Catalog geodesic dome crash pad, including candles, incense, and skull, with projections on the dome of frolicking gay flower-power boys accompanied by a bliss-out prog-rock soundtrack.
EVIL SPIRIT The Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook mixes childlike drawings of everyday life with more ominous visions.
Much of the work favors spectacle and sensation over substance. But from amidst the show's visionary aesthetic emerges a sense of Canadian identity — in its attention to history and landscape, as well as in the inclusion of works by native peoples. Amalie Atkins's Three Minute Miracle: Tracking the Wolf, screened inside a white felt carnival tent, is a silent movie about a sort of Red Riding Hood losing a giant cake in the vast snowy Saskatchewan prairies, wandering into a church where bears dance for an audience of animals, and then exiting to see a woman in a canoe who magically makes an identical cake emerge from a river.
Inuit cousins Annie Pootoogook and Shuvinai Ashoona make childlike drawings mixing everyday life — watching TV, a school bus — with visions. Pootoogook sketches a demon choking a woman. Ashoona draws sad-faced figures "carrying suicidal people" (as the title says) slumped in their arms.
A show this wonderfully, ambitiously expansive inevitably prompts gripes ab0ut who's in and who's out, but important omissions include Canadian art cartoonists like Julie Doucet, Chester Brown, and Marc Bell, who have become some of the most internationally influential Canadian artists by, in part, exploring this surreal vein.