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The Spectacle of Play now on view at the Art Gallery of Hamilton
Simon Willms, Juan Manuel Aquino 2009. From the series Beisbol . Courtesy of the artist.

HAMILTON, ON.- In a world of mass entertainment, as well as of social and political upheaval, the notion of play is a loaded concept, touching on our need for pleasurable relief from the strains of our fast-paced and often troubling world. Organized by the Art Gallery of Hamilton, The Spectacle of Play, aims to divert, refresh and entertain viewers and examine the many meanings attached to ‘play,’ especially when so much of our identity today is conceived in terms of work.

Play can mean the role played in a theatrical performance (play) or out in the world as a projected image or persona. It can also refer to the range of spectacles routinely on offer—in the past as well as in our current age of web-based, electronic entertainment. While the most literal meaning of play is the playful fun of games, a sporting match—especially in a professional context—involves serious roles and high drama. The term can also denote a less active time spent in leisure, one more cerebral than physical.

In this flagship exhibition of the AGH 2013 theme World at Play, historic and contemporary artworks present the themes of Leisure, Salon and Spectacle, Spectacle of Sport and The Play of Chance in tandem. Contemporary artists featured in the exhibition are: Barbara Steinman, Rick Pottruff, Joseph Calleja, Alan Flint, Simon Willms, Kristiina Lahde, Aubrey Reeves, Graeme Patterson, Karine Giboulo, and Marcel Dzama.

Co-curated by Melissa Bennett, AGH Curator of Contemporary Art, Tobi Bruce, AGH Senior Curator, Canadian Historical Art and Dr. Benedict Leca, AGH Director of Curatorial Affairs, the exhibition ranges across a multitude of contexts, as well as media, asking viewers to think critically about play and leisure in their own lives, and the relationship between art and 'play.’

An 18 foot salon-style installation of 19th-century paintings redolent of the Parisian Salon—the epitome of period spectacle—is juxtaposed with a dramatic, oversized black and white film devoted to chess by contemporary Canadian artist Marcel Dzama. Portraits of sports players, and memorable moments in sports history, as well as a contemporary sculpture by Graeme Patterson depicting Daryl Sittler’s famous 10-goal hockey game in 1976 take us into the heart of the most literal meaning of play: the sports world.

The notion of chance, integral to another facet of play—the gambling table—is represented by such works as Canadian artist Barbara Steinman's Roulette, an etched glass and brass sculpture in the shape of a roulette table.

“The theme of play and all of the subsidiary meanings treated in the exhibition, such as leisure, spectacle and chance, have a history as well as a relevance today,” said Dr. Leca. “This theme allows us to connect past to present while probing issues of
inspiration, art making and the special place of the museum in providing both education and entertainment.”

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