Story by the artist.
Michael Allgoewer is a Montreal born artist, living and working in Hamilton, Ontario.
His work consists mainly of assemblage-based sculptural components, which form larger installations. These pieces usually reference the historical and mythical past to elucidate universal, metaphysical themes. Recurrent motifs are symbols such as the shield, the skull, arrows and architectural references ranging from the gilded picture frame to cathedral floor plans.
His paintings are abstract and are focused on an inner logic with a minimalist approach to form and content. This work is rigorous and adheres to structures that are capable of encompassing a myriad of possibilities.
Ongoing projects include Trespass: interventions in abandoned urban sites, and Didactic Museum: an ongoing collaborative conceptual work.
He has shown at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brant, Burlington Art Centre and the Grimsby Public Art Gallery. An outdoor installation was exhibited at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection and he has taken part in the Ice Follies Biennial in North Bay. He has had a recent solo exhibition at the McMaster Museum of Art.
He is a member of the artists’ collective The Assembly, and is represented by bcontemporary in Hamilton, Ontario.
The following stories are his experiences in Hamilton during the 1990s.
I came to Hamilton in the late eighties, moving from Toronto. I had gone back to art school in my mid-thirties and started working as a professional picture framer for Toronto commercial galleries.
For several years after settling in Hamilton, I continued to commute to Toronto. As a result, I had very little time in the studio. I began making these small figures out of wood and found natural materials such as thorns, seed pods and fish bones, which I gathered during my weekend treks along the escarpment. The “Ancestor Figures” grew to twenty in number.
In 1990 I had a solo exhibition at the Carnegie Gallery, in Dundas, where I showed these pieces and some drawings. It was my first exposure to the Hamilton art scene and I began to meet other artists such as Lisa Wohrle, Paul Ropel-Morski, Janice Kovar and the rest of the Young Contemporaries group.
I discovered the Hamilton Artists Inc. around the same time, still at its original James Street North location. I remember attending a group show opening and marvelling at the diversity of work and the social energy.
A shift came about, not only with the Inc’s relocation to what is now the Wild Orchid restaurant, but also because of a change in administration. Under Andrew Hunter, programming took on a more rigorous direction, even though the new gallery was considered a dead space for exhibiting and off putting to much of the community.
It was with the move to Vine Street that I became more intimately involved with the Hamilton Artists Inc. I became an artist member and joined the selection committee and the Board. Eventually, in the early to mid-nineties I served a term as the President of the Inc.
Subconscious Mythologies was a group exhibition curated by Ivan Jurakic and included Reinhard Reitzenstein, Jane Adeney, Clare Pearson, Jewel Goodwyn and me.
My piece for this show consisted of an installation using old slate roofing tiles from a church in Hamilton, each inscribed with a symbol in silver-leaf. As the exhibition publication states “[the] investigations into minutiae become a dialogue about the exploration of the sublime and the esoteric quest for hidden knowledge”. Unfortunately, the documentation for “First Sign” has been lost.
Out of this exhibition came several other iterations of this group of artists and eventually the birth of the Osmosis Collective.
The Osmosis Collective was born out of pure serendipity. Although we all knew each other as artists, and some of us were involved in personal relationships, the six artists that became Osmosis had all applied to the Hammer Gallery in various combinations.
Denise Lisson and Jim Mullen who were the artists behind one of the funkiest spaces in Hamilton, simply decided to combine us all in one group exhibition.
That exhibition, in 1995, caught the attention of Carol Podedworny, who was an independent curator and writer at the time. She ended up reviewing the exhibition for C Magazine.
My silver ladder, “Novalis”, and its blue light was featured as a full-page image in the 1995 issue.
Concurrently to the Osmosis works, I had started a solo project under the rubric of Trespass: interventions in abandoned industrial spaces. The photographer, Cees Van Gemerden, became aware of this and documented some of these incursions.
As performance pieces, I would leave objects, sculptures or didactic panels on or in these derelict sites.
The 16-foot blue ladder, for instance disappeared after two days from the 2 storey building against which it was propped. Some others were eventually appropriated by other artists.
The Osmosis Collective remained a vital force showing regionally well into the late 1990s. During the late 1980’s and early 90’s the McMaster Museum of Art had been expanding their collection of European contemporary art through the Herman Levy bequest. This enabled the museum to buy works by artists such as Beuys, Kiefer, Clemente and Anthony Gormley, to name just a few. Along with a strong collection of German expressionist prints this gathering of work became the inspiration and impetus for an Osmosis group show at the McMaster Museum in 1997.
Each of the six artists were asked to select one work from the collection and produce a responsive piece. These pieces and the collection pieces would be shown together in the Main and Panabaker galleries. I chose to work with a medieval Flemish painting of the “Man of Sorrows” by Albrecht Bouts from circa 1503.
Having already employed honey-locust thorns in various pieces I had made over the years, I decided to expand the scale of that work. Starting with the premise of a sacrificial cart, used to convey martyrs to the place of execution, I began a search for the materials I required. The antique railway cart was given to me by a friend and I found the two massive oak beams at a salvage company.
Finding enough honey-locust thorns was not a problem but harvesting them was more complicated. The tree from which they sprouted happened to be right in front of City Hall, in the open. So, I would go at night with my clippers. One night I forgot my gloves and hands bleeding, I looked around to see a police officer, in his cruiser watching intently. Luckily, he got a call and sped off.
“Martyrium” was installed with the “Man of Sorrows” on an opposite wall and it was a powerful and evocative combination.
As the decade and the millennium started to come to a close, artists and institutions in Hamilton, as elsewhere, began to think about what that signified.
Osmosis as a group was starting to come apart as most collectives eventually do. The Art Gallery of Hamilton put out a call for proposals for a series of six curated exhibitions, dealing with the new millennium. Under the rubric of Countdown, these exhibitions would kick off in 1998 and would be shown over a two-year period, ending in the year 2000.
I decided to apply as a solo artist and was pleasantly surprised to be awarded the first slot in the Countdown Series. My installation, Thrinos, opened at the AGH in October of 1998. Thrinos was composed of a large tableau of five installation pieces and included a new version of the sacrificial cart, twenty-five hand grenades on thorn tripods and a spoken word sound element.
As curator Christopher Jackson wrote, “for almost a decade Michael Allgoewer has been investigating the symbolic potential of the three-dimensional image; its power to convey complex emotional and metaphorical associations that sit at the edges of our day to day reality”.
The end of the millennium and the beginning of the 21st century was ushered in by Zone 6b, an ambitious project showcasing “art in the environment”. Artists including Shelley Niro, Fastwurms, Reinhard Reitzenstein, Agnetha Dyck, myself and others from across Canada were given the opportunity to create site-specific works within the greater Hamilton area.
“Islands I” and “II” were installed on the campus of McMaster University under the auspices of the McMaster Museum of Art. “Islands I” was a 7.5 x 10 ft empty baroque frame on a steel superstructure, framing the forest in the dell behind the faculty club. “Islands II” was a smaller frame situated in the trees, framing the microcosm of the forest floor. In the words of Jose Ortega y Gasset, “the work of art is an imaginary island that floats surrounded by reality on all sides”.
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