Outside the Palace of Me (Art Canada Institute, 2021) by artist Shary Boyle is an exhibition catalog for a stunning eponymous body of her multimedia and ceramic works that debuted at the Gardiner Museum in February 2022. While this catalog is a highly conceptual and well-executed offering from an artist at the peak of her abilities, there are aspects of the exhibition that the book cannot capture, no matter how beautifully detailed it renders the artworks. It cannot give a complete sense of the space, which was staged around the idea of carnival or stage performance, nor can it totally replicate the surprise of works that reveal three-dimensional secrets, such as eyes literally in the back on their heads, or moments of jarring kineticism as large standing works suddenly whirl, spin their head, or jiggle their hands. Since no catalog can serve as a substitute for seeing an exhibition in person, those afforded a chance to see Outside the Palace of Me in its current turn at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (through January 15, 2023) are certainly advised to do so.
However, there are also things an exhibition catalog can do that a visitor experience cannot. It can, for example, present the smaller ceramic works without the mediation of the display case, with the camera lens shoved up much closer and at angles that the museum context simply does not allow. It enables slow looking and endless return visiting, which is necessary to absorb work so densely packed with symbolism and exquisite detail. And this book in particular offers a fascinating so-called “visual glossary,” which places certain works in direct conversation with their source material, diving deep into inspiration and process that most exhibitions keep behind the scenes, or reference only in text panels that go largely ignored.
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Image: Shary Boyle, “Peacock Spider” (2021), stoneware, porcelain, glaze, lustre, and acrylic nails by Justin Cappelletti (courtesy the Gardiner Museum)