Our opening show of the season is a new project by Sarah Anne Johnson entitled House on Fire. The exhibition has just completed a run at the Art Gallery of Ontario where it has received extremely enthusiastic reviews.. "Probably the most provocative (and to my mind best) museum show of the summer”, according the Toronto paper The Star.
The exhibition is based on a personal family story and consists of nine small bronze sculptures which metaphorically represent her grandmother, a series of elaborately painted and modified family photographs, and a large sculptural "doll house" from which the exhibition gets its title. In the 1950s as part of the CIA project "MK-ULTRA", patients in the care of Dr. Ewen Cameron at MacGill University were subjected to a series of mind-control experiments including shock and drug therapies and medically-induced prolonged sleep. Johnson's maternal grandmother Velma Orlikow sought the doctor's treatment for post-partum depression and unwittingly took part in the experiments. In 1979 a class action suit was initiated by a group of 9 of the patients, and it was settled out of court in 1988. It is a disturbing and fascinating body of work which moves Johnson forward in her multimedia narrative approach.
Johnson's first installation here in 2005 entitled Tree Planting was acquired in its entirety by the Guggenheim Museum of Art and they will show a good portion of it in an exhibition entitled Haunted: Contemporary Photography/ Video/Performance opening March 2010. Johnson's second exhibition, an installation called The Galapagos Project was acquired by the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography in Ottawa. In 2008 Johnson was the first recipient of the prestigious Grange Prize sponsored by Aeroplan, a Canadian firm, which awarded a $50,000 prize and sponsored her current exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Johnson has always moved fluidly among mediums in her art. For this project she learned to create bronzes using her original Sculpey material as a basis for the molds utilized in the lost wax process. The works on paper are derived from enlarged family photographs which have been extensively altered through painting and drawing. A series of small photographic prints derived from the interior spaces of the doll house hark back to Johnson’s earlier constructed photographic work.
In addition to the aforementioned museums, Johnson's work is also in the collections of the Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, Kansas, Yale University Art Gallery and National Gallery of Canada. Johnson received an MFA from Yale, and currently lives and works in Winnipeg.