When word went out one day in May of this year that Will Munro had lost his hard-fought battle with cancer, his friends, colleagues, and members of the community that he helped build gathered at the Beaver Café on Queen Street West. Amidst the tributes that followed, it became quite clear that the city was bidding farewell to a contemporary cultural icon. He was rarely described with fewer than five sequential descriptors (“restaurateur,” “DJ,” “artist,” “social worker,” “activist,” “promoter,” and “party-thrower extraordinaire” were among the titles that followed his name), and a general sense of worry that the local world would feel noticeably bleaker emerged along with the news of his passing.
This past Saturday—less than three months later—the gathering spot became the Young Gallery in the AGO for the opening party of the newly launched exhibition Will Munro: Total Eclipse. This is the third show in the Young Gallery’s series of art projects that “capture the spirit of artists who enliven the many neighbourhoods throughout the city.”
The first formal exhibition of Will’s artwork since his death, it would be easy to assume that the show would take the form of a retrospective—an attempt to create a comprehensive or at least cross-section look at his visual arts practice. The modest size of this gallery space, however, would never have allowed for it, and the show’s organizers wisely chose a tightly curated approach. Michelle Jacques, the AGO’s associate curator of contemporary art, and the curator of Total Eclipse, explained that this exhibition “focuses on the work that Will made based on the celebrities that were iconic figures in his life—Klaus Nomi, and also David Bowie, Leigh Bowery, The Runaways, Darby Crash of The Germs…”
In the show, album covers reproduced in fabric, a portrait of Leigh Bowery made of hand-stitched underwear, and a Klaus Nomi vest made out of paper, tape, and acrylic show Will’s affection for the intersection of not only music and visual art, but textile and art. These pieces suggest the idea of being able to cover and surround yourself with your musical influences. They embody Will’s habitation of the intersection between many things.
“Will was a complex person, with many interests and passions” says Jacques. “With his work—and I don’t just mean the objects that he made, since Will considered deejaying, organizing parties, running a restaurant, being an activist, etc., to be as much a part of his creative practice as producing visual art—he created a space and a community in which he felt comfortable, and which could support all of his interests and passions.”
There’s also a collection of ephemera, including silkscreened event posters and punk patches that speak more intimately of the day-to-day (albeit rather extraordinary) life of Will Munro. These objects are instantly humanizing, even for those who never met him, and as such, they are tinged with a layer of sadness.
This is not, however, an exhibition of loss, and works like Black Fag (Henry Rollins vs. Vaginal Crème Davis) will simply not allow you to become too serious or sombre. There is also a media kiosk where you can sit and watch selected YouTube videos of performances and performers that influenced Will’s artistic work. Jacques’ favourite clip from the kiosk is a dance piece with choreography by Michael Clark and costumes by Leigh Bowery.
“It makes me wish it was the ’80s again,” Jacques says. “It’s really great to sit in the space and look at this footage in proximity to Will’s work and start to get a sense of how he was inspired and how he transformed his references into something totally unique.”
The show’s title comes from a piece of the same name in the exhibition—a portrait of singer and performance artist Klaus Nomi who sang a song of the same name. According to Jacques, “the song’s lyrics are pretty wacky—almost nonsensical—but the implications of the total eclipse—the idea of an astronomical event that is celestial, rare, and awe-inspiring—seemed like a fitting title for an exhibition that celebrates Will.”
While this may be an exhibition of pop icons by an icon, the work never feels distant or static. There is energy and passion and life in the room, which may be due in large part to the people who continue to gather around something worth celebrating.
Will Munro: Total Eclipse is on display until September 26. Admission to the Young Gallery, the AGO’s street-front contemporary art space (located adjacent to FRANK restaurant), is free.
The family of Will Munro is hoping to compile a list of all the works Will has made, and is requesting that anyone in possession of a Munro work send an email to [email protected] so that it can be added to the database.
Photos by Susan Kordalewski/Torontoist.
Total Eclipse is the third, not (as this article originally mistakenly said) the second, exhibition in the Young Gallery’s Toronto Now Series.