Shary Boyle: Scarecrow
October 20, 2017 to May 6, 2018

Scarecrow by Toronto artist Shary Boyle introduces us to an unlikely couple. Frozen in a “sad but strangely sexy” embrace—as the artist describes it—a homely life-size scarecrow sinks limply into the outstretched arms of a women encrusted in celadon ceramic tiles. Recently donated by Boyle to the MacKenzie Art Gallery, the work is the centrepiece of an installation designed by the artist using selections from the MacKenzie permanent collection. The result is a fresh reading of one of her most provocative sculptural installations of the past decade.


Like the sparkling white cave of her 2013 Venice Biennale installation, Scarecrow’s golden pile of straw transports us to a secluded spot that is both out-of-place and out-of-time. Boyle’s father was born and raised on a small farm near Melville, Saskatchewan. According to the artist, the sculpture was “influenced in part by the haylofts of the region,” spaces she imagined when thinking of the daily lives of her paternal grandparents. While the setting may be familiar to many from this region, the juxtaposition of figures is not. What is going on in this plaid-on-porcelain mismatch? Despite its sexually charged imagery, the couple raises questions more than eyebrows.

Boyle gives a clue in the groupings of artworks which flank the sculpture on facing walls. On one side is a selection of academically sanctioned treasures and antiquities that speak of Europe’s multi-layered artistic inheritance. On the other side is a varied assortment of “folk art,” produced by self-taught artists working outside the artistic establishment. These are artists who work directly from their personal vision of the world. As in the recent exhibition Earthlings at the Esker Foundation, which featured her collaboration with several Inuit artists, Boyle asks us to consider how art functions without the layers of irony and sophistication in which they have been wrapped for centuries.

As in her earlier work, Scarecrow explores the forgotten corners of our consciousness and finds in these places an unnamed longing for connection. The scarecrow fumbles about frustrated by the impenetrable carapace of his hayloft lover. The mosaic priestess lies prone, fearless yet disappointed in the scarecrow’s lame embrace. In their tender awkwardness, will these incompatible characters ever find their common cause?

About Shary Boyle
Shary Boyle is a highly acclaimed Toronto ceramist, sculptor, painter, and installation/performance artist who is known for her feminist explorations of anxiety, desire and otherness, often through the marginalized genres of decoration, illustration and fantasy. Boyle represented Canada at the 55th Venice Biennale (2013) and has been twice included in the Canadian Biennial (2014, 2017). Her most recent solo and two-person exhibitions include: The Smile at the Bottom of the Ladder, Galerie 3, Quebec City (2017); Slipper, with Ambera Wellman, Suzanne Biederberg Gallery, Amsterdam (2017); Universal Cobra, with Shuvinai Ashoona, Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain, Montreal (2015); Shary Boyle and Emily Vey Duke: The Illuminations Project, Oakville Galleries (2014-15); and Shary Boyle: Flesh and Blood, Art Gallery of Ontario, Galerie de l’UQAM, Montreal, and Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver (2010-11). Major survey exhibitions featuring her work include: Earthlings, The Esker Foundation, Calgary and Doris McCarthy Gallery, UTSC, Toronto (2017), Making Narratives, Gyeonggi International Ceramic Biennale, Icheon, South Korea (2017); and Oh, Canada, MASS MoCA (2012). Her artwork has been featured in several publications including: The Illuminations Project (Oakville Galleries, 2015); Otherworld Uprising (SAAG and Conundrum Press, 2008); and Witness My Shame (Conundrum Press, 2005). Boyle’s work is represented in the collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Korea Ceramic Foundation, MacKenzie Art Gallery, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, National Gallery of Canada, and the Paisley Museum and Art Gallery (Scotland). She is the recipient of the OAAG Art Publication Award for The Illuminations Project; (2016), the Hnatyshyn Foundation Award (2010), and the Gershon Iskowitz Prize (2009).


This exhibition is presented as part of the Collection Insight Series - a series of exhibitions designed to offer new takes on the MacKenzie’s permanent collection through exhibitions and artist interventions. The series draws on the myriad stories connected to the nearly 5,000 works held by the gallery. Artists and arts specialists have been invited to mine the collection and design exhibitions that challenge assumptions and open new contexts for understanding.

Image: Shary Boyle, Scarecrow, 2010, plaster, porcelain, textile, straw, horse hair, 152 x183 x183 cm. Collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery, gift of the artist. Photo: David Jacques. Copyright Galerie de l'UQAM and Shary Boyle.