by Paul Gessell



Audrey Regan offers hybrid art, mixing wired, performing and visual.
Her current show is part Federico Fellini and part Bill Gates.

Here she makes herself part of "In A Circle", white fabric art by John Toth.

Canadian’s trendy gallery a virtual opium den for artistic cyberjunkies

With her black hair, black clothes, lithe figure, feline manner and burning cigarette, Audrey Regan looks like a high-strung panther with a tobacco habit and a great sense of style.  Just for a minute, she stops pacing around her Manhattan art gallery to stand beside a boxy, imperial-red Chinese-looking artwork-in-progress with real, dried ducks’ heads arranged symmetrically at the corners like gargoyles. "We weren’t sure if we should use the cyclops baby," Regan says, "Ethical considerations, you know." Seems that Regan’s artist friends, Ragnar Lagerblad and Scott Graeber, who apparently have a thing for preserved body parts and they’ve acquired a real, preserved human cyclops baby. Regan swears that when it arrives, it will be incorporated into that imperial-red artwork-in-progress. And, given that every inanimate object in Audart seems to be attached to high-tech equipment so that it can sing, dance or do backflips - virtually, anyway - heaven only knows what is in store for the cyclops.

What would the folks in Regan’s whistle-stop northern Ontario home town of Hornepayne make of all this? Hornepayne, undoubtedly isn’t ready for a pickled cyclops. Heck, maybe even New York isn’t ready. No matter. Regan is not someone to be deterred. She’s not one to follow trends. She wants to start trends. And she seems to be succeeding, although some ‘connoisseurs’ of fine art dismiss her and Audart as "fringe, fringe, fringe."

At least no one is calling Regan "dull, dull dull," even though that is the moniker hung on many folks who are unapologetically Canadian in the U.S.’s most ethnocentric city. Opening nights for Audart shows have been known to draw crowds by the thousands. There was practically a riot on Broad Street in south Manhattan last February for the opening of the show Ten Years After: The Warhol Factory, attracting every Andy Warhol fan, friend, groupie and wannabe in town. Regan’s emphasis on marrying - in a unique menage a trois - visual art, performance and high technology has won her important, rich friends, like Citibank and Digital Equipment Corporation, to name a couple. And, it has made Audart a definite must-see in the rejuvenated, big-bucks Silicon Alley neighbourhood around Wall Street in south Manhattan.

Regan’s success has important spinoffs for the Canadian artists she is constantly seeking to exhibit at Audart. "I sell more Alice Burton paintings than any other artist," Regan notes. Toronto’s Burton is one of four Canadians who are part of Audart’s current show, The Art & Technology Circus, which runs through December. One video exhibit in Circus shows Toronto artist Barbara McGivern frantically - but virtually - painting her abstracts on top of Burton’s figurative works. Other works in Circus include puppets in a techno-forest, real dancers dancing with virtual dancers and a dozen other visually dazzling treats that are part Federico Fellini and part Bill Gates. Circus is the first exhibit to have big corporate sponsors in Audart’s 20 months of operation. High-tech firms enchanted by 14 exhibit rooms of art, technology and performance are knocking at the door asking to hold seminars in the 8,000 square foot space that has become a virtual opium den for artistic cyberjunkies.

Regan moved to New York in 1981 and did stints at being a stay-at-home mother, Ontario diplomat, interior designer, novelist and various office jobs. Audart - or something resembling it - has been her dream for 10 years. What she wanted, she said was, "a creation place" more than an exhibition gallery. Suddenly, that space became available in an abandoned Swiss bank, and at affordable rates. Suddenly, the dream came true. Circus, Regan hopes, is not just the future of Audart but the future of art, a new hybrid form of wired, performing, visual art for the millennium.  "The feeling is, now we have a playhouse and, yes, we will continue to put paintings on the walls and sculptures on pedestals - but it’s interdisciplinary from now on," says Regan. "We’re looking at things now that we didn’t even know existed."

Regan may have left Hornepayne in the dust a long time ago but she still maintains ties to Canada. She showcases Canadian art, is inundated with submissions from Canadian artists, and knows how to play both sides of the great Canadian divide by cosying up to the Canadian consulate in New York and its sometime rival, Quebec House. In return, George Haynal, Canada’s consul general, and Kevin Drummond, Quebec’s delegate general, each refer artists to her and invite her to shows in New York by artists from north of the 49th parallel. She boasts that Canada’s consul general has attended every one of her openings.  "Ideally, I would love to do a State of New York and a Province of Ontario and Quebec show," says Regan. "I can’t just do Quebec and New York. That would be too politically controversial. I would probably be stoned. It would have to be Quebec and Ontario and northeast United States."

She would also like to do a strictly Canadian show, with aboriginal art and works from the various provinces. She hopes to do it when she has time to work out a concrete proposal and submit it to the Canadian consulate. "I would expect their support and participation. I think they would be ridiculously foolish not to support an all-Canadian show in the Wall Street area, especially if Wall Street is booming, as it is now. So, that’s coming, I hope, in 1998."