Roula Partheniou
Cup and Ball, 2018
wood, acrylic paint, cast resin

Cup and Ball is a curious offering of memory and experience, a sculptural installation grounded in the relationship between two simple objects. Taking cues from a classic carnival “game of skill and chance,” the challenge appears simple: toss the ball into the cup and win a prize: lollipops, noisemakers, darts, pink candy popcorn. Easy. Well, no. Like many such games (including sure-fire gambling systems) The House has stacked the odds against the players.

Nothing is quite what it appears. Each ball, each cup stack or tempting prize is meticulously crafted in cast resin or wood, faithfully painted, and arranged perfectly to convince us they are familiar, mass-produced ready-made objects. Entirely ordinary. But perception is trumped by skill here, and the game is all about perception itself.

Like Pop art, the reference is to popular culture and familiar experience; like Conceptual or Minimalist art there is a reduction to basic forms, repetition, ordered grids. These shapes are already known, steeped in the referential, and yet pose a problem for the viewer. Materials are foregrounded but their truth is obscured. What in fact am I looking at? Is this a real fairground game, or am I being tricked into believing my own eyes?

Precision is essential. Partheniou mapped out the 500 solid-wood cup stack arrangement in heights varying between 8 and 50 units tall (equivalent to 17,674 cups) with a sample of 4000 actual paper cups and a colour-coded Excel spreadsheet. The resultant monochrome sculpture and its undulating gridded sprawl can be seen in direct relation to the Toronto cityscape viewed from the Project Room windows. Literal relationships and connectors remain unspoken, operating in the background. The cup stacks refer both to a material/process based cumulative sculpture, and also to game boards and to topography. Within Cup and Ball they justify the shelves of prizes, but also the ping-pong balls and other objects in the room. The fastidious construction and placement is perfectly offset by the carnivalesque nature of items displayed.

As seeming leftovers from the fairground, Cup and Ball is unexpectedly deadpan in its delivery. The sculptures are playful, colourful, and charming as imagined experience, yet simultaneously, what spreads before us is orderly and matter-of-fact. Layers unfold. Context is everything through a sequence of clues, and this game of skill and chance plays out slyly in its Bank context. Nothing is ever as easy or simple as it seems.

—Peggy Gale

Roula Partheniou: Cup and Ball, 2018

Roula Partheniou (b.1977) grew up in Niagara Falls, Ontario, a familiar ‘year-round carnival.’ She has exhibited across Canada and internationally since the early 2000s and holds a BFA from the University of Guelph. Her largely sculptural practice centres on an exploration of the replica and how the re-making of a familiar object can trigger a shift in perspective and perception. Making use of optical illusion, associative play, visual similes, material puns, colour cues and the double-take, she draws an alternate logic from commonplace materials. Her work is held in private, institutional and corporate collections across the country and abroad, including Blackwood Gallery at University of Toronto Mississauga, Art Museum at University of Toronto, Musée d'art Contemporain de Montréal, National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives, Bank of Montreal, Royal Bank of Canada, TD Bank, Munich Re, Hyundai Corporation, and Fidelity Investments. She is represented by MKG127 in Toronto.


Media Coverage

  • Sculptor Roula Partheniou’s exhibit puts viewers ‘somewhere between what you see and what you thought you knew’

    by Chris Hampton, The Globe and Mail, January 30, 2018


  • Roula Partheniou: Cup and Ball at First Canadian Place, Toronto

    Blouin ArtInfo, February 2, 2018

  • @rpartheniou’s Cup and Ball

    Murray Whyte on Instagram @murrayscottwhyte, February 2, 2018


Commissioned by BMO Financial Group