Visual Arts News Digest, Compiled by the Vancouver Art Gallery Library, May 7, 2019


Selling Vancouver.  Melanie O’Brian’s introduction to Vancouver Art & Economies—“Specious Speculation,” published in 2007 in anticipation of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics—examines Vancouver’s switch from a solely resource-extraction economy to an increasingly symbolic, globalized economy. The city’s daringly speculative real-estate market is the most obvious of these industries to develop out of that change, but the art market is another industry of significance.   “The city is gambling its future vis-a-vis the Olympics by presenting to the world a cleaned-up image of itself absent of social inequities,” O’Brian wrote back then. “In doing so, the city reveals how marginalized groups, even the art community, may be vulnerable in the urban development scheme.”  In the nine years since the Olympics, what’s emerged is perhaps not such a clear delineation between perpetrator (“urban development”) and victim (“art community”) as O’Brian hypothesized. Rather, in my view, there’s a fumbling, symbiotic relationship between the two, and this relationship is particularly visible in the case of Vancouver’s commercial art galleries.  Canadian Art, May 2, 2019

Art exhibit shows lingering pain from Punjab disappearances.  Decades have passed since thousands of Sikh families lost loved ones to disappearances and extrajudicial killings in India’s Punjab region, but for many the pain remains raw.   A new international photo exhibit, launched Friday in Vancouver, seeks to remind people that those families are still grieving, yearning for answers and justice.  Abhishek Madhukar’s haunting “Lapata. And the Left Behind” documents, in black and white, some of their stories. It runs at the The Space, An Art Gallery in Yaletown until Tuesday. Vancouver Sun, May 4, 2019


Stories Not Told.  In September 2016, I was asked to present on a student panel at the second annual “Building Reconciliation” conference at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. It was your usual suit-and-tie, fancy NDNs-only affair. Branding with feathers and images of happy, traditionally dressed First Nations people draped every corner of the university gym where the conference was held. Of course, these images consisted solely of First Nations peoples in regalia. Notably absent was any semblance of Inuit representation. Canadian Art, May 6, 2019

Works from late Alberta pottery artist fetch thousands at online auction.  When Mary Borgstrom took up pottery in the 1960s she didn’t know that it would lead to international recognition, the Olympics and even a YouTube series.   Borgstrom was born in Saskatchewan in 1916, but spent much of her life in Provost, Alta., where she died on April 3 at the age of 102.  Alex Archbold, owner of Curiosity Inc. in Edmonton, recently purchased the Borgstrom home in the small town about 300 kilometers southeast of Edmonton.  The Canadian Women Artists History Initiative profile of Borgstrom says that a 1966 pottery workshop in Edmonton helped her uncover her abilities and by 1969 she began showing her work in group and solo exhibits.   In 1971, after a show that included 25 pieces at the Canadian Guild of Handicrafts in Montreal, three of her creations were acquired by the Montreal Museum of Fine Art. That was followed in 1976 by an invitation to participate in the Arts and Culture program at the Summer Olympics in Montreal.  CBC News, May 1, 2019


‘A legend in the Canadian art world’: hundreds flock to celebration of artist Joe Fafard’s life.  As many as 500 people came to a celebration of life held at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, with several sharing funny and touching stories about a man that was not only an artist, but also a beloved family man and friend, a lover of poetry, philosophy and music. CBC News, May 5, 2019


Vija Celmins at the AGO: Her hyperrealistic drawings are all about the art of looking. Standing in a gallery full of her astoundingly realistic pencil drawings featuring nothing but the rippling waters of the Pacific Ocean, the American artist Vija Celmins announces: “There is no ocean here.”  The New York artist, now 80, created her ocean series from photographs of the sea when she was living in Venice, Calif., in the 1960s. And her point is that these painstaking drawings, currently showing the Art Gallery of Ontario, were never intended to represent the water. Indeed, she quickly corrects a curator who unthinkingly uses the word “representation.” So, if they are not intended as seascapes, what are these drawings “about”?  Globe & Mail, May 6, 2019

AGO show reveals Vija Celmins’s knack for deadpan re-creations. Perhaps you remember writing lines on the blackboard in grade school as punishment. Sometimes, maybe around the hundredth rendering of a phrase like “I must not talk in class,” one of the words would uncouple from its meaning. Suddenly, the alphabetical units joined for the term “must” seemed nonsensical — preposterous even. The phenomenon is known as “semantic satiation.” And the work of Latvian-American artist Vija Celmins produces a related experience. With focus and repetition, it turns the familiar into a curiosity.  The 80-year-old New York-based Celmins is the subject of a career retrospective, Vija Celmins: To Fix the Image in Memory, with more than 110 artworks arriving at the Art Gallery of Ontario from the exhibition’s debut at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.   Toronto Star, May 3, 2019


Looking Out from Looking In: Geneviève Cadieux Shifts From the Polemic to the Poetic. “Milling through the Vancouver Art Gallery earlier this spring, I stopped before a towering diptych that paired a cartoon prince and a back-turned nude. The prince’s face has been whited-out, but familiarity flickered through: a blown-up reproduction of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Petit Prince. Similarly, his counterpart, a grainy portrait of a prostitute by E.J. Bellocq (c. 1912), had been extended and partially scrubbed out. But where she was still performing her role – her backside broad, classically profiled, pear-shaped and inviting – the prince affected a citation: how did I know him? And, now, here, like this, what did he mean? The prince made a footnote, but the anonymous (and visibly erased) female form was its own site of desire, a place to pool want. Looking up at La blessure d’une cicatrice ou Les Anges (The wound of a scar or the angels, 1987), by Geneviève Cadieux, I was reminded of the artist’s stature in the 1980s, and the lasting power of her commentary… Weeks later, I paced a solo exhibition of Cadieux’s new show in Montreal. Her prints still loom and pitch and require long reading. They’re too big for a glance. But it seemed that here, in the spare, luminous rooms of her long-time gallerist René Blouin, the artist had shifted from body-as-polemic to what Barthes termed the “pleasure of the text.”  – Sky Godden. Momus, April 27, 2019

Canadian couple’s art collection worth $50-million heading to U.S. auction amid debate over cultural exports.  One of the most important private collections of modern art in Canada is being dispersed at international auctions this month – most of it produced just a few years too recently to be caught in the net of federal rules designed to keep cultural property in the county.  Art from the estate of Arnold and Blema Steinberg of Montreal, including two works by U.S. abstractionist Mark Rothko that are valued in the tens of millions, will be sold at a series of sales in New York starting May 14. Sotheby’s auction house is billing the art as the most important collection of colour-field painting ever to come to auction. Meanwhile, the estate is also selling off Canadian art, including two million-dollar paintings by Jean-Paul Riopelle, that will be offered at a Toronto auction May 29. Globe & Mail, May 6, 2019

A final showing for acclaimed artist Hannah Franklin. Her people have been encased in clear plastic columns, rendered in acrylic paint and cast in bronze.   These have been Hannah Franklin’s methods of clocking humanity through time, their passage on this earth being the theme that has marked her work for almost 50 years.  Now she herself has reached a milestone, no longer able to make the art she loves and ready to close down her studio at 137 Saint-Ferdinand St., suite 220A, following an open house there on May 5 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.   The event is spearheaded by her son, Jonathan Franklin, and curated by Joe Donohue, who also features some of her pieces on the Galerie Donohue website at The art ranges from thumb-size to human height.   Canadian Jewish News, May 6, 2019


Resistance to new art gallery on Halifax waterfront is growing.  There is growing resistance to plans to build a new art gallery on the Halifax waterfront.   The provincial government has earmarked $70 to $80 million for the project, and the premier says he would like construction to begin as early as next year.  But in a province where some people say there’s a healthcare crisis, there are also those who believe the gallery money could be better spent.  Atlantic CTV News, May 2, 2019


Artists and Art Orgs Still Have Questions about Canada Council Changes.  Over the past year, the Canada Council has overhauled its funding model dramatically. Artists and art organizations are broadly satisfied with the changes, but still have some questions.  Canadian Art, May 2, 2019

New York

Actor Steve Martin Amassed a Stellar Collection of Australian Aboriginal Art at Warp Speed—and Now You Can See It at Gagosian. With a hand from actor, comedian, and noted collector Steve Martin, Gagosian is shining a spotlight on Indigenous Australian painters—which could mean big things for this sector of the art market. Martin and his wife, Anne Stringfield, are lending works of Aboriginal art from their personal collection to a show at Gagosian’s Upper East Side location that opens today.   “I never talk about our art collection, because it’s our private sanctuary, but I am so enthused about the Indigenous art,” Martin told Australia’s ABC, noting that he’s hung the Australian works in his collection alongside his paintings by Edward Hopper, Giorgio Morandi, and David Hockney.    Artnet News, May 3, 2019


Art that breathes: Mexican murals aim to clean the air. A colourful mural of a 35m-tall tree in Mexico City is one of three environmentally friendly new public works made using Airlite paint, which purifies polluted air in a process similar to photosynthesis. Commissioned for the project Absolut Street Trees, backed by Pernod Ricard, the French alcohol manufacturer, the mural aims to increase oxygen levels in one of the western hemisphere’s most polluted cities, where ozone concentration levels remain high despite government regulations on fuel and cars.   The Art Newspaper, May 6, 2019


Saatchi Gallery covers up artworks after Muslim visitors’ complaints. A leading contemporary art gallery covered up works featuring an Islamic declaration of faith after complaints from Muslim visitors who said the artworks were blasphemous.  The Saatchi Gallery in west London hosted an exhibition of new material by the artist SKU featuring a variety of works. However, it decided to cover up two paintings that incorporated the text of the shahada, one of the five pillars of Islam, in Arabic script juxtaposed with images of nude women in the style of the US flag.   The Guardian, May 5, 2019


Hidden Cupid resurfaces in one of Vermeer’s best-known works after two and a half centuries. A hidden Cupid in Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, one of the world’s most famous paintings, is set to resurface on the canvas after two and a half centuries behind a layer of paint. During restoration work, conservators discovered, to their surprise, that the naked figure—which dominates the upper right section of the picture—was overpainted long after the artist’s death.  The Art Newspaper, May 7, 2019


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