Visual Arts News Digest, Compiled by the Vancouver Art Gallery Library, January 28, 2020


Haida masterpieces donated to the Vancouver Art Gallery.  Charles Edenshaw is arguably the greatest sculptor in Canadian history. Working in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Haida carver crafted dazzling, elegant, impossibly intricate pieces that took traditional Haida art into whole new realms… The Vancouver Art Gallery had a groundbreaking Edenshaw exhibition in 2013. But it had to borrow the art for the show because the VAG only has two Edenshaw pieces in its collection, a model argillite totem and a Haida hat that his wife made and he painted.  The size of the VAG’s Edenshaw collection is about to jump, because Ellis has donated five Edenshaw works to the gallery: two bracelets (one gold, one silver), and three silver spoons.  Vancouver Sun, January 24, 2020


New art gallery in Calgary’s renovated former planetarium opens with Planetary exhibition. The former Centennial Planetarium, a brutalist structure topped by a geodesic dome, reopens this weekend as Contemporary Calgary. The large contemporary art gallery is the culmination of years of efforts by collectors, artists, curators and philanthropists. And it is a trip – back in time, around the maze of a building (once you find the entrance) and through a contemporary art experience Calgarians have long been craving… Contemporary Calgary was formed when three local art groups joined forces to bring this vision to life. Proving this was no pie-in-the-sky idea, they eventually secured a 25-year lease from the city, with an extension option, as well as $25-million in city-funded modernization work. The non-collecting institution has now completed the second phase of its planned four-part renovation. The estimated total price tag is $117-million.  Globe & Mail, January 24, 2020

Motion art: Exhibit celebrates Katie Ohe’s 60-year career as artist, teacher and mentor. More than 40 years ago, Calgary artist Katie Ohe submitted a proposal for a public commission in the Gulf Canada Building.  It was to be a kinetic sculpture suspended within a backdrop of reflective material. Four aluminum bars would form branches that could be spun into motion by the viewer, creating a spiral pattern that would be reflected in the backdrop to give the impression of infinity and change. The proposal was ultimately turned down. But Ohe couldn’t shake the idea. So she went ahead with it anyway.  Calgary Herald, January 24, 2020


Through technology, the body is the focus of Erin Gee’s MacKenzie art exhibition.  To The Sooe is the perfect Valentine’s Day art exhibition, Erin Gee joked after describing some of her artworks installed at the MacKenzie Art Gallery.  Take the title piece: Two people can share a seat and listen from headphones. They’ll hear Gee’s voice reading Wuthering Heights, a classic romance by Emily Bronte — but they won’t recognize the words.  Gee used a computer algorithm to interpret the novel. “To the sooe” is one of the phrases the artificial intelligence gleaned from the text. It began with “a whole bunch of consonants.” Regina Leader Post, January 27, 2020


OCAD University names Ana Serrano as its new president and vice-chancellor.  Canada’s largest art, design and media university has named Ana Serrano as its new president and vice-chancellor.  Ms. Serrano arrives at OCAD University at a time of growing emphasis on collaboration by committing to interdisciplinary work and practices, building relationships and bridges across multiple sectors, and creating more alliances. This focus might speak to Ms. Serrano’s two-decade-long tenure at the Canadian Film Centre, where she currently works as chief digital officer. Globe & Mail, January 27, 2020

OCAD U Accountability Examined in New Report. Initiated after a public demonstration last spring, the report recommends Canada’s largest art and design university update policies and increase Indigenous supports.   Canadian Art, January 23, 2020

An Alchemy of Remains. Residue has a toxic connotation. Newscasters speak of ash left behind after a fire; police officers look for evidence, drug dust, at the crime scene. In social theory, the residual points to something in the past that lingers in the present. Artist Azza El Siddique leans toward this cultural-materialist meaning, even as her practice goes beyond the contemporary…  Born in Khartoum, Sudan, to a family who immigrated to Vancouver when she was four, El Siddique moved to Toronto where she briefly studied fashion design at Ryerson University, eventually graduating from OCAD University with a BFA in Material Art and Design… An alchemist turning brutal material beautiful and back again, El Siddique builds from that which is leftover: a whiff of incense, air dense with dispossession, water’s obsessive movement. Her installations require us to think deeply about the sensual extremities that trace those who came before us, continuously imprinting their ruins on the days ahead.  Canadian Art, January 27, 2020

Visual artists turn to film and video. Art museums and public galleries know visitors routinely spend less than a minute, often only a few seconds, in front of a work of art before they move on. Studies of museum fatigue suggest most visitors are flagging after half an hour in the place. And yet, contemporary visual artists are increasingly incorporating narrative films into their multidisciplinary careers and showing the results in art galleries. From the 1960s to the 1980s, artists’ films – first on celluloid; then on video – were often short visual experiments or conceptual works whose ideas could be appreciated in partial viewings; today, as technology makes high-quality digital production increasingly accessible, feature-length fictions and documentaries have been added to the repertoire. Sometimes these works are screened in a museum’s cinemathèque or at a film festival, but often they are shown in those porous places with little seating and many interruptions. How is “durational work,” as curators call it, faring in the art gallery?  To find out, I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario, now hosting a survey show by the German artist Hito Steyerl. She makes experimental documentaries mounted in settings that are part seating and part sculptural installations. Globe & Mail, January 28, 2020


Karine Fréchette.  New and recent paintings by the Montreal artist translate the speed of everyday life into a suite of pulsing, rhythmic abstractions. Her Galerie René Blouin exhibition closed this past weekend.   Canadian Art, January 23, 2020

St. John’s, NFLD

Open Secrets: Gossip and the Reframing of a Canadian Painting Dynasty.  Carol Bishop-Gwyn’s book, Art and Rivalry: The Marriage of Mary and Christopher Pratt, “is raising a few eyebrows” due to its warts-and-all portrait of a troubled marriage between two beloved painters. “The world that both the Pratts have moved in is in many ways small,” says CBC Radio host, Heather Barrett, “the creative world, the intellectual world not only in Newfoundland but in Canada – so why stir that world up?”  Momus, January 17, 2020

New York

‘Iconic’ Haida canoe moving to Northwest Coast Hall at New York’s Museum of Natural History.  For 60 years, the Great Canoe has greeted visitors at the American Museum of Natural History’s Grand Gallery near the 77th Street entrance in Manhattan. Since 2006, it has floated above the space – a magnificent 63-foot-long, more-than-8-foot-wide Northwest Coast vessel carved from a single red cedar around 1878, suspended in a celebrated museum far away from where it was made by Haida and Heiltsuk hands.   Nuu-chah-nulth artist and cultural historian Haa’yuups (Ron Hamilton) said there may be a number of Northwest Coast canoes at museums around the world, but none have had the impact of this one. “Its size – not just its length, its size. It’s very impressive. It’s like a whale.”   On Tuesday, the whale was on the move, carefully relocated from the Grand Gallery into the Northwest Coast Hall, the museum’s oldest hall and first cultural gallery. The hall, scheduled to reopen in 2021 after a major US$17.5-million renovation, houses Indigenous items from B.C., Alaska and Washington State, including totem poles. Globe & Mail, January 28, 2020

The Once and Future MOMA. Elizabeth Diller describes her firm’s expansion and renovation of New York’s Museum of Modern Art as guided by “the modernist aspirations of glass, the utopian ones about democratizing space and about the extension between the outside and the inside.” The New Yorker, January 26, 2020


Museum C.E.O. Apologizes for Mistakes in Dealing With Former Manager.  Timothy Rub, the director and chief executive officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, on Wednesday apologized to hundreds of employees, saying the institution had made mistakes in the way it dealt with a former manager that several female staff members had accused of sexual harassment.  Mr. Rub’s remarks, made at a closed-door, all-staff morning meeting before the museum opened to the public, addressed the allegations that have surfaced against Joshua Helmer, the former assistant director for interpretation at the museum. In 2018, he left and went on to become director of the art museum in Erie, Pa., where an intern made a similar complaint.  New York Times, January 27, 2020


The Smithsonian wanted a museum in London. Now it’ll be just a temporary exhibit.   What began as a new Smithsonian museum in London has been downgraded again, this time from a permanent gallery to a two-year exhibition in the V&A East, the Victoria and Albert Museum’s satellite space.   The decision to retreat from a permanent presence at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, under construction in East London, was approved by the Smithsonian Board of Regents on Monday.  The Washington Post, January 27, 2020

Food for thought – the art of the museum restaurant  The February issue of Apollo includes the magazine’s first museum restaurant review (read it online here). Its subject is – where else? – the V&A Café, housed in the Refreshment Rooms that were decorated by leading designers from the mid 1860s onwards. Future issues will carry reviews of all manner of museum restaurants, ranging from homespun cafes in house museums to canteens and exclusive eateries in major institutions. Our objective is not, primarily, to assess the food on offer, but to consider more broadly what any given museum restaurant can tell us about how that museum sees itself – and how it treats its visitors.  Apollo Magazine, January 27, 2020


How serious are the dangers of market sponsorship of museum exhibitions? As UK museums face deeper public funding cuts and growing scrutiny over corporate donations from fossil fuel firms, Big Pharma and arms manufacturers, commercial galleries and auction houses are increasingly stepping into the funding breach—often to the benefit of artists’ markets… While a dealer actually organising an exhibition at a public institution is rare, the trade’s sponsorship of UK exhibitions has become more prevalent and, notably, more prominently advertised. The question is: has this raised the stakes in terms of vested interests, as Brian Sewell warned, and are market forces starting to influence museum programming?  The Art Newspaper, January 27, 2020


Conservators give the lamb in the Ghent Altarpiece a facelift, now, everyone is freaking out. When restorationists took to cleaning and conserving the Ghent Altarpiece, no one could have expected the reaction the internet was going to have. Without a doubt, the project, which has already spanned years and is only finished with its second phase, was going to turn heads. The artwork is, of course, one of the most significant works of western religious art. However, when conservators finished with the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a central panel of the altarpiece, the internet was about to lose it’s cool over the ‘alarmingly humanoid’ face of the lamb.  Art Critique, January 22, 2020


Zineb Sedira Is Expected to Become the First Artist of Algerian Descent to Represent France at the Venice Biennale in 2021. France has chosen Zineb Sedira, the Paris-born Algerian artist best known for her haunting photographs and video installations, to represent the nation at the 2021 Venice Biennale, according to the French newspaper Le Monde. The news has not been officially confirmed by France’s culture ministry, which told Artnet News that the announcement would be made later this week.  Artnet News, January 27, 2020


Art Trip: Zadie Xa uses her work to investigate hybrid identity, matrilineal knowledge and the Asian diaspora.  In a largely overlooked Korean creation myth, the gigantic goddess Magohalmi uses her own urine and excrement as raw material to carve and sculpt the world’s mountains, islands, rivers and rocks. For reasons unknown, this orally transmitted myth was excluded from the written record, which demoted her from headliner to supporting act.  But Grandmother Mago’s place in mythological history is being restored thanks to artists such as Zadie Xa, born in Vancouver and now based in London. One of six artists in the group exhibition Feedback Loops, running to March 22 at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne, Korean-Canadian Xa works across performance, painting, video and textiles to investigate notions of hybrid identity, matrilineal knowledge and the Asian diaspora.  Globe & Mail, January 27, 2020


Ken Wyatt calls for law change to protect Aboriginal artists from carpetbaggers. Federal and state ministers, police and Aboriginal art industry representatives will meet in central Australia next month to discuss ways to stamp out carpetbagging – the unethical treatment and exploitation of Aboriginal artists.  The minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, said the meeting would look at “enforceable solutions” including possible changes to the law… In November reports surfaced of elderly Aboriginal artists being “kidnapped” and forced to paint for a dealer in Alice Springs. Wyatt asked his National Indigenous Australians Agency to urgently investigate.  The Guardian, January 27, 2020


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