Visual Arts News Digest, Compiled by Vancouver Art Gallery Library, October 20, 2020


Optical illusions exhibit arrives at Vancouver Art Gallery.  “Stimulating the eye, his vibrant paintings, prints, and sculptures produce the optical illusion of dynamic movement: they appear to pulse, shimmer, and vibrate.”  It’s how the Vancouver Art Gallery describes the artwork of its most recent exhibitor – late Hungarian-French artist Victor Vasarely, known as the “father of optical art.”  The Op Art exhibition kicks off this Saturday, with an arrangement of playful and colourful aestheticism that is sure to lift the spirits of its spectators.  Vancouver is Awesome, October 16, 2020.  See also: Exhibition of works by Victor Vasarely, the father of Op Art, opens October 17 at the VAG.  Georgia Straight, October 16, 2020

Can design change the world? The Margolese prize bets $50,000 on it.  Design can make the world a better place. That’s the promise of the Margolese National Design for Living Prize, which relaunches this week with a $50,000 prize and a renewed mandate.  The award, from the University of British Columbia’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA), reflects a recent shift in the design professions toward political and social questions – one that the school is determined to push along.  SALA emphasizes “the tradition of the designer as activist – a concern with the environment and with social justice,” said Ron Kellett, the dean of SALA. “We’re looking for people who are using their design talents to do meaningful work.”  Globe & Mail, October 16, 2020

Heffel art auction shifts to a ‘digital sale room’  Normally hundreds of people turn out to see Heffel art auctions live.  But that’s not possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. So David and Robert Heffel have pivoted into a “digital sale room.”  When their next auction happens Dec. 2, the Heffels will be broadcasting online from the Vancouver Convention Centre. But most of the art they’re auctioning will be in Toronto — linked to the broadcast digitally. People will still be able to check out the art at live previews in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, by appointment.  Vancouver Sun, October 19, 2020.  See also: Creative downsizing: Companies are selling valuable art as they seek to cut office space and raise revenue.  Globe & Mail, October 15, 2020

Black Artists Matter: Vancouver artistic leaders hold virtual discussion on anti-racism.  Several Vancouver arts leaders of the African diaspora are gathering on October 20 for an online conversation called Black Artists Matter. Presented by BC Alliance for Arts and Culture, it will address about what organizations can do to eliminate anti-Blackness. The 2 pm YouTube conversation is free and open to everyone.   Jacky A Yenga is among the artists who’ll be participating.   Create A Stir, October 19, 2020

SUM gallery to open Time-Lapse retrospective for disability arts trailblazer Geoff McMurchy October 29. Vancouver’s SUM gallery has announced a major exhibition and events to pay memorial tribute to late disability arts pioneer Geoff McMurchy… The founding artistic director of Kickstart Disability Arts & Culture and a member of the city’s LGBTQ2SIA community, McMurchy died in 2015, having influenced a generation of artists in the community. An accomplished dancer and visual artist, he had suffered an accident in 1977 that left him quadriplegic. Create A Stir, October 19, 2020


Artist withdraws work, calls for changes to Art Gallery of Alberta to address systemic racism. A Calgary artist who withdrew from an Art Gallery of Alberta exhibition this summer prompted the organization to take a closer look at its history and commit to take more steps toward dismantling systemic racism.  Justin Waddell, a visual artist and associate professor at the Alberta University of the Arts in Calgary, has participated in the AGA’s Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art — which celebrates Alberta artists — twice in the past decade.   CBC, October 11, 2020.  See also: News Roundup: Artists Withdraw from Art Gallery of Alberta Biennial Show, Cite Lack of Black Representation.  Canadian Art, October 15, 2020


CBC’s Uncensored looks at why art galleries need to better showcase Black, POC artists. This summer, the Winnipeg Art Gallery published a letter written by Winnipeg-based Nigerian artist Chukwudubem Ukaigwe in response to the injustice and police brutality Black and Indigenous communities experienced.   Though we know this targeted violence persists on a systemic level, I found it interesting that the WAG would publish a letter addressing this type of violence — but would not take this as an opportunity to publicly acknowledge their shortcomings to promote and support Black artists and address the anti-Blackness within their organization’s landscape.  When confronted last year about the poetic demonstration at the gallery lead by Black artists in the community, a WAG official said he totally agreed with Ukaigwe’s callout, going on to say he believes there is room for more representation of Black artists, and is open to learning more on what the students want to see…. Black artists have been subjected to this anti-Black racism in the cultural sector as an afterthought — or not even thought about at all, in major curatorial decisions… In this week’s episode of Uncensored, titled White Walls, we respond to the Eurocentrism of the Winnipeg and Canadian art world.    CBC October 16, 2020


Bells and blinds: Haegue Yang shows at the Art Gallery of Ontario with a flourish.  Bells tinkle faintly on the fifth floor of the Art Gallery of Ontario on a Saturday afternoon. Gloved technicians are gently rotating sculptures entirely covered in small brass jingle bells, moving them according to choreography laid out by their creator, the South Korean artist Haegue Yang. In this period of restriction, the restrained movements breed a certain tension: Imagine if you let a pack of unmasked kindergarteners into this room and could watch the sculptures swirl and hear the volume rise.  Globe & Mail, October 9, 2020

Waiting to Return to the Places We Were Going: Mapping Robin Cameron’s “Memory Palace” Robin Cameron’s exhibition Memory Palace at Franz Kaka sits on the second floor. The stairs to the second floor are just inside the glass doors on Campbell Street, which look to a construction site. Though I’ve been here in reality, it is also a location in my mind, one that I can interact with, perhaps by imagining the construction site is a sundial, which casts a shadow across the dial as each new floor is built, slowly covering the street, then the sidewalk, then the doors, then the stairs. In Memory Palace, Cameron – a Canadian, New York-based artist – experiments with externalizing the way scenarios are built in our minds. Momus, October 15, 2020

Annie Wong’s collaborative art conjures up the spirit of her ancestors.  At Open Studio Gallery, Annie Wong took part in a visiting artists residency, working with printmaker Meggan Winsley to create images on joss paper.  Wong sees a parallel between creating her art and printmaking; both require a certain process, a ritual. “The process of print is very rigid and you have to engage with the paper and print in a specific way. If you mess up the ritual you mess up the image.”   Toronto Star, October 17, 2020


Moyra Davey at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.  The Faithful, a survey exhibition of the decades-long career of Moyra Davey, brings together a body of work and weaves a dense web of references that warrant close readings. Working with text, video, and photography, the Canadian-born, New York-based artist examines her personal history and its connections to art, film, and literature to construct narratives that give meaning to her experience at the same time that they refrain from reaching any simple conclusions. Akimbo, October 15, 2020


The MMFA has hired former curator Stéphane Aquin as its director. Now he needs to direct, not curate.  Stéphane Aquin loves art, no doubt about that. The newly appointed director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has spent his career curating dozens of shows in Canada and the United States, writing dozens of reviews for the Montreal press and generally exuding enthusiasm about contemporary art and the people who make it. But does he also love fundraising, strategic planning and budgeting? That may be the more pertinent question as the MMFA tries to wipe the slate clean after the controversial departure of director Nathalie Bondil  in July.  Globe & Mail, October 16, 2020.  See also: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts appoints Stéphane Aquin as new directorGlobe & Mail, October 15, 2020


Jean-François Provost at Studio 21, Halifax.  Jean-François Provost’s solo exhibition at Studio 21 presents us with the obsessions of an abstract painter. There is a clear interest in composition, the interplay of line and colour, the investigation of mass and depth, and experiments in the activation of space. These are formal concerns straight out of a 1950’s Abstract Painters Handbook, but is there more? In a world of chaos and transition, is there still a place for such intellectual artistic concerns? A closer look reveals that the tropes of abstract painting might be a stepping off point – a beginning, not an end. Akimbo, October 6, 2020


Art to See This Fall.  In public festivals, biennials and galleries, or on TV—there are lots of ways to experience art this fall. Here, Canadian Art’s editors pick a few projects they’re looking forward to.  Canadian Art, October 13, 2020

Making Throughlines.  Canadian Art’s national survey of artists whose work layers collaboration, inheritance and collective memory, including: Letitia Fraser (Halifax), Shanna Strauss (Montreal), Rebecca Bair (Vancouver), Sobaz Benjamin (Halifax), Alexa Joy (Winnipeg), Black Artists Union (Toronto), Justine A. Chambers (Vancouver), Farihah Aliyah Shah (Bradford), Kiera Boult (Toronto). Canadian Art, October 13, 2020

New York

At 77, Howardena Pindell Exorcises a Chilling Memory From Childhood.  In more than half a century as an artist, Howardena Pindell has made many hundreds of paintings and drawings and just three videos, yet one of those videos is arguably her best-known work. “Free, White and 21” (1980) depicts the artist recounting a litany of racist experiences, from being tied to a cot by a kindergarten teacher to discrimination in applying for jobs. Interspersed among the personal stories, Ms. Pindell appears as a second character in whiteface and a blonde wig. The white woman tells the Black narrator that she must be paranoid. “You won’t exist until we validate you,” she chides.  “Free, White and 21” is as much a commentary on the pervasiveness of racism in America as it is on the whiteness of the second-wave feminist movement, which Ms. Pindell knew intimately because she’d been part of it.  In 1972, she was the only person of color among 20 cofounding members of A.I.R., the first nonprofit, artist-run women’s gallery in the United States.  New York Times, October16, 2020

Guggenheim Curator Nancy Spector to Step Down Though Cleared of Wrongdoing On Thursday, the Guggenheim announced that Nancy Spector, the museum’s highest-ranking curator, is departing after more than 30 years at the institution. In a press release, the museum said that Spector was leaving to “pursue other curatorial endeavors and to finish her doctoral dissertation.” Spector, the museum’s artistic director and chief curator, had taken a three-month sabbatical this past summer, though no reason was given for her temporary leave at the time… The news accompanies another announcement of the results of an investigation into the treatment of Chaédria LaBouvier, an independent curator who was brought into the Guggenheim to organize an exhibition focused on Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work about the police killing of the artist Michael Stewart…. The Guggenheim said on Thursday that an investigation led by the New York–based law firm Kramer Levin did not find evidence to support the claim that LaBouvier was subject to discrimination.  ArtNews, October 8, 2020


Sculptor Simone Leigh Picked to Represent United States at 2022 Venice Biennale. With her sedate, elegant sculptures enjoying increased visibility, Simone Leigh has been chosen to represented the United States at the 2022 edition of the Venice Biennale in Italy, the world’s biggest art festival. The Institute of Contemporary Art Boston is commissioning the pavilion in the cooperation with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, with ICA director Jill Medvedow and chief curator Eva Respini at the helm.  Leigh’s Venice Biennale presentation, which will run from April 23 to November 27, 2022, will be followed by an ICA show in 2023. That exhibition—the New York–based artist’s biggest survey show to date—will include her Biennale works…Over the past couple decades, Leigh has created a distinctive body of work that pays homage, often in low-key, allusive ways, to aspects of Black history. Born in Chicago in 1967, Leigh has worked in a variety of modes, though she is best-known for her large-scale sculptures, which frequently make use of styles culled from African art. Often, though not always, they feature Black figures whose bodies appear to fuse with various objects; they are usually depicted eyeless and earless.  ArtNews, October 14,  2020


The Philip Guston controversy is turning artists against the National Gallery.   The worst move an art museum can make is the one that loses the support of artists. The National Gallery of Art’s recent, last-minute decision to postpone “Philip Guston Now” was made to evade — or at least delay and dilute — the potential upset and controversy that Guston’s use of clunky, cartoon-inspired images of Ku Klux Klan hoods might provoke.  That call by NGA Director Kaywin Feldman, made in tandem with the directors of three other major museums who were to host the traveling show, has received support from some. But it has ignited its own controversy, upsetting hundreds of leading artists who revere Guston, an artist whose bravery and self-searching insight made him one of the two or three most influential artists of the past half century.   Washington Post, October 16, 2020


Why Was a Miami Museum the Site of a Trump Town Hall?   The Pérez Art Museum Miami drew ire this week for allowing a town hall with President Trump to take place on its premises yesterday evening. On social media, critics lambasted the move, calling the event a “fascist rally” and even threatening to withdraw their support of the museum. PAMM has responded to the objections by invoking its responsibility to remain non-partisan per official guidelines on election advocacy released by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). According to the organization, museums may allow candidates or elected officials to rent their space, but must do so “at fair-market value and with equal availability to all candidates, parties, and elected officials.” On October 5, PAMM was the site of a similar town hall with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Hyperallergic, October 13, 2020


Artist Rachel Whiteread urges young: don’t give up on your dreams. Rachel Whiteread, one of Britain’s leading visual artists, has urged creative young people to hold on to their dreams and skills in the face of the pandemic and spoken of the solace she has found in drawing.  “I really want people to carry on doing what they were doing. It is important they don’t give up on their dreams, and they follow through with what they have trained for,” Whiteread told the Observer. She was commenting on an advertisement put out last week by a government partner organisation encouraging artists and performers to consider switching to a career in “cyber”.   The Guardian, October 18, 2020.  See also: Government scraps ballet dancer reskilling ad criticised as ‘crass’  The Guardian, October 12, 2020


Kapwani Kiwanga, Artist Who Centers African Histories, Wins France’s Top Art Prize.  The competition for this year’s Prix Marcel Duchamp, France’s top art prize, ended with a win for Kapwani Kiwanga, who is known for her installations about the legacies of colonialism. The Paris-based, Canadian-born artist will now take home €35,000.  Bernard Blistène, the director of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, said in a statement, “The richness and complexity of Kapwani Kiwanga’s project, bordering on a reflection between anthropology and art, opens up a vast poetic and political program, a true laboratory of today’s thought on memory and archives as sources of the world’s transfiguration.”  ArtNews, October 19, 2020.  See also: Hamilton-born Kapwani Kiwanga wins France’s top art prize for Flowers for Africa installation.  Globe & Mail, October 19, 2020


Velázquez’s Las Meninas: A detail that decodes a masterpiece.  Sometimes a vase is just a vase. Sometimes it’s a portal to another plane of perception. In Diego Velázquez’s 17th-Century masterpiece Las Meninas, a ricochet of shadows and mirrors that never ceases to intrigue, a small and underappreciated clay jug at the centre of the canvas transforms the work from a disorderly snapshot of courtly life into an arresting treatise on the illusory and ultimately transcendable nature of existence. Erase that easily overlooked earthenware object from the heart of the Spanish Golden Age painting, and its mysterious pulse, which has captivated the attention of observers for more than three and a half centuries since Velázquez created the painting in 1656, withers to a whisper and stops.  BBC, October 16, 2020


Europe’s Museums Are Open, but the Public Isn’t Coming. As cultural institutions reopen across the United States, with new coronavirus protocols in place, many have been looking to Europe, where many museums have been open since May, for a preview of how the public might respond to the invitation to return. So far, there’s little reason to be optimistic. Almost all European museums are suffering from visitor losses, but their ability to cope depends almost entirely on how they are funded. Institutions supported by government funding are able to weather the storm with a little belt-tightening, while those that depend on ticket sales are facing tougher choices. Many are laying off employees and restructuring their business models. Visitor information from across Europe tells a fairly consistent story: Museums that have reopened have about a third of the visitors they had this time last year. New York Times, October 19, 2020

Artists’ Artists: Part Three.  Petrit Halilaj, Brook Andrew, Guendalina Cerruti, Peter Graham, Mira Schor, Elisa Sighicelli and Sung Tieu select works by some of their favourite artists.  Frieze, October 19, 2020

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