Visual Art News Digest, Compiled by Vancouver Art Gallery Library, February 2, 2021


Whose Chinatown? explores real and imaginary Chinatown.  While Chinatowns exist in a physical place in Vancouver and other cities across Canada, they’re also cultural creations that exist in fictional worlds, in movies and on TV.  Chinatown, according to the guest curator of a new exhibition, doesn’t have a fixed definition or representation. Karen Tam believes there is always going to be real and imaginary Chinatowns…Whose Chinatown? comes out of Tam’s own history growing up Chinese-Canadian in Montreal and how that’s informed her practice as an artist. Tam grew up in Chinese restaurants. Most of her relatives and family friends ran restaurants, as did her parents for 26 years. When her parents talked about selling the restaurant, Tam was in graduate school and realized she had to document the place where she grew up. She began exploring not only the important role Chinese restaurants have played in the lives of families who ran them, but also how they fit into what she calls the “foodscape” of Canada and the U.S.  Vancouver Sun, January 30, 2021

Condolences pour in at news Vancouver artist, art-car maker, and assembler extraordinaire Ken Gerberick has died.  Vancouver has lost one of its most wildly creative and beloved artists, the collector and assembler extraordinaire Ken Gerberick.  An icon in the city’s thriving low-brow movement, he showed at 12 Midnite’s SMASH Gallery, Hot Art Wet City, the Eastside Culture Crawl. and grunt gallery over the years. Gerberick was known for turning everything from salvaged hubcaps to tail lights into funny and intricate sculptures and assemblages that also had deeper messages about consumerism.  Many Vancouverites know him for his wildly embellished art cars, vehicles tricked out with all manner of found objects. He built 11 of them in all.  Create a Stir, January 28, 2021

Shira Gold: Finding her breath.  Drawing on deeply personal and emotional experiences, Shira Gold’s photographs demonstrate grief, loss, identity, and change.  Wellness experts around the world increasingly recognize the indisputable health benefits of spending personal time with art, to the extent of even prescribing museum visits to combat illness. A comprehensive 19-year study published by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that art has positive overall effects for mental and physical health at all stages of life.  If interacting with art, even merely as an observer, has therapeutic power, what happens when an artist takes up an active practice with a conscious search for solace, healing, and equilibrium?  Vancouver photographer Shira Gold discovered this important intersection of photography, mental health, and well-being during a time of personal crisis. These crucial connections would ultimately guide her healing through loss and grief.  Curated, The Covert Collective, January 25, 2021

‘What is this? A raven? A mouse?’ Sculptures in B.C. park surprise and delight hikers. The pandemic sent Nickie Lewis into the forest near her house in Burnaby, B.C. with some twine, clippers and an idea. She had always wanted to make sculptures, maybe out of wire. But then she discovered works she loved made from willow branches and reeds… Lewis, 38, is on her way to becoming an educational assistant; she is currently doing her practicum at a school far from this forest. She had thought about maybe making more sculptures, but that won’t be happening – at least not in this park. On Wednesday, the City of Burnaby told her to stop. No new work, no collecting sticks from any parks. There are concerns, they told her, about the impact of too much human traffic on the ecosystem.  Globe & Mail, January 30, 2021

West Vancouver

West Vancouver Museum opens exhibition on eminent landscape architect.  West Vancouver Art Museum curator Hilary Letwin has long been fascinated and inspired by the work of eminent landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander.  Now, she gets to share that passion with the wider community through the museum’s latest exhibition, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander: Genius Loci.  The remarkable 99-year-old, who lives in Vancouver and is still consulting on projects, is among the most notable landscape architects in the world. Over her career, she’s designed landscapes locally, nationally and abroad, and become known for her desire to “create terrains that are less an interruption and more an amplification of what already exists on a site.”  Toronto Star, February 1, 2021

North Vancouver

Polygon Gallery presents Feast for the Eyes: The Story of Food in Photography from March 4 to May 30.  The Polygon Gallery will present the Canadian premiere of the touring exhibition Feast for the Eyes: The Story of Food in Photography in March.  The touring exhibition, curated by writer Susan Bright and Aperture Foundation’s senior editor Denise Wolff, features the work of more than 60 artists from the late 19th century to today, including Andy Warhol, Nan Goldin, Guy Bourdin, Man Ray, Cindy Sherman, and Wolfgang Tillmans. It features more than 100 images from photojournalism, fashion photography, rare cookbooks, and advertising.  Georgia Straight, January 27, 2021


Historic object or contemporary carving? Canadian artist claims a totem that washed up on a Victoria beach is actually his work. A Canadian artist says that a totemic stone pillar discovered on the beach in Victoria, British Columbia, which archaeologists of the Royal British Columbia Museum thought was a ritual Lekwungen object, is actually a work-in-progress of his made just a few years ago, which went missing and might have been swept into the ocean.  Last week, the museum announced that research based on consultations with Indigenous leaders and writings by the anthropologist Franz Boas confirmed their hunch that the 100kg sandstone pillar was a significant artefact of the Lekwungen culture. The object was discovered last summer by a local resident at Beacon Hill Park, who tipped off Grant Keddie, the museum’s curator of archeology… However, in an interview with CTV News, an artist from Victoria named Ray Boudreau says he is “100% positive” that the object is not an Lekwungen artefact but rather a carving he made in 2017 from a sandstone slab using a hammer and chisel.  The Art Newspaper, February 1, 2021

First Nations leaders condemn widespread reports of racism at Royal BC Museum.  A group of First Nations leaders in B.C. are speaking out after an internal survey at the Royal BC Museum revealed widespread issues involving racism and discrimination.  “It’s disappointing, concerning and disturbed in terms of how First Nations are looked upon within the museum,” said Terry Teegee, a Regional Chief with the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations. The First Nations Leadership Council said in a statement this week that it is disturbed by the reports of ongoing systemic racism and toxic working conditions at the institution.   Global News, January 29, 2021


Exhibit and artist talk on isolation and mental health couldn’t be better timed.   Perspectives from Within — an exhibit of nine artists exploring the mental health challenges that come with isolation — was a theme chosen prior to COVID. After a year of isolation for most Albertans, this theme adds another layer of empathy and understanding that will be discussed Thursday evening during an online Q-and-A with two of the artists, followed by a virtual peer support group for anyone interested in mood disorders and mental wellness.  “There are parallels between some of the things that broader members of the public are experiencing that artists are otherwise behooven to,” says Dick Averns, artistic director of SITEcProjects, which has organized the exhibit being housed at the CARFAC Alberta Project Space in Edmonton.  Edmonton Journal, January 28, 2021


Toronto art gallery, The Power Plant, finds ways to thrive amid pandemic. February is Black History Month, and Our Toronto is spending this time recognizing the achievements and contributions made by Toronto’s Black community. First up, Gaëtane Verna. She’s the first Black director of The Power Plant — a free, public, contemporary art gallery. It had to shift its programming when the pandemic hit, but under Verna’s leadership, it never lost focus on the importance of art. Marivel Taruc spoke to Verna about the transition and art’s contribution to societal change. CBC News, January 30, 2021


Nora Hutchinson at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, online.   As profoundly as I miss being inside art galleries, there are advantages to viewing the Art Gallery of Hamilton’s Nora Hutchinson retrospective from home. The loss of large-scale projections and slick video monitors is compensated by the intimacy and comfort of sinking into an autoplay of Rebel Opera on my living room couch, even while my cat bunts his cheek against the edge of the MacBook’s screen as though to prove this a bad idea. Akimbo, January 27, 2021


Red Dust and Black Clay.  Decolonizing ceramic arts would mean giving land back to Indigenous people and providing land for Black people, centring both groups in access to clay and kilns and the resources required to practice, share knowledge and share the pieces themselves. Decolonizing ceramic arts would mean cultivating the knowledge and means to make our own clay and our own kilns. Decolonizing ceramic arts would mean we might be able to touch each other, which is the very thing that prisons and policing foreclose… As we build networks of care, mutual aid, support and accountability that counter the logics of forced containment and premature death, clay becomes one of the ways by which we collectively return to ourselves and to each other. What might, for instance, a restorative justice process look like if it began with a bag of clay? It could mean creating a vessel to physically or metaphorically hold emotions, memories, intentions, regrets.”  –Nathalie Batraville and Shaya Ishaq, Canadian Art, January 30, 2021


Board Table Disruption tackles governance problems in arts organizations.  Ask Algonquin theatre artist Yvette Nolan what the problem with Canada’s nonprofit arts-board system is, and she says, “It’s a one-size-fits-no-one model.”  She’s struggled with the problem for decades of her career, not just as a playwright, director, and dramaturg, but helming Toronto’s Native Earth Performing Arts from 2003 to 2011. So much so, in fact, that the Saskatchewan-born artist went back to school three years ago to get her master’s in public policy to tackle the subject… On February 3, she’ll join a roundtable of thought leaders from across the nonprofit and arts sector for a livestreamed discussion called Board Table Disruption, presented by the Pacific Legal Education & Outreach Society and the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. Its goal? To “examine and repair broken governance models”.  Create a Stir, January 28, 2021

Bismark, North Dakota

Art for Change: Shane Balkowitsch. Shane Balkowitsch is an American wet plate photographer from Bismarck, North Dakota. Balkowitsch was given the name “Maa’ishda tehxixi Agu’agshi” (“Shadow Catcher”) by Calvin Grinnell of the Hidatsa-Mandan-Arikara Nation on October 28, 2018.  It’s easy to list Balkowitsch’s work and accomplishments, but much more difficult to get a feel for who he is as an artist. At first glance, one might say “Edward Curtis redux” and possibly move on, but his images are much more than that. They are indicative of his deep desire to inspire change, share stories and practice kindness.   Curated, The Covert Collective, January 26, 2021


Three Artists Illustrate the Expressive Potential of Drawing.  With roots as old as the concept of art itself, it is difficult to imagine the medium of drawing as having much to offer in the way of innovation. But Telling Stories: Resilience and Struggle in Contemporary Narrative Drawing, a three-woman show  (Robyn O’Neil, Amy Cutler, Annie Pootoogook) at the Toledo Museum of Art, showcases the utility of drawing as an expressive medium, as well as the power of these practitioners to find new impact in the form — to stunning effect.  Hyperallergic, January 28, 2021

New York

Altoon Sultan’s Powerful Challenge.  For those who have followed Altoon Sultan’s work, this story — which is now familiar — bears repeating. In 2010, while viewing an exhibition of 15th-century illuminated manuscripts at the Morgan Library, she was inspired to begin painting in egg tempera on parchment stretched over wood, always in a format no larger than 12 inches in height and width.   On another occasion, a drawing by Albrecht Dürer, in which the ink soaked into the paper, roused Sultan to begin working on hand-toned paper using only black ink and white gouache… In each of these undertakings, Sultan had to learn a new process and become familiar with the materials needed to work in her particular way. In this sense, she always seems to be a student committed to expanding her possibilities. She is a DIY artist, whose multivalent practice bears no resemblance to anyone else’s.  Her most recent exhibition, Altoon Sultan at McKenzie Fine Art (January 6–February 14, 2021), includes her egg tempera paintings and ink and gouache drawings on toned paper as well as “two types of fiber-based works: hooked wool textiles and hooked wool drawings,” as the gallery press release describes them.   Hyperallergic, January 30, 2021

London and Istanbul

Walk With Me: A Performance Artist Adapts to the Pandemic. For two weeks last fall, performance artist Alisa Oleva walked with 33 different women in Istanbul; sometimes for 30 minutes, sometimes for three hours, but always from 1,500 miles away.   It wasn’t how Oleva had originally imagined her research residency with the performance art platform Performistanbul. But while the COVID-19 pandemic kept the London-based artist from traveling to Turkey, it also made her residency’s theme of “home” all the more vital.  Hyperallergic, January 27, 2021

Aberystwyth, Wales

National Library of Wales—home to a 12,000-strong art collection—‘cannot survive’ if further job cuts are made   The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth—home to the national archive and a 12,000-strong art collection—is under threat following funding cuts that could lead to the loss of 30 jobs. The move means the “library cannot survive as a working institution”, says Andrew Green, former National Librarian of Wales.  The Art Newspaper Jan. 28, 2021


Ontario’s Melly Shum, a symbol of worker dissatisfaction, is an unlikely civic hero in Rotterdam.  A prominent European art gallery has dropped the name of a 17th-century Dutch colonialist so that it can honour an Ontario woman who sells high-end fridges and stoves in suburban Toronto.   Melly Shum is an unlikely civic hero in Rotterdam, where she is a symbol of worker dissatisfaction. Since 1990 a billboard featuring her face and the words “Melly Shum Hates Her Job” has graced a downtown gallery, spawning an urban cult of Melly, the queen of the dead-end gig.  Now her fame is rising to new heights as the public gallery drops the name of a colonial naval officer in her favour, reincarnating the Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art as the Melly Art Institute…The unusual name change came about because of concern over honouring dubious colonial figures, and because of Rotterdam’s affection for a 30-year-old artwork created by the Canadian conceptual artist Ken Lum.  Globe & Mail, February 1, 2021


As Lockdowns Remain in Force Across Europe, Museums Are Grappling With the Reality of Several More Weeks of Closed Doors.  Seventy-seven days after it closed, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence was reopened by director Eike Schmidt on January 21, welcoming nearly 800 visitors in its first week. For a museum of its scale and stature, it is a low number.  But as many museums in the UK and Europe remain closed indefinitely, it’s a figure worth bragging about.  The situation in the UK, where a new variant of the coronavirus was identified in September, is especially critical, say experts.  “The latest lockdown is a body blow and is leaving our museums and galleries fighting for survival,” Jenny Waldman, director of the Art Fund, said in a statement. The UK charity released another £750,000 in grants in emergency funds to help 23 museums this month, but it says more help is needed.  Artnet News, January 25, 2021

Here Are 12 Artists Poised to Break Out Big Time in 2021, According to Our Survey of Top Dealers, Advisors, and Curators  We asked an impressive group of curators, writers, museum and gallery directors, and art advisors about what artists are on their radars for 2021 and why. Here’s what they had to tell us.  Artnet News, February 1, 2021

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