Look Again! Canadian Heritage and the Land
April 4, 2015 (ongoing)
Look Again! Canadian Heritage and the Land
In this section of Look Again!, artists of Euro-Canadian, First Nations and Inuit ancestry explore some of the ways that societies imagine and relate to the land which we live with and depend on. Some artists explore how landscape art has functioned as a powerful political tool for national identity, while others challenge these perspectives by considering class, cultural and gender viewpoints.
For many artists associated with the Canadian Art Club, the Group of Seven, and the Canadian Group of Painters, landscape art functioned as an aesthetic and political end which buttressed the construction of Canada as a nation-state. In these male-dominated histories, female artists such as Emily Carr, Isabel McLaughlin and Paraskeva Clark worked rigorously to earn a place for their voices. In the mid-20th century, Dorothy Knowles persisted in a contemporary landscape idiom when most of her peers had moved on to abstraction.
The loss of a homeless person’s life is evocatively remembered in Rebecca Belmore’s twelve-panel memorial blanket made from more than one-million pine needles. The work illuminates how the economic shortcomings of the urban landscape affected an underprivileged citizen. For Mike MacDonald, the butterfly is a symbol of precious ecologies threatened by extinction as a result of pesticide use and environmental change imposed through human intervention. In his assemblage of bottled water sitting on a shelf, Iain Baxter& questions patterns of natural resource consumption and the commodification of finite resources. His backlit landscape paintings on obsolete television sets show how the experience of nature is at once mediated by both the landscape painting tradition and mainstream media.
These artists’ works are a measure of how diverse belief systems inform understandings about land and nature. The Euro-Canadian male artists of the modern era considered questions of social, economic and political relationships between land, nation and region. Their female counterparts raised awareness of how land ownership and the production of landscape art have historically been masculine privileges. Since the 1960s, First Nations and Inuit artists have foregrounded cultural difference to further question land claims, entitlement and use. They assert that land is both a shared and contested space where sharp divisions of economic and social access remain deeply etched.
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Exhibition Design in the Modern Era:
The Canadian Group of Painters in Atlantic City, USA (1933)
In 1933, the inaugural exhibition of the Canadian Group of Painters toured to the Heinz Art Salon in Atlantic City, New Jersey following its presentation at the Art Gallery of Toronto. The exhibition contained works by all of the organization’s founding members, comprised of the core members of the Group of Seven and its contemporaries. In this exhibition, drawn from the AGW’s collection of modern art, we present the two end walls to show this display method.
In Atlantic City, a carved wall moulding was set at approximately three feet (nearly one meter) from the floor. On a neutral wall colour, the first tier of paintings was hung frame-to-frame using the wall molding as a continuous baseline, extending corner-to-corner. Above these one more tier of paintings was usually installed, and sometimes three paintings would be stacked above one another. In this tight presentation style, a gallery guide was used to identify artworks rather than individual wall labels. Much like the salon, this strategy prioritized viewing many artworks rather than using wall space for labels to identify who made what. By today’s standards of exhibition design, this style was still a compact method of presentation. Nonetheless, compared to its 19th-century predecessor, it represented a significant paring down of the total number of objects shown.
This display method shows how exhibition design was changing in the 20th century. Exhibition societies and public galleries began to work towards a more sleek, modernist aesthetic, one that transitioned from the jam-packed, skied works of the 19th-century salon to today’s minimalist white cube, all presented at adult height eye-level.
Curated by Catharine Mastin
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