20 June 2017

KENT MONKMAN

FROM THE EDITOR

When I was studying for a Master's degree at UBC, we read theory – a lot of theory. Often, the most profound insights were the simplest. Like Judith Butler's assertion that the self is never fully transparent to itself, an idea I disputed at the time but have since come to realize is achingly true. Then there is Eve Sedgwick's statement that "people are different." This I had less trouble accepting – I'd made that discovery as a young journalist. Over and over, I would think I knew what people were going to say, and over and over they would surprise me. One wonderful thing about talking with strangers, whether you're a reporter or not, is that you never reach a point where you can no longer be surprised. There is always something to learn.

While working on this issue, I had yet another surprise – a marriage proposal, of sorts. It was a first, popped out in that odd, lopsided intimacy that the best journalists seemingly conjure out of nowhere. "Hey," the artist said, "if you married me, you could have all my work." OK, maybe that's just what passed for flirting back in the day, but I took it more as an artistic cri de coeur of an existential nature: "Who will care for my work after I am gone?" It reminded me of calls I've had from strangers over the years – here at Galleries West and also at the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Arts, when I worked there, from relatives facing a studio crammed with work after an artist's sudden death. Bereft and overwhelmed, they are faced, on an intimate personal level, with preserving meaning or erasing a history.

I understand the pain of dismantling a studio. Before I moved to Victoria, my precious $100-a-month sanctuary in Kelowna was facing redevelopment. I sold what I could, gave away pieces to friends, and made a trip to the dump. There's something heartbreaking about standing at the lip of an open pit and tipping art you've worked and reworked, yet never quite resolved, into the abyss. It's not as sad as breaking up with someone you love, or scattering the ashes of your parents, but it's the loss of something close to the bone, something once imbued with such possibility.

Where is this all leading? Well, not to be too metaphysical, but this issue of Galleries West, like many before it, seems guided by an invisible hand. Stories I assign piecemeal, in haste, somehow morph back finding echoes in other stories, creating a network of invisible threads, a rhizomatic growth I could never have planned. In this issue, the last before a sesquicentennial both celebrated and contested, I feel the ache of history, identity and the passage of time.

As Canadians, our collective understanding of history is more complex than it was 50 years ago. We are less a country of mindless boosterism; we have a more nuanced, if still emerging, understanding of the shadow side of history, the human and environmental costs tithed at the altar of colonialism and the reductionist erasures of unofficial histories and cultural identities, to list but a few. This sensibility, to me, is reflected in the latest work of Kent Monkman, Karen Tam and Tammy McGrath, as well as some pieces in the Oh Ceramics show in Medicine Hat. They invite reflection about where we have been and how that understanding informs the future.

As always, I end this note with a gentle request to sign up for the email reminder  we send out when we publish a new issue each second Tuesday. As a subscriber to this free online magazine, you help sustain our growth, and we, in turn, help sustain artists and their work. Many in the West have been left out of national conversations about culture. Galleries West Digital is a way to make artists more visible. Canadians are diverse, different one from the other. In hearing the stories of others, we mature and become more transparent to ourselves.

Until next time,

 

MASTHEAD

20 June 2017

Volume 2 Number 13 Copyright 2017

ISSN 2561-3316

Galleries West Digital is an online magazine published every second Tuesday to promote and advance the visual arts. Launched in 2016, it replaces the print version of Galleries West magazine, which covered art and artists in Western Canada for 15 years. Our award-winning website, gallerieswest.ca, the repository for all content, is an open archive of information about the arts in communities large and small throughout Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columba as well as Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

Editor Portia Priegert
editor@gallerieswest.ca
250-382-0567 (Victoria)
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Consulting Editor Jeffrey Spalding
Reviews Editor reviews@gallerieswest.ca
Contributors Paul Gessell, Doug Maclean, Quentin Randall, Lissa Robinson
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Tom Tait
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Kent Monkman, "The Daddies," 2016, acrylic on canvas, 60" x 112.5"

COVER STORY

Kent Monkman Confronts History

Miss Chief Eagle Testickle usually struts across Kent Monkman’s canvases in her spike heels fearlessly battling – and ravishing – cowboys, settlers and Mounties. Monkman’s campy, cross-dressing alter ego has been given additional duties for the Toronto artist’s travelling exhibition, Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience, on view at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum from June 17 to Sept. 10. Miss Chief is the exhibition narrator and snippets from her “memoirs” are posted on gallery walls. “I am the light, the two-spirited gentle man and fierce woman,” Miss Chief tells viewers rather immodestly. Miss Chief still stars in some paintings, notably The Daddies, wearing only heels as she boldly confronts the Fathers of Confederation, demanding a seat at the table during their 1864 talks in Charlottetown. But later in the exhibition, another issue halts and silences the audacious Miss Chief – residential schools. Monkman tells the story in anguished paintings of priests, nuns and Mounties prying frightened youngsters from the arms of their distraught parents. Miss Chief is nowhere to be seen in those paintings. More ►

– Paul Gessell

Karen Tam, "Flying Cormorant Studio (for Lee Nam)," 2014-2017, multimedia installation with paintings by Lui Luk Chun, Tam Yuen Yin Law, Huang Junbi, Gao Jianfu, Qi Baishi and Emily Carr

FIVE THINGS

Karen Tam’s Chinatown Studio

1

A Chinese artist who befriended Emily Carr in the early 1930s is the focus of a Victoria exhibition by Montreal’s Karen Tam. Little is known about Lee Nam, apart from several references to him in Carr’s writing. Tam, best known for recreating Chinese restaurants in galleries across Canada as a way of recovering lost histories about migrants, spent a month in Victoria searching for information about Nam. Her installation, With wings like clouds hung from the sky, on view at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria until Sept. 4, re-imagines what his Chinatown studio might have looked like. It’s equipped with brushes and inks for traditional painting as well as work by various artists, including Montreal-based Lui Luk Chun and Tam’s mother, Yuen Yin Law. Ultimately, Nam remains a shadowy figure. Tam was unable to find any photos of him, although she did a series of watercolours based on period photos of immigrants with the same name. She is not even sure the name that Carr recorded is correct –many early immigrants were “paper sons” who bought travel documents from other people. At the entrance to the show, Tam has posted an unsigned image of some chickens, thought to have been painted by either Nam or Carr. “It’s the closest physical evidence we have of him,” she says. More ►

– Portia Priegert

Tammy McGrath, “Adagio in G Minor: A Lullaby,” 2017, performance, installation and sound, installation view, photo by Claire Coutts

FIVE THINGS

Tammy McGrath’s Adagio in G Minor: A Lullaby

2

“Gone the way of the dodo” is an all-too-common lament, uttered when yet another species joins the growing list of recent extinctions. In Tammy McGrath’s exhibition, Adagio in G Minor: A Lullaby, at Calgary’s New Gallery until June 24, a fictional dodo plays a central role in an eloquent yet unsettling tale about truth, knowledge and history. The installation includes a 30-foot paper scroll listing every censored or banned book the artist has noted to date. This perpetual list has been meticulously recorded using an antique typewriter smattered with broken keys, resulting in the random censoring of words as the text is typed. Accompanying these objects is an audio piece infusing the space with the melodic sound of Calgary artist and musician Rita McKeough reciting McGrath’s fictional account of the enigmatic dodo devouring books. More ►

– Lissa Robinson

Installation view of "Oh Ceramics" showing work by Juliana Rempel (wall) and Martin Tagseth (foreground)

FIVE THINGS

Oh Ceramics Explores Canadiana

3

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, the Esplanade Art Gallery in Medicine Hat, Alta., invited 17 ceramic artists to explore Canadian themes and identities. The outcome, displayed in Oh Ceramics until July 1, offers diverse work that takes on added symbolic weight in a city known for its historical clay industry. For instance, Stewart Jacobs’ colourful work celebrates the Squamish Nation with traditional Coast Salish depictions of the landforms and wildlife of the Pacific Northwest. Meanwhile, Juliana Rempel, who was raised in Medicine Hat, created One By One, a series of 150 wall-mounted ceramic plates that feature the dramatic lines of the prairie landscape. The first platter in the installation is blank and each subsequent platter includes one additional line or decorative element. The progression to the final image – a farmyard – evokes the process of European colonization. More ►

– Quentin Randall

Keith Wood, "Non-Fiction 13," 2017, encaustic on paper, 22" x 30” Images courtesy Gurevich Fine Art, Winnipeg

FIVE THINGS

A Page From Keith Wood’s Book

4

Keith Wood chose a plucky name for his latest show of abstract works on paper: Non-Fiction. The two dozen or so unframed pieces on view at Gurevich Fine Art in Winnipeg until June 30 aren’t really about anything, he says, though they do resemble pages torn from a book. The title, he adds, “just popped into my head.” Wood likes ambiguity and avoids naming individual pieces. “The problem with titling is that people start looking for things,” he says. “You know, if you give it a specific title, then they try to find arms and legs.” His art is process driven, so he has little idea where he’s headed when he starts working. But he’s mainly interested in formal pictorial elements like shape, colour and line and how they relate to each other. “My work isn’t complicated and it’s not heavy work,” he says. “There’s no message in it.” Wood, 73, drifted into abstraction after many years of representational painting. He’s been using encaustic for about a decade, mixing pigments into melted wax, then quickly brushing it on before it cools and hardens. If you visit his Winnipeg studio, you’ll see a bunch of pots and pans that he uses to melt the wax. Wood was drawn to encaustic because of the way it holds light – pigments never dissolve into the wax but are suspended within it. “The light seems to come from inside the painting,” he says. More ►

– Portia Priegert

Jean Paul Riopelle, "Vent du nord," 1952/53, oil on canvas, 51" x 76.8" image courtesy of Heffel Fine Art Auction House

FIVE THINGS

Riopelle Tops Spring Auctions

5

The spring art auctions in Toronto saw Jean Paul Riopelle’s abstract painting Vent du nord fetch more than $7.4 million, a record for the late Quebec artist and the second most expensive art sale in Canadian history. The work, done in 1952-53, was sold by Heffel Fine Art for far more than its estimated value of $1 million to $1.5 million. Last fall, Heffel sold Lawren Harris’ Mountain Forms  for more than $11.2 million, more than doubling the previous record for Canadian art. Still, the sales season overall  was a bit of a roller coaster ride with plenty of ups and downs, reports Galleries West correspondent Doug Maclean. To read his full report, click here.
 

Andy Warhol, "Wayne Gretzky 99," 1984, serigraph, installation view, Art Gallery of Alberta Collection, gift of Dr. Robert Tate, 1986

NEWS ROUNDUP

Warhol’s Gretzky Gets Ice Time

6

The Art Gallery of Alberta and two East Coast galleries are teaming up to present famous Warhol prints of hockey star Wayne Gretzky in a new exhibition – Gretzky is Everywhere. Warhol was apparently a fan of The Great One back in the day. “He’s more than a hockey player, he’s an entertainer,” Warhol said of Gretzky in 1983. “An entertaining hockey player.” Four versions of Warhol’s 1984 print, Wayne Gretzky 99, are on view in Edmonton until Sept. 24. All are from the gallery’s permanent collection. One is being live-streamed simultaneously with two other prints, one at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown and the other at The Rooms in St. John’s, Nfld. Visitors can see the prints while also getting a glimpse of viewers at the two other galleries. Their interactions with the camera become part of the show, offering the fabled 15 minutes of fame, however modest. “Gretzky is Everywhere provides us the opportunity to work with colleagues and collections across the country while celebrating an iconic Canadian figure,” says Laura Ritchie, head of exhibitions and collections management at the Art Gallery of Alberta. “It’s a national endeavour that brings arts institutions and celebrity fans alike together in the spirit of Andy Warhol’s practice.” The show is curated by Mireille Egan and Pam Wendt.
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