Exhibitions Archive 2010 - 2012

Seasons of Mist and Mellow Fruitfulness: Group of Seven Works from the AGW Collection


September 11, 2010 – January 2, 2011

The Group of Seven was founded in 1920 as an organization of self-proclaimed modern artists. The original members -- Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Franz Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald and F.H. Varley -- befriended each other in Toronto between 1911 and 1913. All except Harris, who was independently wealthy, made their living as commercial artists, and several of them even worked together in the same shop. Tom Thomson, another commercial artist, was included in this circle of friends, but since he died in 1917 he never became a member of the Group. He was important to the other artists, however, for he was an avid outdoorsman and awakened their interest in painting the rugged northern Ontario landscape.

The Group was not exclusively landscape painters, and it was only after their first exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto in 1920 that they began to identify themselves as a landscape school. They were initially drawn together by a common sense of frustration with the conservative and imitative quality of most Canadian art. Romantic, with mystical leanings, the Group and their spokesmen zealously, and sometimes contentiously, presented themselves as Canada's national school of painters. This provoked the ire of the artistic establishment, which seems to have hated their rhetoric even more than their paintings. Eric Brown, director of the National Gallery of Canada, always stood by them. He began buying their paintings for the gallery's collection several years before the Group was formally established, and in 1924 and 1925 he made sure they were well represented in the Canadian art shows that went to the prestigious Wembley exhibition in England. This enraged many members of the Royal Canadian Academy, who felt that the Group was given an unfair advantage, but British press reports were so favourable that both Brown and the Group felt vindicated.

Like the European fin de siècle symbolists and post-impressionists from whom their aesthetic largely derived, the Group rebelled against the constraints of 19th-century naturalism and tried to establish a more equitable and independent relationship between art and nature. They shifted emphasis away from similitude -- the imitation of natural effects -- towards the expression of their feelings for their subjects. As they often painted together, both in the bush and in the studio, their paintings developed along somewhat similar lines. The canvases exhibited in their early shows usually have heavy impasto and bright colours, and are boldly summarized with attention drawn to surface patterning. This is as true of the portraits of Harris and Varley as of the landscapes. Following a visit to the stark north shore of Lake Superior in 1921, Harris began to radically simplify the colour and layouts of his canvases. MacDonald, Carmichael and even Varley soon adopted similar methods, using thin pigment and stylized designs for many paintings. Harris went further than the others, however, and by the mid-1920s he had reduced his paintings to a few simplified and nearly monochromatic forms. Ten years later he became the only member of the Group, and one of the first Canadian artists, to turn to abstraction.

Through self-promotion and through friends at the Arts and Letters Club and the Canadian Forum, as well as with the support of the National Gallery, the Group's influence steadily spread during the 1920s. In 1926, after Franz Johnston's resignation, A.J. Casson was appointed a member. The Group realized they could hardly call themselves a national school of painters as long as they all lived in Toronto, so they invited other artists to join them: in 1930 Edwin Holgate from Montréal and in 1932 L.L. Fitzgerald from Winnipeg were admitted to give the organization a wider geographic base.

Harris and Jackson influenced and encouraged the next generation of Canadian artists, and Lismer, MacDonald and Varley all became distinguished and influential teachers. By the time the group disbanded in 1933, however, it had become as entrenched, and in some ways as conservative, as the art establishment it had overthrown. Its influence has therefore been a mixed blessing, and it is not surprising that it was in Montréal, which did not respond to the Group's call, that the next generation of significant Canadian painters emerged. Paintings by members of the Group of Seven can be found in most Canadian public art galleries

Curated by Mandy Salter

 Annie MacDonell: The Abyss and the Horizon


July 2 – October 9, 2011

Windsor-born, Toronto-based artist Annie MacDonell received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Ryerson University in 2000 and pursued further studies at Le Fresnoy, Studio National des Arts Contemporains in France, where she worked with film, photography, sculpture and sound. She has shown with a number of public and private galleries in Toronto and elsewhere including Katherine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects and in the group exhibition To What Earth Does this Sweet Cold Belong, at Toronto's Power Plant. MacDonell is also an instructor at Ryerson University.

MacDonell's work is not delimited by a specific medium. She demonstrates, her practice often intersects photography, installation and sculpture. The most recent work in the show, the series To Everything There is a Season, departs from found landscape photographs of locations including Ellesmere Island, Drumheller and Black Diamond. MacDonell uses both traditional and digital collage processes to reconfigure the original images, generating a mediated and psychological vision of these epic locations. The work Iceberg Sculpture attempts to represent the heroic scale and proportions of an iceberg using modified sculptural plinth structures. These mundane display forms have been augmented with ice-like sheets of mirror on the top and rolling casters on the bottom, suggesting the potential for reflection and drift. In Landscape Piece (Land of the Midnight Sun), 24 mirrored bulbs chart the rising and setting of the sun in various northern location. The simple on/off function of the bulbs is an attempt to connect the gallery space to the infinitely distant north.

The largest work in this exhibition, Death by Landscape, invites the viewer to reconsider humanity's relationship to nature. The rough exterior of this structure suggests an exhibition crate ready to be expedited to the next venue. But a plinth-and-step placed at its base invites viewers to explore the interior contents, where we are introduced to a miniature forest environment lit up like an aurora borealis event. The mirror-lined interior of the box offers a seductive visual trick which extends the forest out in all four directions, but ultimately the spectacle of nature has been substituted with cheap technology and simple special effects. Here, as elsewhere throughout the exhibition, we are reminded that our relationship to the land in a post-modern world is fictive and structured. By presenting a highly mediated take on landscape art, the works in this show serve to blur our binary understanding of nature and culture as distinct social spaces.

This exhibition has been supported with the generous assistance of the City of Windsor, the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council. The AGW also thanks Mandy Salter for her contribution to bringing this exhibition into the Gallery's exhibition program, and thanks are extended to the artist for her creative vision and support of the presentation here in Windsor.

Curated by Mandy Salter

Anahada Naada


July 24 – September 19, 2010

In Anahada Naada, Jeet Aulakh adapts the circle and the square -- two recurring formal symbols spanning a variety of spiritual, religious and mythological systems -- to embody and reflect three decades of personal spiritual experience. These works speak in much the same way as does a sunset, or a dew laden flower at sunrise; to the internal and on through to the infinite. Visually ripe with formalist appeal, the paintings in this exhibition transcend modernist dogma and instead speak to a realm more in tune with the spiritual and sublime.

Curated by Mandy Salter

Sandi Wheaton: Promised Water / Promised Land


March 19 – July 3, 2011

Sandi Wheaton: Promised Water, Promised Land, neglected and protected desert landscapes presents photographic works which speak to California's largest lake, a sparkling gem in the middle of the desert, and an ecological catastrophe. After flooding in the 70s dashed the dream of a "desert Riviera", the water's pollution and salinity rose to levels that spoiled recreational uses like swimming and fishing. "As a citizen, the more I worked on this project, the more interested I became in its ecological, environmental and social aspects. The Salton Sea is fascinating, but it is moreover quite troubling. Due to the scarcity of fresh water in California, the Salton Sea risks becoming another dry Owens Lake, threatening local air quality and the nearby agricultural industry. This story is important to us all, if only to serve as a grave reminder of the consequences when human intervention in the natural landscape is met with subsequent inaction and irresponsibility." - Sandi Wheaton

Alongside the Salton Sea images are Wheaton's photographic memories of her travels through the Joshua Tree National Park. These images provide a stark contrast to the devastation and destruction of the California images, providing a sense of hope and wonder at the majesty of our protected and respected ecosystems.

Curated by Mandy Salter

Works from The Morris and Beverly Baker Foundation


April 10 – July 18, 2010

After WWII, abstraction spread across Canada to manifest itself in significant regional movements. This led to experiments with form and technique. In Toronto, artists were exploring more radical solutions and began looking to European and particularly New York abstract expressionist painting for influence. The Painters Eleven, amongst them Jack Bush (V-Cut 1967), Kazuo Nakamura and Jock MacDonald, were associated with Colour Field and Post Painterly Abstraction, much like their American colleague Frank Stella (Bene Come il Sale 1989). This group of painters held no single vision of the nature of abstraction and as a result they developed their own personal painterly vocabulary and expressive forms.

On the other side of the country, the Canadian West Coast painters were responding to landscape inspired motifs and the lyrical abstractions of painters like American Jules OIitski (Circulating Presence 1983.) Vancouver had and still has the largest concentration of artists and the longest history of interest in modern art: Jock Macdonald was working there in the 1930s and Lawren Harris settled there in 1940. The two principal artists from the 1940s, both as artists and teachers, have been B.C. Binning and Jack Shadbolt. Binning is best known as a draftsman and a painter of abstractions of ships and landscape. Shadbolt, deeply affected by the richness of the landscape and Northwest Coast Native Art, interpreted these themes in a highly personal surrealist manner. A combination of landscape and lyrical abstraction characterizes the work of Gordon Smith, Takao Tanabe and Don Jarvis, a direction reinforced by Toni Onley who moved to Vancouver in 1959.

A more rigorous form of abstraction, important for a younger group of painters, came from Roy Kiyooka who moved from Regina to Vancouver in 1959. In the 1960s and 1970s, Vancouver experienced the diversification of interests that occurred in Toronto and Montréal, with particular strengths in conceptual and communication art, video and performance through the work of Iain and Ingrid Baxter in their N.E. Thing Co. (formed in 1966), and Michael Morris and Gathie Falk, whose work has encompassed performance, painting and mixed.

Through the 1970s, the place of painting at the leading edge of the visual arts was challenged critically by developments in conceptual art, installation art, sculpture, video and performance art. The question, "Is painting dead?" could be heard ringing through artistic circles. For many people, painting, if it survived at all, would do so as an essentially reactionary form. But painting did not come to a standstill, and in recent years activity in the field, internationally as well as in Canada, has developed rapidly, especially among younger artists. Paul Hutner's (Canadian b. 1958) abstract work Border Crossing (1984), includes figurative images that are woven into the abstract concerns of the activity of painting while Katja Jacobs (Canadian, b. 1939) explores sensual surfaces and patterning in Memphis Tie #1 (ca.1980).

The Works from The Morris and Beverly Baker Foundation and Approaching Abstraction: Works from the AGW Permanent Collection exhibitions have been selected to re-cap the story of abstraction both nationally and internationally, emphasizing the parallel themes and artists who assisted in creating this dynamic and influential movement.

Curated by Mandy Salter

Rae Davis: Chromatic Fall


November 20, 2010 – July 3, 2011

When she graduated from university, Rae Davis assumed she would become a novelist or poet. It was theatre, however, that led her to the discovery of her own work. She actd in plays in elementary school and carefully watched the spectacles -- circus parades, stuntmen, newsreels at the local movie houses and so on -- to be seen in a small town in New Jersey in the 1930's. Through high school she attended, and remembered, productions at the Metropolitan Opera  and on Broadway in NYC. As an undergrad at Wellesley College, she was active in student theatre as an actress and stage manager. Finally, after completing graduate studies in English literature at Columbia University and experiencing the early years of marriage, she moved to London, Ontario, where she began a career directing avant-garde plays and writing her own scripts for stage.

Chromatic Fall (1969/2000) involves a projected and continuous ribbon of slowly fading colours complimented by a voiceover of random dialogue. Davis' work between 1959-2003 reflects a shifting vision of society and its noise and seems to speak to the possibility of finding peace and constructing a silence in the midst of chaos.

Curated by Mandy Salter

Approaching Abstraction: Selections from the AGW Permanent Collection


April 16 – July 11, 2010

"Every painting must have its own particular form to make a totality, resistant to and not assimilated by an ambiance and where each part depends on the whole and vice-versa." - Rodolphe de Repentigny

Abstract art in Canada first established itself in the 1920s and 1930s in the creative and intellectual works of Marian Scott, Fritz Brandtner, Bertram Brooker and Lawren Harris. These artists were reacting to the tight stylistic and contextual reigns of the European pictoralist and landscape movements of the 18th century. Brandtner began to experiment with abstract art by the late 1920s and Lawren Harris' abstract works were to come somewhat later, during an extended stay in the United States (1934-40). Harris exhibited his first abstract work in Canada in 1936 which drew their inspiration from spiritualism and particularly the writings of Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, "Concerning the Spiritual in Art," 1911. These painters strove to arrive at a personal spiritual expression and sought non-material subject matter for their works.

Another roadway into abstraction came by way of Surrealism, a literary and artistic movement founded by Andre Breton in the mid-1920s. Surrealists sought to get in touch with their subconscious and explored the world of dreams. They believed that the subconscious could be accessed through automatism, a kind of doodling where no conscious object was intentionally depicted. These ideas found themselves at home in the Montreal art scene of the 1940s which was to become the epicenter of Canada's first truly independent avant garde movement, "Les Automatiste," a term referring to a certain conception of art. This group of Québécois artistic dissidents included painters such as Paul Émile Borduas and Jean-Paul Riopelle who were responding to the precedents of European Cubism and Surrealism with their interests in spontaneous, automatic and subconscious creation. They felt strongly that artistic expression should be automatic; that the artist would not go through the normal process of deciding what to paint, making sketches, and then slowly creating a finished canvas in their studio. Instead, the artists should paint rapidly without any forethought, design, or even specific intentions as to what they were going to paint. They should paint automatically, letting their feelings and emotions flood out onto the canvas. The goal of automatic painting was not to create a beautiful picture, but to express the artist's sub-conscious feelings and impulses. Members included Marcel Barbeau, Roger Fauteux, Claude Gauvreau, Pierre Gauvreau, Fernand Leduc, Jean-Paul Mousseau and Marcell Ferron

Approximately one decade later, Montreal artists found themselves once again reacting to the previous generation with the development of the Plasticien movement. This was a more orderly style of painting in reaction to Les Automatists strong interest in the theory of automatism. Their focus was on colours, lines, contrast; completely rejecting the idea of Surrealism and their attachment to the idealism of the European Constructivist movement. Artists such as Guido Molinari, Claude Tousignant and Fernand Leduc drew their influence from the European School of Geometric Abstraction -- emphasizing that painting "is a search for true objectivity."

Curated by Mandy Salter