The idea of art history as a collective endeavour is much in the air these days. Some scholars resist, not because they are anti-social, but because their every accomplishment, every recognition by their field, has seemed, at least on the surface, to be the result of individual effort – sifting the evidence and seeing things in a new, or singular, way. Still we are thinking about networks: how they have and continue to shape our work.
The 1913 edition of the Spring Exhibition at the Art Association of Montreal (AAM) provoked a flood of commentary in the newspapers, both by critics and by readers, on a scale never seen before in Canada (See Appendix 1). The show, which opened on 26 March and lasted until 19 April, presented nearly 500 works by 182 artists and was the first to be held in the luxurious new premises on Sherbrooke Street West. It was the thirtieth to have been sponsored by the AAM since it opened its first galleries on Philips Square in 1879. Provocative headlines and occasional front page coverage led the readers into long articles and numerous photographs of the works on the inner pages of the papers. Readers responded with passion, challenging and defending the critics’ judgements. The latter, in turn, angrily replied to their detractors. Over twenty letters to the editors were published in seven of the dailies (three French- and four English-language publications) that sold in Montreal at that time. All observers agreed that attendance broke new records; by the most conservative estimates, over 15,000 people visited the show during the twenty-two days that the galleries were open.
Toronto’s Dorothy Cameron Gallery was bathed in pink light as about two hundred guests packed its long narrow room on the evening of 20 May 1965 for the opening of Eros 65, an eagerly anticipated exhibition of representational works about love. A romantic atmosphere was created by pink champagne, roses, red candles in white sconces, and heart-shaped stickers marking purchased works. As usual, Cameron’s party attracted Toronto’s beau monde including her sister Anna who was a popular CBC television personality, journalists Pierre Berton, Robert Fulford and June Callwood, and many artists, patrons, and collectors. They bantered happily, unaware that the police would raid the gallery in the morning, charge Cameron with exhibiting obscene pictures and set off a protracted and very public legal battle that has been touched on in memoirs and histories of the era without ever being critically analysed. As a result, its important role in defining the boundaries of acceptability in Canadian art, bringing state censorship powers under scrutiny, and exposing the fragility of women’s social position remains unexplored.
In 1970, curator and art historian J. Russell Harper (1914–1983) embarked on what would become one of his most extensive ventures into Canadian art history—a field that he helped to legitimate beginning with the publication of his monograph Painting in Canada: A History in 1966 and by holding such prominent positions as curator of Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada between 1959 and 1963. It came in the form of a major survey exhibition entitled People’s Art: Naïve Art in Canada, which opened at the National Gallery of Canada in 1973, just ten years after Harper had left his curatorial post there. Composed of 164 oil paintings, watercolours, woodcarvings, metal sculptures, and collages ranging from the mid-eighteenth century to 1971, People’s Art is significant to the larger history of art exhibition in Canada because of the two primary factors that conditioned Harper’s representational strategy.
En 1984, le Musée d’art de Saint-Laurent reçoit en dépôt à long terme, à la suite de longues démarches auprès du ministère de l’Éducation du Québec, la collection de la défunte École du meuble. Cet ensemble de meubles et objets d’art décoratif, réunis principalement par Jean-Marie Gauvreau (1903–1970) pour le bénéfice des étudiants, avait connu, après 1967, quelques péripéties dont, entre autres, la dispersion de toutes les archives de la collection. Dans le lot se trouve un meuble d’église qui a particulièrement attiré notre attention.
An Unknown Tabernacle by Jacques Leblond de Latour
In a Roman Catholic church, or chapel, the tabernacle is a structure designed to house consecrated hosts and occupies the focal spot in the building. The tabernacle that was offered to the Musée d’art de Saint-Laurent in 1984 is of exceptional importance. It is of the highest quality and can be classed among the oldest extant works produced in New France. Its technical aspects make it stand out among those found in museum collections in Quebec.
The College Art Association’s published guidelines for tenure and promotion are the gold standard for the profession, even here in Canada. They recommend “the following forms of publication (whether in print or electronic format) equivalent to single-authored books as vehicles of scholarly productivity: journal articles, essays and substantial entries in museum collections or exhibition catalogues, articles in conference proceedings, unpublished manuscripts, whether or not under contract with a publisher.” The guidelines’ emphasis on single-authored work validates the notion that the most credible, if not only credible form of art historical knowledge resides within an individual. Knowledge that is produced in an overtly collaborative fashion, such as curating, object repatriation, or community-centred web publication, garners no comment and as a consequence seems less than credible.
On 14 October 2011, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) opened its newest building to the public. Incorporating the neo-Romanesque Erskine and American Church, the Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion of Quebec and Canadian Art adds over 2,000 square metres and six floors of exhibition space to the mmfa thereby producing, in the words of the museum’s press release, “an emblematic and impressive ‘lieu de mémoire’” for the city and the country. Clad in the same Vermont marble as the Hornstein and Desmarais Pavilions, the Bourgie Pavilion is a discrete addition to the MMFA’s campus. Despite the shortage of available land behind the church, the new structure provides adequate space for the display of the 600 objects selected from the museum’s collection of Quebec and Canadian art and an intimate concert hall been has fashioned out of the Erskine and American’s original nave. The church has a long and intertwined history with the MMFA, its former congregation sharing class and ethnic identities with the founding figures of the Art Association of Montreal, the precursor to the MMFA.
David Askevold (1940–2008) is internationally-recognized for his innovations in pedagogy. In the early 1970s his legendary Projects Class brought leading contemporary artists from the United States to work with students at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax—a jiu jitsu-like move that contributed to the rapid transformation of previously marginal Halifax into an important node in a newly global art network. However, when reports of the artist’s untimely death circulated in 2008, his artistic legacy seemed to be less well-defined.
“Wish you were here” takes on a dark and unsettling irony when discovered on the reverse side of a postcard depicting an atomic blast. In Atomic Postcards: Radioactive Messages from the Cold War, readers are presented with an opportunity to reflect upon the ways in which Cold War nuclear experience is visualized, commented, or left unsaid through the recto/verso of postcard images. In general, postcards tend to be folksy and humble photographic forms. In Atomic Postcards, a juxtaposition of recto and verso, image and text, undermines one’s sense of familiarity.