CURATING IN THE HAZE OF EMPIRES
CRITICAL REGIONALISM AND ONTARIO’S PUBLIC ART GALLERIES
November 4 to 6, 2014
Organized by Demetra Christakos for the Ontario Association Of Art Galleries
Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen Street West, Toronto
CURATING IN THE HAZE OF EMPIRES borrows, works upon, and re-defines a theoretical concept — that of critical regionalism — from the contemporary perspective of the renewed vitality and curatorial production of Ontario’s regional public art galleries. Originally rooted in architectural theory, this term was adapted by author Douglas Reichert Powell in his 2007 book Critical Regionalism: Connecting Politics and Culture in the American Landscape. The symposium is enacted by way of the rhetorical device of the extended debate form known as the filibuster or, as we have interpreted it, a programmed series of illustrated talks extending three days. Thirty-three celebrated curators, artists, gallery directors, writers, educators and art historians gather at the historic Gladstone Hotel on Queen Street West, Toronto, to tease apart intertwined histories, art histories and regional aesthetics that underlie the burgeoning visual art scenes we see across Ontario today. Speakers have been invited to share their ideas about the regional public art gallery’s contribution to the advancement of knowledge and understanding of contemporary art practice and curating — for its many audiences — through the quality and significance of its institutional exhibitions and curatorial research.
DOES EVERY TOWN IN ONTARIO HAVE A QUEEN STREET AND A KING STREET?
Curating in the Haze of Empires wrestles with the public art gallery and art museum over time and history, in the words of Douglas Reichert Powell, “as part of the grammar of the meta-language of colonialism.” Wanda Nanibush talks about curating Sovereign Acts, an exhibition reflecting upon the profound conundrum for Indigenous performers who present traditional cultural practices on stage while also having those performances fulfill the desires of a colonial imaginary. Bonnie Devine, installation artist and curator, speaks to the deep historical significance of three treaties signed between 1795 and 1814 that were the focus of her artwork in the exhibition The Tecumseh Papers. In her moving, honest, and original book, Distant Relations: How My Ancestors Colonized North America, Toronto author Victoria Freeman asked herself the critical question: How did I come to inherit a society that has dispossessed and oppressed the indigenous peoples of this continent? From her recent residency, artist Camille Turner presents new research into enslaved peoples of Ontario. Diane Kruger reviews some of the early military visual codes and colours represented in the Queen’s York Ranger’s Museum housed at Fort York. Public art gallery curators Debra Antoncic and Alicia Boutilier situate their curating practices in relation to their art collections and the built architectural legacies of respectively Queenston and Kingston. Laura Brandon shares the contributions of Canada’s female war artists as represented in the Canadian War Museum. cheyanne turions reflects on Other Electricities, an award-winning exhibition that sought to perform an aesthetic or cultural decolonization on the Art Gallery of Windsor’s permanent collection.
WHY DO WE NEVER TALK ABOUT THE RELIGIOUS ROOTS OF THE PROVINCE OF ONTARIO?
Andrea Budgey, a chaplain at Trinity College (founded 1851), and Maggie Helwig, an artist and priest at St Stephen-in-the-Fields (built 1858 in the Victorian Gothic Style), will talk about curating their new collaborative festival on faith, arts and activism in downtown Toronto.
THE OUT-OF-TIME OBJECT
Speakers have been invited to demonstrate visual readings of collected documents, objects, artworks, orphaned public sculpture and some of the protected historical buildings embedded in our contemporary landscape. David Sereda moves us through time and place with his curated selection of songs. Angela Carr reads the social history of Ontario in the architecture of Osgoode Hall, Toronto — as if it were our own Trajan’s Column. Alison Matthews David shares her research on some forgotten toxicities of 19th century high fashions both to those who (knowingly) wore them and to those who made them. Peter Vronsky, writer and historian, decodes a high Victorian work of public art, the Canadian Volunteer Monument, erected in 1870 to the memory of those who fought the Fenians at Limeridge, now orphaned on the grounds of the University of Toronto. Anita Grants visits from Montreal to share her research on the influence of John Ruskin (1819-1900), the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, on art, architecture and art training here in Ontario. Faith Hieblinger speaks to programming a contemporary public art gallery in the context of not only artist Homer Watson’s historic house in Kitchener, built in 1834, but also within the very gallery he established in 1893. Rosalind Pepall takes us through her work with Charles Hill organizing the National Gallery of Canada exhibition Artists, Architects and Artisans: Canadian Art 1890-1918. Teresa Casas speaks to her Wychwood Barns Farmers Market project back to the park, an engaging harvest of texts and images from GTA archives and online databases illustrating incidents and issues at the forefront of civic life a century ago. Virginia Eichhorn, Melanie Egan and Paul Toth stage a debate questioning some historic barriers between visual disciplines in the panel Painting: Is it Craft? Senior curator Linda Jansma shares the serendipity of passion and original research in her discovery of a large portfolio of previously unknown works by Jock Macdonald.
THE REGIONAL PUBLIC ART GALLERY AS CONTEMPORARY ART GALLERY
In our opening keynote, cultural theorist Marcus Boon explores the roles of collector and curator today, in the light of recent radical shifts in what we consider to be public, common, or property. Nadia Kurd, curator, talks about the presentation of the sacred art bundle of over 1800 moccasin vamps made by individuals across North America in honor of murdered and missing Indigenous women, Walking With Our Sisters, at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. Matthew Teitelbaum and Murray Whyte both flex and depart from the symposium theme in their keynote conversation. Visual artist Maria Hupfield speaks on her recent projects and activating the Art Museum as a site for in-the-moment encounters, investigation and discovery. Jan Allen will speak about contemporary art exhibitions that provide a context for reflecting on the potential for regional galleries to tap into and navigate latent veins of cultural heritage. Mark A. Cheetham introduces ARTCan.ca and other new resources for rethinking Canadian art history. Kelly Hill, Hill Strategies Inc., provides a statistical update on the profile of the public art gallery in Ontario in his introduction to the 2013 OAAG Data Exchange. Visual Arts Officer Zhe Gu updates us on funding priorities for public art galleries at the Ontario Arts Council.
FOCUS ON RECENT EXHIBITIONS
For students of curating, the symposium provides the opportunity to hear detailed talks about significant new exhibitions organized or presented in Ontario public art galleries from their artists and curators, including:
Sovereign Acts, Justina M. Barnicke Gallery
Bonnie Devine: The Tecumseh Papers, Art Gallery of Windsor
Walking with Our Sisters, Thunder Bay Art Gallery and other venues
Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century, The Bata Shoe Museum
Artists, Architects and Artisans: Canadian Art 1890–1918, National Gallery of Canada
Jock Macdonald: Evolving Form, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery and other venues
Howie Tsui: Friendly Fire Cabinet, Agnes Etherington Art Centre
Geoffrey James: Inside Kingston Penitentiary, Agnes Etherington Art Centre
Other Electricities, Art Gallery of Windsor
OAAG PRODUCTION TEAM
Demetra Christakos, Veronica Quach, Brendan Coughlin, Deevanie Jethoo
 From Wikipedia: Queen Street, known as Lot Street until 1844, was named in honour of Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 until her death in 1901. For a time, Lot Street served as the northern limit of York. On the north side of the street, large 0.8 km2 (200 acres) were granted to loyalists and government officials, many never having visited Upper Canada during their lives. The central portion was a baseline for surveys by the Queen’s Rangers in 1793.