1. Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada 1965–1980 at the Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton, and the Anna Leonowens Gallery, Dalhousie Art Gallery, Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery and Mount Saint Vincent University Gallery, Halifax
A small group of Canadian curators—Grant Arnold, Catherine Crowston, Barbara Fischer, Michèle Thériault with Vincent Bonin, and Jayne Wark—take very good care of business in this large and dense touring exhibition, which chronicles the national take on one of the most influential art movements of the 20th century. Seven years in the making, “Traffic” (which debuted in Toronto last year, showed in Halifax and Edmonton this year, and is still on the go) proves to be a significant contribution to the history of recent Canadian art. Purists, who have argued that much of the work on view is not conceptualism at all, but rather post-conceptualism, want to see fewer works from a much tighter time frame. However, the looser, more inclusive definition of conceptual art used here allows the depth and breadth of the movement’s influence, evident today, to be seen clearly. The show begs for repeat visits—in Edmonton, there were 40 hours of video alone—and rewards them. Last chance to see “Traffic” will be at the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery in Montreal this winter and the Vancouver Art Gallery this fall. Catalogue to come.
2. The Colour of My Dreams: The Surrealist Revolution in Art at the Vancouver Art Gallery
An international expert on surrealism, Dawn Ades, made this exhibition for the Vancouver Art Gallery with a mandate to enlarge our understanding of an influential movement. The show, seen only at the VAG, broke ground in two ways: first, by including indigenous art of the Pacific Northwest that was important to surrealist artists, who collected it in Europe and sought it out in BC; and second, by exploring the influence of early Hollywood films (think Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin) upon these same artists. Although the installation was occasionally halting, wonderful art and crisp scholarship came together in what felt like a territory opened for exploration rather than a dreaded living textbook. The film program included difficult-to-find gems like Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart as well as the expected Luis Buñuel, Un Chien Andalou. It also added little-known women painters and photographers to the usual surrealist crowd. An excellent catalogue was published on the occasion of the show.
3. Watch Me Move: The Animation Show at the Glenbow Museum, Calgary
“Watch Me Move,” organized by the Barbican Art Gallery in London, made its only Canadian appearance at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum, and hooray for Glenbow. This entirely engaging exhibition, with a superlative section on hard-to-find early film, places contemporary artists like William Kentridge, Nathalie Djurberg, Jan Svankmajer and Julian Opie, who all work with animation, together with greatest hits from Disney and Pixar. The show’s title echoes the delight of early animators in suddenly being able to make things move. Pixar’s first film from 1986, John Lasseter’s Luxo Jr., carries it forward by turning two gooseneck lamps into a father and son pair. This show (which closes this weekend, December 24) is a must-see for anyone who is interested in moving-image art.
Nancy Tousley has written for many publications and is a contributing editor of Canadian Art.