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News / July 12, 2018

News in Brief: Canada at the Liverpool Biennial and More

Funding issues for the Vancouver Art Gallery expansion and more damage to public art (and its reputation) are also in the news this week

Canadian Art Abroad

The most Canadian Liverpool Biennial ever. Previews are afoot this week for the Liverpool Biennial, which this year is co-curated by Kitty Scott, who is also curator of modern and contemporary art at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Curated on the theme “Beautiful World, Where Are You?” this year’s biennial includes work by Abbas Akahavan, Brian Jungen, Janice Kerbel, Duane Linklater, Annie Pootoogook and Joyce Wieland. It officially opens to the public on July 14. (Liverpool Biennial)

New Canadian embassy in Paris highlights Indigenous artists. A mix of old and new paintings and installations by Kent Monkman are a highlight of the new edifice there—a building which also puts the Canadian Cultural Centre, its gallery, and the embassy under one roof for the first time, the CBC reports. “The centrepiece of the exhibition,” CBC states, “is Miss Chief’s Wet Dream, a monumental eight-metre-wide canvas. It’s inspired by two iconic historical French paintings: Théodore Géricault‘s Raft of the Medusa and Eugène Delacroix‘s Liberty Leading the People.” Selected windows in the embassy are engraved with 195 symbols by Marianne Nicholson, and the embassy courtyard is home to Nadia Myre‘s massive sculpture Tree of Shifting Forms, which is constructed from clay tobacco smoking pipes. (CBC)

What’s the deal with Canada’s new cultural export strategy?
We have more details in our extensive report, particularly on how the new strategy and funds might aid art dealers and the artists they represent. (Canadian Art)

SLAV is Gone, but the Bias Lives On

Performances of SLĀV are still planned for Sherbrooke, Drummondville and Saguenay, and Robert Lepage remains unapologetic about the production. In a CBC story, the SLAV Resistance Collective says it will not protest those performances, but hopes to address some of the systemic issues that led to the play being produced in the first place. And Global News reports that Lepage contends the Montreal cancellation was “a direct blow to artistic freedom.” (CBC, Global News)

It’s worth noting there have been cultural appropriation problems in Robert Lepage’s stage productions before.  “What happened this week is quite similar to a controversy that erupted over Zulu Time, another collaboration between Lepage and a musician (Peter Gabriel, in that case), at the jazz festival in 2002,” the Globe and Mail’s Kelly Nestruck notes. “It had an almost all-white cast playing a diverse group of international characters. In his review for The Globe and Mail, critic Alan Conter wrote that he had entered hoping for a ‘real exploration of hybrid culture,’ but instead found ‘cultural pastiche – most of it embarrassing, some of it painful….To set up the appearance of a white actor caked in grey clay and clad as a Hollywood Zulu warrior was a short excerpt from the 1964 film Zulu,…This isn’t so much a cultural hybrid as awkward appropriation. What was [Lepage] thinking?’” (Globe and Mail)

Public Art Pains and Pleasures

An artwork about US border crossing has been vandalized in Saskatoon.Roxham was installed June 28 in Victoria Park and Diefenbaker Park, including a total of four images spanning Michael Huneault‘s documentation of 180 border-crossing attempts on Roxham Road (Quebec) between February and August 2017.” says a July 5 release from AKA artist-run, which helped install the works along with public art initiative Roadside Attractions. “Currently AKA is in the process of repairing the damaged installations…We hope that the work can remain installed throughout the duration of the project (until August 31, 2018).” (AKA artist-run)

Calgary City Council has rejected a call to apologize for its public art program. “Coun. Jeromy Farkas called for an apology as an acknowledgement that the public art program has fallen short of its goals and failed to meet public expectations,” CBC reports. “Coun. Sean Chu agreed.” But: “Council voted 9 to 2 against issuing a public apology.” (CBC)

Interactive light installation in Toronto subway station is still in limbo following censorship controversy. A new report on LightSpell, an artwork by German artists Tim and Jan Edler at Pioneer Village Station, suggests that the artists and the TTC “have agreed to a handful of principles that would allow LightSpell to be switched on at last,” the Toronto Star states. “They include a provision that the TTC create a list of terms that would be prohibited from being displayed on the grounds that they ‘compromise safety’ or ‘incite panic or cause harm to passengers.'” These could possibly include the terms “fire,” “bomb,” and “jump,” with a panel being struck to evaluate inappropriate content. (Toronto Star)

And some observers are still concerned about the process that has unfolded around LightSpell. “$1.9 million is a lot of money to spend in order to learn that you don’t actually want to hear the voice of the people,” Edward Keenan writes in the Star. “Most of us could learn the same thing for free spending a little time online.” Keenan, who is not against limiting some words in the artwork, notes the piece was approved by the Toronto Transit Commission board in 2011. “It is, I think, entirely fair for the TTC to decide that a piece of subway infrastructure is not the platform for the unfiltered id of the public to be displayed….But why would you commission (at great cost) a display devoted to open public expression in the first place, if you are afraid of allowing open public expression?” (Toronto Star)

Spanish street artist Okuda San Miguel has created a 23-storey installation in Toronto. The installation is on the side of Parkside Student Residence at Jarvis and Carlton Streets. “Officially, the installation is expected to be complete by July 19, and will be seen by about 100,000 commuters and local residents daily,” CBC reports. (CBC)

Vancouver Art Gallery from Funding to Fashion

The B.C. government is considering whether to contribute another $50 million to a new building for the Vancouver Art Gallery. “The extra $50 million would be in addition to $50 million already contributed in 2008 to the $350-million project for a new home on the empty lot across from the Queen Elizabeth Theatre at West Georgia and Cambie,” reports Kevin Griffin for the Vancouver Sun. “Lisa Beare, minister of tourism, arts and culture, said in a statement that the VAG asked for the extra $50 million last year. ‘I informed the art gallery board that the government would consider this additional funding based on progress made on raising private funds in support of the project,’ Beare said…In addition to the extra money from Victoria, the VAG is also awaiting word on whether it will receive $100 million from Ottawa for the new building.” (Vancouver Sun)

Vancouver Art Gallery to bring in major exhibit by Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei. “The Vancouver Art Gallery has announced it will present a major new exhibition by Chinese couturiere Guo Pei from October 13 to January 20, 2019,” the Georgia Straight reports. “Organized with Atlanta’s SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film and featuring more than 40 of the designer’s runway pieces, the show follows the evolution of Guo’s design over the past decade.” (Georgia Straight)

Award Wins

Toronto Outdoor Art Fair award winners announced. This year’s winners, announced over the weekend event, include Moira Ness for the $5,500 Catherine Bratty Award for Best of Art Fair, Sarah Pais for the Mayor’s Purchase Award, Becky Comber for the Best of Photography and Digital Media Award, Joon Hee Kim for the Best of Ceramics Award, Julia Hepburn for the Social Commentary Award and Francesca Chan for the Power Plant Emerging Artist Award. In all, $40,000 in cash and in-kind prizes were awarded at Canada’s largest outdoor art fair. (Toronto Outdoor Art Fair)

Leah Sandals

Leah Sandals is a writer and editor based in Toronto. Her arts journalism has appeared in the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail, among other publications, and her creative work has been published in Prism, Room and Freefall. She can be reached via