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News / May 3, 2018

News in Brief: Big MOCA Toronto Delays, and More

Controversy continues at Victoria’s Open Space, while Fredericton’s Beaverbrook preps for flooding.
Construction and renovation has taken longer for MOCA Toronto than expected, pushing back opening day by four months. Photo: MOCA Toronto Facebook. Construction and renovation has taken longer for MOCA Toronto than expected, pushing back opening day by four months. Photo: MOCA Toronto Facebook.

Of Setbacks and Wet Sculptures

Just a few weeks ahead of its scheduled opening, Toronto’s new Museum of Contemporary Art says its debut has been pushed back by four months. According to previous press releases and advertisements, MOCA was due to open on May 26 with its inaugural exhibition “BELIEVE,” featuring work by Awol Erizku, Rajni Perera, Barbara Kruger and Jeremy Shaw, among others. But a new May 2 release indicates that that exhibition, along with the museum’s official opening, has been delayed to September 22. The museum facility—which is being renovated from several floors of an old auto factory—will be open May 26 and 27 for Doors Open, but without any art programming. On the more positive side, MOCA just received $5 million from the provincial government for cultural infrastructure. (press release)

Victoria artist-run centre Open Space is in the midst of controversy—again. Earlier this year, Open Space found itself under calls for a boycott after Kanien’keha:ka/French curator France Trépanier wrote a February 20 open letter about her concerns regarding de-Indigenization and erasure at the gallery. Following that, an interim board took over. On May 1, the interim board released a public statement to the effect that executive director Kegan McFadden, who had come on staff on November 1, had declined to extend his probationary period by six months and so has had “employment terminated.” In its statement, the board says that an April 26 Canada Council letter indicating “concerned status” for the gallery was one of the reasons for requesting a probation extension for McFadden. When the “employment terminated” announcement was posted to the Open Space Facebook page on May 1, at least five commenters questioned the interim board’s reasoning. As of May 3, the “employment terminated” announcement and all related comments have been deleted from the Open Space Facebook page. (Open Space)

The Beaverbrook—New Brunswick’s biggest art gallery, which holds paintings by Dali, Matisse, Turner and Freud—has shut its doors due to flooding on the St. John River which borders it. The closure, initiated April 27 and projected to last until at least May 4, is to ensure visitor safety and an ability to react rapidly to the situation, which has morphed in recent days into one of the worst floods in decades. Luckily, for now, the art is safe, with works on the lower levels having been moved to upper ones. “Over the years, and with our recent expansion, we’ve taken measures to ensure significant flood protection for the building and the collection housed inside it,” gallery director Tom Smart tells Canadian Art via email. “Based on current and forecasted flood levels, we do not anticipate any danger to either the collection or to the building, though we are actively monitoring the situation in case of changes. So far, the building has remained dry, with no water observed in any gallery space.” He says the outdoor sculpture garden is flooded, but should survive. Nearby commercial dealer Gallery 78 has also reported puddles in its basement. (Canadian Press, CBC NewsBeaverbrook Art Gallery Facebook, Gallery 78 Facebook)

An established Halifax sculptor was given a $14.5K tax bill after Canada Revenue Agency demoted him to the status of “hobby artist.” A report by CBC News shows that Steve Higgins, also a part-time instructor at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, is considered a professional artist by the Canada Council—but for some reason, not by the CRA. Being designated a professional by the CRA would allow Higgins (as in past years) to write off expenses related to art projects and grants. “I’ve been exhibiting since 1974 in North America, South America, Europe, Japan, Australia,” Higgins told the CBC. “And all of the grant money I received to sponsor those exhibitions are considered income and when I declare expenses against that, then it cancels out the amount of money I received.” He added: “I think what is required is the Canada Council and the Canada Revenue Agency to sit down and have a conversation about what one arm of the government’s doing and what one arm of the government is destroying. That’s it in a nutshell.” (CBC News)

Repatriation and Reclamation Wins

A BC museum has launched a $500K grant to repatriate First Nations artifacts and ancestral remains. CBC News reports that the Royal BC Museum announced the program in April. The deadline for organizations to apply for the grant is May 31. Lucy Bell, who is a member of the Haida nation and is head of the department and repatriation program at the museum, has, over the past 20 years, “helped bring back more than 500 artifacts and ancestral remains from museums across Canada and all the way to the U.K.” The grant is “available to BC First Nations and associated organizations (such as a cultural society, repatriation committee etc.) for the purposes of assisting in consultation, documentation and repatriation of First Nations cultural items, ancestral remains and burial items as well as intangible cultural heritage from global museums.” (CBC, Royal BC Museum)

A tribute to Inuit printmaking is to become a permanent public artwork at OCAD University. Inuk artist Couzyn van Heuvelen has been commissioned to create permanent artwork that will embed Indigenous presence within the historic George Reid House (the first campus to house the Ontario College of Art), says a press release. “I will be creating a series of carved stone slabs which respond to Inuit stonecut printmaking and will highlight the associated studio processes,” says van Heuvelen in a release. “The work will call attention to Inuit art making, and contribute to making an Indigenous presence visible at the university.” The artist was chosen by a six-member jury consisting of Indigenous Visual Culture chair Ryan Rice, associate professor Bonnie Devine, Canada Research Chair Gerald McMaster, architect Brian Porter, elder Duke Redbird and graduate student Aylan Couchie. The work is to be unveiled in Fall 2018. (press release)

Comings and Goings

Two Canadian curators are withdrawing from a German museum show about the life and work of Jewish art dealer Max Stern. According to the Art Newspaper, “Two Canadian curators said they are withdrawing from a planned exhibition at the Düsseldorf Stadtmuseum about the life and work of the Jewish art dealer Max Stern after the mayor first cancelled the show, then backtracked on his decision weeks later. The Canadian team had worked in cooperation with the Stadtmuseum on the exhibition about the dealer, who was forced to sell his collection and flee the Nazis. It was due to open in February and travel on to Haifa and Montreal, where Stern eventually settled.” It continues, “Catherine MacKenzie, a professor of art history from Montreal, and Philip Dombowsky, the head of the Stern archive at the National Gallery of Canada, now say they will no longer curate the show. ‘I was not prepared to re-engage when my work as part of a team in which I had felt privileged to participate was being increasingly devalued,’ MacKenzie says in an email. Clarence Epstein, the director of the Max Stern Art Restitution Project, says his team has requested reimbursement of €20,000 intended for the exhibition and the catalogue from the city of Düseldorf.” Canadian restitution scholar Sara Angel has also written about this story; background is available in her February 2 post on Artnews. (Art Newspaper)

The Vancouver Art Gallery has hired a new chief curator and associate director—and she’s big on public art. American Rochelle Steiner—best known for her leadership of New York’s Public Art Fund during the time it commissioned Olafur Eliasson’s The New York City Waterfalls project—is due to begin the job June 1. She replaces Daina Augaitis, who, according to the Georgia Straight, stepped down at the end of 2017, after serving as the VAG’s chief curator and associate director since 1996. Steiner is currently professor of critical studies at the Roski School of Art and Design at the University of Southern California, and she recently co-curated “Access + Ability” at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York. Steiner has also been chief curator at the Serpentine in London and associate curator of contemporary art at the Saint Louis Art Museum. In addition to its indoor spaces, the Vancouver Art Gallery regularly programs an offsite outdoor space at 1100 West Georgia Street. (press release, Georgia Straight)

C Magazine has a new managing editor. Jaclyn Bruneau is a Toronto-based independent writer, editor and arts worker originally from the West Coast, with interdisciplinary research interests in contemporary art, moving image, memoir practices, queer subjectivity, grief, power and the absurd. Her recent projects include a year-long survey of contemporary cultural criticism funded by the British Columbia Arts Council. Bruneau, who is also a contributor to Canadian Art, is in her final production cycle as the managing editor of MICE magazine. (press release)

The National Gallery of Canada, Continued

The National Gallery of Canada has more bad press—and it’s not all Chagall-related. Apparently, the CBC reports, the NGC’s glass façade is responsible for dozens of bird deaths each year. “Safe Wings Ottawa is calling on the gallery to take measures to prevent birds from smashing into its windows,” the CBC report states. Safe Wings Ottawa member Anouk Hoedeman “scans the perimeter of the gallery twice a day — three times a day during spring and fall migrations — to check for fallen birds.” Also: “Hoedeman said she’s spoken repeatedly with the gallery,” but, “Nothing ever happens, and I’ve gotten frustrated with that.” Via email, the gallery told the CBC, “The gallery is looking at potential solutions that could be implemented within its budget.” Also: the National Gallery’s plans to share storage space in a new facility with the Science and Technology Museum and the Canadian Conservation Institute may be in jeopardy, the Ottawa Citizen reports. The problem? According to a document obtained through a Freedom of Information request, “all three institutions have ended up wanting roughly 35 per cent more space than was originally requested.” (CBC Ottawa, Ottawa Citizen)

But there is more to say on the Chagall scandal front, for some. The CBC and the Ottawa Citizen report that Marc Mayer’s May 2 appearance at a photo show press preview—his first public appearance since the Chagall reversal by the NGC board last Thursday—found the gallery CEO tight-lipped. Reporters were instructed by gallery staff not to ask questions about the Chagall/David controversy, but did anyway. “We don’t have anything to add that we haven’t said already,” Mayer said, reports the CBC. “I’d rather wait until I have something to answer your questions.” The CBC indicated that in French, Mayer said answers would be available within a few days. The Globe and Mail reconstructed an in-depth timeline of events related to the Chagall/David fumble. The Ottawa Citizen also spoke to Chagall’s descendants, who are pleased La Tour Eiffel is returning to Canada. And former CPERB secretary Erica Claus wrote an op-ed questioning how the Chagall could have been exported from Canada for auction in the first place. (CBC, Ottawa Citizen, Globe and Mail)

Positively Popular

The Royal Ontario Museum has just clocked the highest attendance numbers in its 104-year history. This week, the museum announced a record-breaking 1.44 million visitors for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2018—which it also says is the highest museum attendance in Canada and among the top 10 museum attendances in North America. Memberships have also increased by 11 per cent, to roughly 120,000. Among the exhibitions attracting attendees were “Out of the Depths: The Blue Whale Story,” “VIKINGS: The Exhibition,” “Christian Dior” and “Here We Are Here.” (press release)

Emily Carr University of Art and Design has named its honorary doctorates for 2018. This year, they will go to multidisciplinary artist Rebecca Belmore; multidisciplinary artist and musician Kim Gordon; artist, designer and educator, Angela Grauerholz and animator, artist and filmmaker, Pierre Hébert. This year’s Emily Award (recognizing outstanding accomplishment by alumni) will be presented to interdisciplinary artist Tsēmā Igharas, a 2011 alumna. Recipients will receive their honours at the 2018 Convocation Ceremony to be held May 5, 2018 at the Chan Centre for Performing Arts. (press release)

In lighter (perhaps) news, 4-year-old New Brunswicker Advait Kolarkar was showing his paintings at Artexpo New York this week. The Canadian Press reports that Kolarkar started painting at one year of age and started exhibiting his paintings at two years of age. Kolarkar’s mother, Shruti, says that to date he has earned $23,000 from selling his paintings. (Canadian Press/Toronto Star)