Left and right photos: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery; middle photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery
Vancouver Art Gallery Gund Collection
(left) Robert Davidson, Red Tailed Eagle Feathers mask, 1997, alder, acrylic paint, horse hair, opercula, Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Gift from the Collection of George Gund III; (middle) Haida artist, Wasco platter, 1880 – 90, argillite, Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Gift from the Collection of George Gund III;(right) Kwakwaka’wakw or Wuikinux artist (attributed to), Thunderbird frontlet, c. 1850 – 80, red cedar, pigment, abalone shell, Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Gift from the Collection of George Gund III,
The Vancouver Art Gallery recently announced the donation of a comprehensive collection of First Nations artworks from the late San Francisco collector George Gund III, dramatically transforming the significance of the Gallery’s current collection of Northwest Coast art. This collection of thirty-seven exceptional objects includes some twenty historical works by Haida, Heiltsuk, Inuit, Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth, Nuxalk and Tlingit artists, dating as early as 700AD. It also includes important contemporary works such as poles by Ken Mowatt, Norman Tait, drawings by Bill Reid and, most remarkably, thirteen carved works by Robert Davidson. The addition of Davidson’s works to the objects already in the Gallery’s collection gives the Vancouver Art Gallery the most significant collection of Davidson’s work in a museum. An exhibition featuring the entire bequest is now on view at the Vancouver Art Gallery until January 31, 2016.
The art of the First Nations peoples of British Columbia and Alaska is one of the high points of culture in the Americas. Masks, totem poles and argillite carvings tended to be collected by museums of history and anthropology rather than art museums. The Vancouver Art Gallery has made a concerted effort to remedy this situation and has many important holdings of contemporary First Nations artists, from Bill Reid and Robert Davidson to Brian Jungen and Dana Claxton. Now it is seeking to acquire key historical works in order to provide examples of art by the First Peoples of this region as well as to offer a larger context for the work of contemporary First Nations artists within the Gallery’s collection, many of whom look to historical examples of First Nations art for inspiration.
“The Gund collection greatly enhances our ability to show the history of art making in this part of the world while also providing an important counterbalance to the Euro-Canadian narratives of art making already in the collection,” said Kathleen S. Bartels. “It is an honour for the Vancouver Art Gallery to acquire this distinguished collection of First Nations art and to make it accessible to Gallery visitors. We are grateful to Mr. Gund III and his executors, Dorsey & Whitney LLP, for their assistance in securing this remarkable bequest.”
“These wonderful objects have been on an amazing journey. Originally made on the West Coast, they have changed hands, crossed borders and remarkably, are now here in British Columbia, never to leave again,” said Inna O'Brian, Chair of Vancouver Art Gallery’s Acquisition Committee.
About the Gund Collection
George Gund III came from a family of important art collectors. His sister, Agnes Gund, is a long-time supporter and past President of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. George Gund III was also an important collector of Asian art and a major supporter of film in the Bay area. Remarkably, his interest in the Vancouver Art Gallery was unknown to the staff.
The Gund Collection consists of thirty-seven artworks, with eighteen works by contemporary Northwest Coast artists. These include three carved poles: one by Ken Mowatt, a master carver of Gitxsan heritage (Frog Crest), one by the distinguished Nisga’a (Eagle Clan) carver Norman Tait, and one pole by an unidentified Kwakwaka’wakw artist. These are the first major poles to enter the Vancouver Art Gallery collection. Two important drawings by the great Haida artist, Bill Reid, are also included.
The most singular group of the contemporary works in the Gund collection is a group of thirteen pieces by Robert Davidson, including eight masks: two of alder and six carved from red cedar. This addition makes the Vancouver Art Gallery’s collection of Davidson’s masks the most significant museum collection in the world.
The historic works in the Gund collection include three Haida objects—two argillite pieces and a Woman with Labret mask, all of which are fine examples of Haida artistry.
There are four works attributed to the Heiltsuk First Nation: a striking Potlatch Figure, a mask representing Bukwus possibly by Daniel Houstie (c. 1880 - c. 1912), a singular Headdress attachment, and an Eagle Frontlet.
The Kwakwaka’wakw people are represented by two very fine objects: an early Copper and a Thunderbird Frontlet.
The Nisga’a nation is represented by an Eagle Frontlet in the collection.
Two Nuu-chah-nulth objects are included: a large-scale Human Face which was formerly in the collection of the Heye Foundation (now the National Museum of the American Indian, New York) and a Wolf Mask, a piece of carving from a single piece of wood.
The single Nuxalk mask in the collection is an image of an as-yet unidentified spirit figure.
The Tlingit objects include four very different pieces: a Human Face Mask, a Dagger with bear handle and sheath, a very fine Pipe in the form of a beaver and a magnificent wooden Feast Dish.
Finally, the Gund collection includes two Alaskan objects: a Yupik mask carved from driftwood and a Punuk ivory Carving of a Human Head. These are the first two Alaskan objects in the collection and the ivory work, claimed to have been made 700 AD, becomes the oldest object in the Gallery’s entire collection.