"Landscape With Sailboats" (Digital Code Conversion Series) (detail)
IAIN BAXTER&, "Landscape With Sailboats" (Digital Code Conversion Series) (detail), 2008, Collection of the Artist
In my opinion:
Canadian art to receive star treatment outside Canada
By Jeffrey Spalding
If you’re in the mood to see the very best in contemporary Canadian art, be prepared to head south. The Art Gallery of Western Australia has organized the 26-work JEFF WALL Photographs exhibition that opens in Perth on May 25, then tours to Melbourne and Sydney. This is Wall's first solo show south of the equator. IAIN BAXTER&: Works 1958-2011, organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Wouldn’t we in western Canada sorely wish to see these surveys of two internationally-renowned western Canadian artists? The Baxter& exhibit is a major undertaking, gathering outstanding representations from the many phases of his prodigious and eclectic output — drawings, paintings, collages, sculptures, documents, photography, and installations, all chronicled in a substantial publication.
Baxter& is an acknowledged seminal contributor to conceptualism. This merry art prankster who created and founded the N,E.Thing Company divides the world into two classes of objects — ART (aesthetically rejected things) and ACT (aesthetically claimed things). His assertion that “the camera is the new canvas” has become the mantra for generations of photo-based artists. It is hard to envisage the evolution of photo-conceptualism, particularly in Vancouver, were it not for his influential early photo documentation projects, Polaroid collages and back-lit Cibachromes of the 1960s and 1970s. Baxter& grew up in Calgary, established his early reputation resident in Vancouver, has taught for extended periods across the west and likewise is a recurring visiting artist at the Alberta College of Art and Design, the University of Lethbridge, and The Banff Centre.
It's flattering that a senior western Canadian figure is celebrated beyond our borders. However, it is a great shame that this magnificent, historical tribute will not be circulated in Canada. It is also financially inefficient. Projects of this scale are very expensive to assemble (courtesy of the public purse). Pity that more of us won't have an opportunity to see what all the fuss has been about.
Thankfully, Calgary’s Glenbow Museum has organized IAIN BAXTER&: 1N40⁄RMAT10⁄N (January 21 to April 9, 2012), curated by Colleen Sharpe, primarily from the Glenbow and University of Lethbridge collections. It features impressive signature-style Polaroid-collaged paintings, a number of his largest and most ambitious multimedia installations concerning ecology, recycling and the pitfalls of rampant consumerism, plus a re-make of his York Wilson Award-winning over-painted TV screens installation work. And next fall, audiences will be treated to samplings of Baxter&’s witty art in the nationally touring exhibition Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada at the Vancouver Art Gallery. (Sept 29, 2012 to Jan 8, 2013).
However, for those of us intent upon staying informed about what is current in Canadian art, it is time to plan your trip. You’re headed to North Adams, Massachusetts, a small New England town in the heart of the Berkshires (population: 13,708) which will be home to a 20,000-square-foot presentation, the largest survey of Canadian art ever mounted outside of Canada. Oh, Canada organized by Mass MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) will run May 27, 2012 to April 1, 2013; which features 95 works plus 11 new commissioned woks by “more than 60 artists who hail from every province and nearly every territory in the country, spanning multiple generations and working in all media.” It's accompanied by a comprehensive full-color 450-page catalogue published by MIT Press, with contributions from knowledgeable writers and curators across Canada.
The institutional commitment to this project is breathtaking. It's an enterprise beyond precedent in our recent Canadian museum experience. Mass MoCA has allowed curator Denise Markonish to devote three years, travelling numerous times from coast to coast to coast in Canada. She considered upwards of 800 potential artists, conducted 400 studio visits, maintained persistent consultations with nearly everyone in the Canadian art museum community and generally scoured every nook and cranny of the country. As a consequence, Markonish may, arguably, be the most informed person about the current Canadian art scene. More than 50% of the selected artists come from the west and Canadian north. She's chosen many from the ranks of the venerable, but several interesting picks sent this commentator scurrying to Google.
We’d be ill advised to wait for the National Gallery of Canada to return serve; so we’re counting on you, North Battleford, Saskatchewan (population 14,000!), and the University of Saskatchewan Press, to undertake a reciprocal survey of American art.