Contemporary Interventions in the Collection on View

Alex Colville, St. Croix Rider, 1997.

Adad Hannah, The Raft of the Medusa (100 Mile House) 7, 2009

There are some new and exciting additions to the Collection on View series of exhibitions: European Renaissance and Baroque Art 1500-1700; The Academic Tradition in Europe and Canada 1700-1900; and The Modernist Tradition 1900-1950.

Several contemporary works from the permenant collection have snuck their way into this historical display of treasures from the vault. The purpose of including these special pieces is to create symbolic, iconographic, and thematic links thereby augmenting the visitor experience. Hanging contemporary works adjacent historical works is becoming more commonplace in museums today. The subtle presentation of these unexpected guests is intended to leave it to you to discover, interpret, and learn through new associations. However, by virtue of the color, composition, and subject matter, these contemporary works certianly stand out and draw attention, providing you the opportunity to approach the art in your own way.

Although a modern painting, William Kurelek’s Hell (The Worm That Dies Not) (1962) appears quite at home in gallery 1, alongside much older scenes of spiritual suffering and martyrdom. Although living and working in Toronto in the 1960s and 1970s, Kurelek was a devout Roman Catholic and identified immensely with the painterly iconography of northern artists in pre-Reformation Europe.

Sandwiched between two turn-of-the-20th-century portraits in Gallery 2 is Janet Werner’s unsettling painting titled Karen (1999-2000). Werner has been painting portraits of characters that are significantly inward and withdrawn for almost a decade. This painting is an exceptional example of how contemporary artists are pushing the genre of portraiture forward.

In gallery 2, Yves Gaucher’s 3rd Study for 'Signals' - Red Oxide (1966) provides an arresting backdrop to Barzanti’s Crouching Venus (c. 1890). Although one might imagine no greater contrast to exist, the two works share a concern for precise and rational form. While Barzanti does so in Neo-Classical terms, idealizing the human form in such a way as to remove all sense of the figure’s individuality and particularity, Gaucher’s painting is pristinely modern in its reductive meditation on pure colour relations, absolved of any subject matter.

Much like the William Kurelek painting in gallery 1, Alex Colville’s late 20th century painting blends almost seamlessly into its 19th century surroundings. Its eerie stillness, however, marks it as a contemporary painting. The placement of St. Croix Rider (1997) within a display of romantic and largely European selection of works helps to highlight the dramatic changes representational painting underwent following modernism’s crescendo in the mid-20th century. Unwilling to merely replicate formulae from the past, Colville constructs a contemporary scene that nonetheless stands as a continuation of the Western landscape painting tradition.

With his bronze sculpture entitled Manitoba, Joe Fafard makes use of one tradition in Western art—the genre of the odalisque—to humorously destabilize certain assumptions that commonly underpin the representation of landscape in Canadian art. In the Western European tradition, the odalisque usually refers to a painting of a nude or semi-nude young woman, reclined on her back or side, amidst a scene of Eastern luxury. Its effect is to both eroticize the female form and exoticize a particular, non-European, culture. Although in Manitoba, the subject appears in the odalisque pose, the significance of the pose—its traditional alignment with sexual desire, cultural exoticism, and colonialism—is undercut by the subject’s identity, that of a middle-aged Aboriginal man. Placed in the gallery amid a selection of paintings by members of the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, the sculpture’s reference to a particular geographical region—the province of Manitoba—takes on new significance. By using a First Nations person to symbolize a territory, Fafard reminds us that landscape is as much about the people who inhabit it as the lakes and vegetation of which it is composed.

Adad Hannah is an artist working at the intersection of video, photography and performance. The photograph presented in this exhibition is part of an ambitious project which staged a version of Théodore Géricault’s monumental painting The Raft of the Medusa (1818-1819) in 100 Mile House, a community of 2,000 people in central BC. On May 2nd and 3rd, 2009 in the community hall the tableaux vivant was performed for several live audiences, and Hannah’s video and still cameras. The models held their poses for between five and ten minutes, creating an uncanny replica of Géricault’s painting rendered in living flesh.


Joel Sternfeld’s colour pictures of the United States document the land and the people. Sternfeld’s approach to picture making was a quest to reveal the exciting and fascinating aspects of a place, in many cases finding these qualities in the most unlikely of areas. The work on display by Sternfeld is of a town named after a local miner, Joseph. Having a population of less than 300 people and composed of under a square mile of land, it is one of these intriguing places celebrated by this significant photographer.

These are merely some of the thought-provoking highlights, but there are many more contemporary works that have been included to provide a fresh take on the historical collection. Come see what other artworks are waiting for you to re-discover!



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