Something Old, Something New-ish
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Something Old, Something New-ish

Iain M. Thom shows off Robert Davidson’s Supernatural Eye (lacquered aluminum).

If you’re looking for Canadian content in non-permanent gallery collections this summer, you’re going to have to think outside the AGO—and the ROM, and just about everywhere else in Toronto for that matter. In fact, you’re probably going to have to visit Kleinburg, Ontario (yeah, we know: that’s way north of Bloor) to witness Ian M. Thom’s latest guest-curatorial effort for the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. And trust us—it’s worth it.

Bill Henderson’s Sun Mask (yellow cedar, cedar bark rope, acrylic).

Thanks to Thom, senior curator for the Vancouver Art Gallery and former curator of collections for the McMichael in the late ‘80s, the GTA is now home (until mid-September, at least) to seventy-five contemporary works created by forty Canadian First Nations artists. “Challenging Traditions: Contemporary First Nations Art of the Northwest Coast” truly does showcase so-called challenged traditions—and artistry that meshes history with the making of history. Often using contemporary or non-traditional materials, these exhibiting artists explore the iconography, forms, and motifs found in traditional, First Nations works. But their pieces are distinctly their own—with no two items or artists sharing the same vision or even the same “take” on tradition.

Robert Davidson’s Alternating Splits (acrylic on canvas).

Handpicked by Thom, each of the works we saw were still McMichael-ish. Although nothing like the Lawren Harris or Emily Carr paintings hanging in the galleries below, each mask, carving, and screenprint seems to represent fragments of Canada’s social landscape—one that, at once, is being documented and changed, by these Canadian artists. Perhaps herein lies the power of “Challenging Traditions”: the blending of genres, mores, and material within Thom’s selection of works and the juxtaposition of this exhibition as a whole with the other collections in the building.
All photos by Nick Kozak/Torontoist.