Smaller organizations can perhaps hazard more comprehensive gestures—though, it should be noted, relatively few have done so. One notable exception is SBC Galerie d’Art Contemporain in Montreal, which has renamed itself and is operating for the year as Wood Land School, after an itinerant project initiated by the Omaskêko Ininiwak artist Duane Linklater in 2011. The gallery’s identity is nearly subsumed and all programming decisions are being made by Linklater, Tanya Lukin Linklater, and cheyanne turions with Walter Scott (rather than by SBC’s director/curator, Pip Day).
Others have used Canada150 to reconsider the country’s centennial, in 1967. That earlier moment of profound optimism was marked most famously by Expo 67, the world’s fair in Montreal that drew 50 million visitors. The Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montreal has brought together 19 artists and artist collectives to reflect on the legacy of that six-month extravaganza exploring “Man and His World.” Many have created moving-image and installation work relying on material from Expo 67’s vast archives—and in acknowledgment of Expo 67’s emphasis on new media and technology.
While millions toured the pavilions erected on two islands in the St. Lawrence River, Toronto in 1967 played host to its own unprecedented exhibition. In the plaza between the two towers of architect Viljo Revell’s newly constructed Toronto City Hall, National Gallery curator Dorothy Cameron presented sculptures by 51 avant-garde Canadian artists such as Les Levine and Michael Snow. Fifty years later, Ian Carr-Harris and Yvonne Lammerich, who had attended the City Hall exhibition as art-school students, are marking its anniversary by interviewing an equal number of artists who have emerged since that time. These videotaped interviews, presented singly and in tightly edited compilations, will be exhibited at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre beginning in late September. The conversations they recorded engage not only each subject’s artwork, but also the circumstances by which they became artists and their relationships to the current art system. Carr-Harris and Lammerich see this endeavour, with its shoestring budget, as surfacing networks of affinity and countering amnesia about Canadian art history. Their project joins other recent scholarly efforts, including the indispensable Art Canada Institute, which launched in 2013 and publishes accessible and authoritative print and online monographs about Canadian artists.
The sesquicentennial celebration also occasioned a novel endeavour from Partners in Art, a group of charitably minded arts patrons in Toronto that, since 2002, has sponsored more than 60 arts projects at nearly two dozen organizations. (Full disclosure: the gallery I now direct is among those organizations.) Foregoing gallery partners, this year PiA stepped into the foreground to produce “LandMarks 2017,” an exhibition featuring site-specific interventions by Canadian artists in various national parks and historic sites. The curatorial team PiA hired selected an admirably broad range of artists and their works, often sculptures or performances, engage the landscape as site, subject, and possessor of histories.
Elsewhere in Toronto, The Art Gallery of Ontario’s attempt to acknowledge the power, persistence, and centrality of Indigenous cultures is the large-scale group exhibition “Every. Now. Then: Reframing Nationhood.” The density of the installation and the number of large-scale artworks hint at the plethora of artists whose work deserves institutional acknowledgment and those artists’ exceptional ambitions.
As a new arrival to Toronto, that show serves as a welcome introduction to the fertile conversations about identity and place that occur here. But it was another show on view in the museum, by artist Mark Lewis, that resonated with me most strongly, perhaps because he, too, has a distanced perspective on the questions of nationhood and identity that pervade the projects described above. Lewis was raised an hour southwest of the museum in Hamilton but has lived in London, UK, for two decades. He signalled the push-and-pull of his relationship to his homeland by titling the show “Canada,” then ambivalently (or protectively) claimed it refers to one of the three 2017 films it includes—which is itself named after the novel Canada (2012) by the US writer Richard Ford.