For two years the canvas was blank. But this weekend saw the colourful return of Art at the Pumphouse.
The outdoor art show was back at Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre with a few new wrinkles, gathering the work of more than 50 artists for a combined indoor/outdoor and virtual exhibition.
For event organizer Sandra Stokes, the sight of art buffs strolling the grounds again filled her palette.
“Everybody’s really happy, we’ve had a really good turnout,” she said as the show kicked off its second day Sunday. “I think we had over 500 (people) yesterday.”
Since it started in 2006 the show has been the Pumphouse’s biggest annual fundraiser. This year, to help make up for the two years lost to the pandemic, a $5 admission was introduced.
Stokes said the money will go towards programming and to fund future events.
The juried show included original paintings, photography, jewelry, woodwork and sculptures. Artists operated out of tents on the spacious Pumphouse grounds. More artwork (three pieces per artist) were on walls of the indoor gallery. There is also an online component which continues to Aug. 7.
“We had good, steady traffic yesterday and we’re expecting more today,” said Amy Klassen, Pumphouse’s director of financing and marketing. “Everyone’s just in a good mood.”
Before the pandemic, the show was so large it stretched onto a patch of land across the street, behind Fort George. Klassen said 80 artists participated in the 2019 show, making it one of Niagara’s largest art exhibitions.
“We want to build it up slowly again,” she said. “We’re re-positioning the show and trying to rebrand it in future shows to come. Hopefully, no more cancellations.”
Port Colborne artist Cathy Peters said while she still painted during the pandemic, she “didn’t have the motivation.” Returning to the Pumphouse show has helped the rebound.
“People are happy to see art and buy it from the artist,” she said. “There’s that connection. It’s second to none.
“To see the smiles on their face when they see a piece of art … you don’t get that online.”
On Ricardo Street near the Niagara River, the gallery stands on the site of a municipal waterworks plant built in 1891, which supplied Niagara-on-the-Lake with water from the Niagara River until 1983. It was purchased by the town in 1985 and designated a historical property by council a year later.
As the summer winds down, there are still plenty of opportunities heading into fall for some art-related excursions. Keep your eyes open for autumn studio tours as the fall colours brighten the landscape, but be sure to also cast your gaze over the water for a slightly different outing. Hop on the ferry and head over to Wolfe Island to visit the Wolfe Island Gallery, which is open on weekends now until Oct. 8 (it is open more frequently during the summer).
The WIG is an artist-run collective comprised of creatives who live on, or have some other connection to, the Frontenac Islands — Wolfe, Simcoe and Howe. This is the main criteria of membership for artists in the WIG, another being that works produced for exhibition must be original fine art, sculpture or fine crafts. (A yearly call for artists goes out on the WIG’s web page and socials in early spring.) Given the emphasis on the island connection, it should come as no surprise that much of the artwork on display is closely tied to the islands themselves, whether the work reflects the landscape, community, fauna or lifestyle. The artwork and crafts at the gallery include paintings, photography, stained glass, sculpture, jewelry, drawings, art from found objects and quilts, among other types of work.
While most artwork has the stamp of its creator on it that in some way identifies it, with a gallery such as the WIG, it is also interesting to speculate on whether the artwork within it also reflects a certain specificity of Place. This idea of Place can be interpreted in a variety of ways. It may refer to representation of the actual geography and population of a particular region; it may refer to the character, ambience or “vibe” given by a locale; it may refer to a sense of identity. The possibilities, while not quite endless, are many. Historically speaking, for example, the quality of light in and around Venice was well known by painters, who sought to reproduce it in their landscape and city-scape representations. And this particular quality of light (if successfully captured in paint) served to identify this particular Place even if the subject was not made plain by the title of the work or by distinctive architectural or other features.
So when you’re looking at the artworks on display at the WIG, are there aspects that speak to the work having been produced on one of the Frontenac Islands? You might consider whether Nancy Steel’s figural paintings evoke a sense of community, or if her landscape vignettes offer a sense of a slower pace of island life. Or perhaps the willow bark bowls made by Patricia Howes and enhanced by found objects suggest quietude and long rambling walks of discovery. The black-capped chickadee of Jan Fitch’s carving or the owl in Kathy Schwab’s stained glass may be frequent visitors to their respective gardens or just passing through, with their own stories to tell.
It is the stories, of course, that drive artistic creation, with those stories supported and imbued with the influence of Place. Go and experience some island time and discover the stories being told in art by this very particular place.
“Polaroids and other instant film formats are unique in their ability to capture everyday life in such an immediate and sociable way,” Lee told Forbes.com. “These images were taken, shaken, passed around and discussed by Black friends and families. There is hardwired into their creation an un-self-conscious performative element and aesthetic, unseen elsewhere.”
That “un-self-conscious performative element” reveals itself in silliness. Tenderness. The intimate, revealing, unguarded moments only displayed when surrounded by love and joy. These people, their poses, the pictures would look completely different if the subjects knew the images would one day hang in a museum. The photographs Lee has collected provide rare insight into people as only those closest to them saw them. Before they put their defenses up to face a harsher world outside their most secure comfort zone.
Lee began collecting instant print portraits of Black life 10 years ago. He’d find them at yard sales and online. The collection grew to exceed 4,000 pictures from the 1960s through the early 2000s. This debut presentation features more than 500.
“We know very little about the individual images in this collection–who made them, where and when they were taken, how they came to be lost,” Lee said.
Tantalizing hints are revealed in writing on the photographs.
“Sammy’s baptism. July 19, 1998.”
“October 3, 1975. San Francisco.”
“12-16-77. To dad. Love. Butch.”
“Ashley, mom & dad, 7-8-84. 9 weeks old.”
Who were these people? What became of them?
Those answers simultaneously unknowable and obvious.
They were you. They were me. They were everyone.
They had successes. They had failures. Good days. Bad days. Hopefully more good than bad.
They lived and are living or have died.
Same as everyone.
“Polaroids and other instant format photographs will inevitably decompose, decay, and fade over time–it’s part of their chemistry,” Lee said. “The work of the collection is to resist that, both physically and historically. The exhibition and publication of these images allows them to be activated again, to enable the sharing of individual and collective memories to live.”
Absent from “What Matters Most” are the photographic images of Black Americans typically shown in the mass media: mug shots, protestors, victims, poverty, violence.
A scowling member of the Black Panthers. A wailing mother grieving a shooting. Homeless on the “bad” side of town.
“We see a vision of Black life that is firmly at odds with the dominant narratives of the postwar era,” Lee explains. “We cannot forget that the Moynihan Report of 1965 which did so much to concretize the perception of Black families as pathological and dysfunctional is still significant in sociopolitical discourse. These images–of births, graduations, dinners, birthdays-demonstrate a richness and complexity that contradicts these flattening narratives throughout several decades.”
Written by then-assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan, what became known as “the Moynihan Report” was formally titled, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” The report hypothesized that a breakdown of the nuclear family in Black communities contributed to Black America’s greater incidence of poverty than whites. That finding was then and has ever since been widely repeated to blame Black parents–primarily fathers–for the problems of the Black community.
Ignored was Moynihan’s contention that the reason for this breakdown was the history of slavery, abuse and discrimination experienced by Black people ever since arriving in America. Moynihan, in fact, considered it “extraordinary” that Black people in America survived at all considering the racial terror they endured.
Lee’s photographs should be copied in the millions and used to wallpaper every law enforcement office in America. Police continue demonstrating that Black lives don’t matter to them. If cops saw the smiling Black faces, the friendly Black faces, the fatherly Black faces on view in these pictures, it’s impossible to believe they would continue their “shoot first, ask questions later” standard operating procedures when it comes to Black men.
It’s impossible to “other” the people in these photographs. The Black people in these photographs. To not value their lives. They look too much like everyone else.
If these were the images of Black people shared in mass media over the past half century, equality in America might be closer to reality, not still a fantasy.
“There is the incredible capacity of these images to prompt feelings of kinship–in these images are things so essentially human–that they can help us all come closer,” Lee said.
These pictures have that power. That’s why they belong in an art museum despite not being taken by professional photographers or produced to make an artistic statement.
The artistry in “What Matters Most” doesn’t come from the individual pictures, the artistry comes from the collection as a whole–Lee’s vision and curation in compiling it. Together, the photos present a powerful visual statement about the lives and experiences, the culture, the relationships, the dreams of Black people over a half-century. Together, it becomes one of the most dramatic and compelling art projects in memory. Found object art. A ready-made of Black American culture and life. A safeguard of Black visual culture. Recognizing the extraordinary in the ordinary.
“For Black audiences, the existence and exhibition of these images is empowering–a rare opportunity to see Black Culture unfiltered through a lens of white supremacy,” Lee said. “The separation of these images from their families is an opportunity for everyone to consider the larger socio-political forces that continue to marginalize Black lives and domestic spaces.”
These pictures are worth a great deal more than 1,000 words.
If you noticed art displays popping up around Calgary this weekend, you weren’t the only one.
On Saturday and Sunday, Calgary-based artists took over several parking lots with art projects built into and around a number of vehicles that traveled throughout the city.
The exhibition, dubbed Idle Worship, is a mobile showcase of art and performance in trunks, back seats, box trucks, minivans, and automobiles, designed specifically for the context of parking lots across the greater Calgary area.
“We dedicate a lot of our cities to roads and parking lots and these spaces, I think, could be more absurd,” said Caitlind Brown, an organizer and part of the artist-driven project.
“[The spaces] could be weirder and come with more conversations.”
The movement brought art to unsuspecting crowds near malls, big-box stores and grocery shops.
People were climbing into a U-Haul, peeking in car windows — and jumping into the mouth of an unidentified species.
Abebe Kebede was just out to grab a coffee with a friend when he noticed something next to him.
While they were chatting in the car, one of the art pieces was set up right beside them.
“When I saw that [being set up], I thought, ‘what, I have to go see it,'” he said. “It looked like a weird animal’s mouth opening, it’s so amazing, I really like it.”
The exhibit popped up in every one of Calgary’s quadrants.
Idle Worship has a performance art component, too. One artist sat in his vehicle with dirt and flowers, giving the viewers a choice: water the plant or water the boy.
And there was some tongue and cheek commentary.
Khalid Omokanye said his piece is about greenwashing— a popular marketing tactic that brands use to give the impression that their business practices are sustainable and fight climate change, without actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
His project is housed in the back of a pick-up truck.
“I made a little sculpture there, that drops seeds as I am driving, potentially planting a forest in my wake,” he said. “So this vehicle becomes no longer an issue because it plants enough trees to fix its problems.”
Given the circumstances of the art show, Brown was surprised that there were no issues at all.
“This has been a remarkably problem-free exhibition, considering we are literally just touching down in parking lots without asking for permission from the property owners, and then getting up and driving away,” she said.
“The great thing about this exhibition is that if there had been any problems, we could’ve just packed up and left.”
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