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At the National Gallery of Canada

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Paul Wells: How Canada’s national gallery and its director, Alexandra Suda, have been working to ‘keep the doors open’ to new art and new realities

Somebody once said anecdotes are the only evidence. I wanted to write about Alexandra “Sasha” Suda, the director of the National Gallery of Canada. I wanted to contrast the difference between the year she expected—her first full calendar year running the nation’s flagship visual-arts institution—and the year she wound up having instead, which in many ways was the same gong show we all lived through. But first I asked her about a big orange painting she’d shown on her Instagram account. She took me upstairs, to one of the gallery’s largest display rooms.

The paining is Middle Passage, a riot of billowing orange and red cloud, in acrylic and ink across a square of canvas three metres on a side. The artist is Frank Bowling, a Guyana-born British painter, whose formative years were in New York City in the ’60s and who was knighted this year by Queen Elizabeth.

Suda came here a week earlier to see Middle Passage with her children. To get to know it, really. “We were here for about an hour, basking in its sunlight. We got all dressed up.”

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The setting is propitious. Middle Passage, which is a promised gift from Winnipeg financier Michael Nesbitt, hangs in Gallery C-214, next to the most hallowed and sometimes controversial works of Abstract Expressionism in the National Gallery’s collection: A Mark Rothko, a Clyfford Still, an Agnes Martin, and a handful of stark Barnett Newmans, including Voice of Fire, whose 1989 acquisition sparked one of the National Gallery’s greatest controversies. This makes sense: Bowling was a contemporary of the AbEx gang, exhibited with them, exchanged ideas with them. That he’s only now joining the others as the first Black artist in a room that’s become, “in many ways, the inner sanctum,” as Suda put it, is to some degree a case of the gallery catching up to the culture.

Rothko and Newman favoured simple shapes and uniform fields of colour. In Middle Passage, Bowling has more to tell you: a map of Africa is visible, and human faces, all half-obscured amid the clouds. The painting evokes the murderous Atlantic shipping routes of the 18th- and 19th-century slave trade. Compared to the taciturn works beside it, it’s practically chatty. “It renegotiates your expectations,” Suda said.

It’s been a year for renegotiated expectations around here. When the Trudeau government appointed Suda in early 2019, she was the highly-regarded chief curator of European art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, but she was youngish and untested, having never directed any arts institution. When she spoke to John Geddes for Maclean’s a year ago, she had some new ideas for increasing visitor traffic, a solid slate of summer shows, and a few years to make her mark. Three months later the building, and most of surrounding society, shut down on a few hours’ notice.

“Our biggest concern then was a little bit less about, ‘How do we keep everybody at work?’ and a little bit more of, ‘How do we keep all of our guards healthy?’ We went from being an outward-facing institution to really having one single job, which was to secure the national collection.”

For weeks after, the National Gallery alternated between implementing contingency plans that had been drawn up in January and February, and improvising a path forward. Suda started giving virtual tours of the building on Instagram Live. She and a camera operator would wander through the eerily empty building, discussing the sculptures and paintings. The online tours acknowledged, and barely began to resolve, a yearning for the in-person experience that any arts institution’s patrons know well.

In mid-July the gallery reopened to the public on Thursdays through Sundays. Gallery visitors are used to restrictions on where they can stand, after all. By December 50,000 people had visited. On two weekends the numbers were comparable to a year earlier, but instead of tourists almost all the visitors were local. So that was a big objective ticked off Suda’s to-do list, quite by accident—”to reset our relationships with the communities we exist to serve.” Beginning with the hometown crowd. “We want to be more than just the place people bring their in-laws to, once or twice a year.”

Another goal will just have to wait. Suda had hoped to boost total attendance past the levels set by her predecessor Marc Mayer, about 400,000 visitors a year. That will take years now. Even after it’s safe, people will probably be leery of crowds. But raw numbers weren’t the goal anyway. “I’m not going to bring in a mummy show to get more foot traffic.” She hopes the National Gallery of Canada can draw audiences with art that’s good and doesn’t shy away from hard topics. The Indigenous contemporary-art exhibition Abadakone, which had been in the works before her arrival, was an early highlight for Suda and an audience success. In May, pandemic permitting, the gallery will host the first major Rembrandt exhibition in Canada since 1969.

Much has changed since 1969. It’s harder now to ignore that Dutch art’s “Golden Age” was an ornament of an imperial culture’s economic upper crust. While Rembrandt is in town, the gallery will prominently display new works by two young Black artists, Toronto’s Tau Lewis and New York’s Rashid Johnson. “They’re going to be offering alternate narratives to this notion of a Dutch Golden Age… unique contemporary installations that you can think about in connection with Rembrandt.”

You can’t really just hang an old master any more, or you can’t only do that. COVID-19 is hardly the only crisis that’s rocked the art world in 2020. The Black Lives Matter aftermath of George Floyd’s death “rocked the museum sector,” Suda said. Executives or institutions that have seemed awkward or reluctant to change have paid in turmoil. The National Gallery of Canada has had to play catch-up too. Just before a 2019 exhibition on Paul Gauguin opened, Suda and her staff changed some title cards to reflect awkward or appalling realities in Gauguin’s life. A reference to his relationship with “a young woman” was changed. She wasn’t a woman. She was a 13-year-old Tahitian girl.

“And then this notion of us as a white supremacist institution, which is the kind of language that’s circulating now, comes to life for people,” Suda said. “Nobody was out to do the wrong thing. But I think we were a little bit scared to have those tough conversations, because it’s hard to do. And I’m not saying that I’m the expert in it. I have a PhD in 15th-century manuscript illumination from northern Europe. [But] I think every work of art offers that invitation to see it differently. And it’s our job to keep those doors all open.”

“I think there might have been a time when a big institution like ours framed the story for people. Those days are over. Not for us, but for art within society. I think when somebody comes and says, ‘You’re wrong about that label, and by the way, you triggered trauma within the friend I was with and you’re doing harm,’ instead of being defensive, we have to kind of relax and understand that it matters what we do. People care. So how do we keep their attention and incorporate their story in here?”

The answer to that one won’t be the work of a weekend or a season. It will become one of the lenses through which Suda’s tenure at the gallery will be measured and evaluated. The year 2020 was quite good at replacing the work people thought they had ahead of them with other, often harder and more important work. “There will be a robust discourse” around the role of art in society, Suda said. “Period. Whether we think we can hide from it or not, it’s going to happen. And if we’re not prepared to engage in that conversation, then we shouldn’t be museum professionals.”

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Goalie mask art exhibit on display at Kelowna Rotary Centre for the Arts

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Madison Erhardt

Goalie masks are the centre of an art exhibit at the Rotary Centre for the Arts, all made by a former UBC Okanagan fine arts student.

Rylan Broadbent’s series, Behind my Mask, I am Secure is a collection of ceramic goalie masks. They are currently on display at the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art.

“This whole journey started with wanting to engage with some of my hockey equipment. I have a Master’s of Fine Arts, so I am primarily an artist, but I also play hockey outside of this and I wanted to marry the two things together for this project.”

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The artist and goalie says it has been rewarding being able to put his artwork on display.

“It has been really excellent to put the mask in front of people. To me that sort of completes the circle of spending all that time making the piece and then it is really rewarding actually put it in front of people,” Broadbent said.

He says his artwork took three months to complete.

“I started with one of my own goalie masks and took it all apart. I ended up making a plaster mould of it and then taking clay and pushing that into the mould then basically pulling masks back out and then finding ways to engage with them to open up different doors,” he added.

Broadbent hopes maybe one day an NHL goalie may call him up to help create a mask.

“I certainly wouldn’t hesitate if one of them wanted to pick one up and it would be great to get a goalie’s reaction.”

The hockey lover says he plans on expanding his exhibit in the near future.

The masks are on display until March 11.

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The Concept Art And Illustrations Behind Ghost Of Tsushima

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I had three weeks off work over Christmas last year, and while I’d love to tell you I spent the whole time at the beach, relaxing with friends, sipping beers on a breezy summer’s evening, the truth is I spent loads of that time indoors. Hunched in front of my TV. Playing Ghost of Tsushima.

I really wanted to play it, but I’d missed out on the game when it was first released. My PlayStation 4 was in the process of dying a noisy, turbulent death, I hadn’t been able to get my hands on a PS5 when that edition dropped in 2021, and Sony had never got around to porting it to the PC like they had other first-party hits (Horizon, God of War, etc).

Having picked up a PlayStation Plus subscription in December, though, I saw that the game (its director’s cut, no less) was available on the service, and so I downloaded it and got to playing it ASAP. And boy, was I glad it did. I am in love with this game. I got into it, in awe of its gorgeous world and its cast of lovable characters, under its spell like I hadn’t been with a video game in years. I liked it so much, in fact, that I kinda made it my 2023 Game Of The Year, even though it was first released back in 2020.

All of which is to say, this isn’t a review, I just can’t believe I never showcased this game on Fine Art before, and am looking to rectify that tonight. Below you’ll find a selection of works from artists and studios who worked on the game. It’s not everyone who worked in every area of the game’s development, but it’s a nice cross-section. And so you can check out more of their stuff there are links to each artist’s portfolio in their names.

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7 Leading Curators Predict the Defining Art Trends of 2023

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In 2022, we witnessed a rise in neo-surrealist art, NFTs, and textile-based art practices. These were trends that were bubbling to the surface by the end of 2021, but weren’t fully realized until the spring of the following year. Now, many other styles are emerging as key genres that may have their moment this year.

Artsy spoke to seven leading curators who lent their expertise and shared their insights on which styles and themes may newly emerge or continue to garner attention in 2023. Many anticipate that the sociopolitical climate will continue to inform artists’ practices, with some predicting a rise in more provocative art that critiques religion and systemic oppression.

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Other curators are looking to Latin American new media practices, and are excited by how artists like Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro and Xandra Ibarra use video and installation to create immersive environments that challenge the separation between the screen and the body. Meanwhile, others are intrigued by the possibilities and questions that AI will continue to raise in relation to authorship in the art world.

All the curators expressed an overall interest in artists who push the limits of their given medium, and continue to expand upon their practices in innovative ways. Overall, there is excitement and hopeful promise that 2023 will bring about a year of artistic risks.

Larry Ossei-Mensah

Independent Curator; Co-Founder, Artnoir

New York

 

 

 

 

Portrait of Larry Ossei-Mensah by Aaron Ramsey. Courtesy of Larry Ossei-Mensah.

Larry Ossei-Mensah predicts that abstraction by artists of color will become even more prominent in 2023. The genre, Ossei-Mensah believes, is essential to shifting the public’s belief that artists of color should only make representational work that is immediately legible. As an example, he pointed to the divisive reaction towards Hank Willis Thomas’s recently unveiled public sculpture The Embrace (2022). Ossei-Mensah also expects that abstract masters like Mo Booker, Raymond Saunders, Howardena Pindell, Emma Amos, Atta Kwami, and Barbara Chase Riboud will receive overdue recognition in 2023 as more institutions reexamine their bodies of work in relation to the younger generation they’ve inspired.

Ossei-Mensah anticipates that criticism by writers of color, specifically those who engage with abstract art’s relationship to cultural practice, will be particularly impactful on the art world. He cited the work of Hilton Als, Robin Givhan, Folsade Ologundudu, and Doreen St. Felix as ones to watch. Additionally, he listed the 2023 solo exhibitions of artists Chase Hall, Guadalupe Maravilla, Ming Smith, Tomashi Jackson, Frank Stewart, Amoako Boafo, Kennedy Yanko, and Anoushka Mirchandani as indicative of what’s to come this year.

Hans Ulrich Obrist

Artistic Director, Serpentine Galleries

London

 

 

 

 

Portrait of Hans Ulrich Obrist by Andrew Quinn. © Andrew Quinn.

Hans Ulrich Obrist is looking towards the work of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx artists who are rethinking notions of ownership, land, and the body in relation to futurity. He is particularly excited by immersive and interactive new media art, like video games. As he explained, “Video games are to the 21st century what movies were to the 20th century, and novels to the 19th century. Today, it’s much easier for artists to develop their gaming environments.”

Obrist referenced the work of Gabriel Massan at the Serpentine Galleries as a key example of an artist who is “uncovering new meanings on video games and phenomenology…that invites players to activate a fantastical and disorienting world populated with Massan’s digital sculptures, bespoke animation, films, camerawork, and sound developed by his collaborators,” he said. Obrist situates Massan within an incredible generation of artists from Brazil, including Jota Mombaça and Ventura Profana, who use technology to reexamine futurity and a sense of place while in dialogue with decolonial thought and practice.

 

 

 

 

Adrián Villa Rojas, Yinka Shonibare, and Otobong Nkanga, as Obrist noted, are similarly starting transnational dialogues that imagine a new future for us all. “As artist Ian Cheng often told me, at the heart of his art is a desire to understand what a world is,” Obrist said. “Now more than ever, the dream is to be able to possess the agency to create new worlds.”

Vivian Crockett

Curator, New Museum

New York

 

 

 

 

Portrait of Vivian Crockett by Ciara Elle Bryant. Courtesy of the New Museum.

Vivian Crockett is fascinated by what will emerge in the fields of new media art, film, and photography, particularly by artists of color from Latin America. In 2022, more opportunities arose for critical reflection on Latin American art and artists, as evident at the Whitney Biennial “Quiet as It’s Kept,” and the Focus and Platform sections of The Armory Show. This will likely continue through 2024 as Adriano Pedrosa mounts the 60th edition of the Venice Biennale’s international exhibition, becoming the first Latin American curator in its 122-year history.

When approaching Latin American art, Crockett emphasized that an understanding of the continent’s political landscapes is crucial. “There is an increased acknowledgement of white supremacist logic affecting Latin American countries, both historically and in the present moment, resulting in more explicit conversations around race, class, and Indigenous struggles for autonomy,” she said.

 

 

In terms of the media art that is attracting her interest, Crockett is looking forward to the transnational conversations that the Sharjah Biennial and São Paulo Bienal will provoke. Stateside, she is excited by the major video and media exhibitions taking place at MoMA and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth later this year, as well as Isaac Julien’s survey at Tate Britain and Ja’Tovia Gary’s solo show at Paula Cooper Gallery.

Eileen Jung

Curator, Bronx Museum

New York

 

 

 

 

Portrait of Eileen Jung. Courtesy of the Bronx Museum.

Eileen Jung predicts that land art, Indigeneity, and immersive art practices will take center stage in 2023. In particular, she pointed to artists who use conceptual art to navigate history and memory, including Firelei Báez, Chloë Bass, Maria Berrio, Andrea Chung, Joana Choumali, Sean Desiree, Abigail DeVille, Anaïs Duplan, Scherezade García, Guadalupe Maravilla, Daniel Lie, and Jodie Lyn-Kee-Chow. Jung added, “Each of these artists have unique perspectives and contributions, and through their work, they’ve introduced a level of newness and depth to the overall artistic zeitgeist.”

Jung further elaborated that artists who provide counternarratives to the dominant historical record, and push the boundaries of their medium across abstract and figurative painting as well as sculpture, will continue to set the trends. She specifically noted the practices of Derek Fordjour, Tomashi Jackson, Sara Jimenez, Anina Major, Natalia Nakazawa, Angel Otero, Kevin Quiles Bonilla, Amina Ross, Tariku Shiferaw, Jean Shin, and Saya Woolfalk. Jung added that the critical scholarship of Lisa Lowe, Anna L. Tsing, and Saidiya Hartman will continue to inform artistic pulses.

 

 

She remains excited for new rediscoveries in 2023, like how ceramics has been in recent years. “Another area that is often overlooked are those artists who are self-taught, often labeled as ‘outsider artists’ (e.g., those whose work does not reflect an overt influence from the mainstream art world), and are bringing a new energy to the field,” Jung wrote to Artsy.

Jesse Firestone

Curator, Montclair State Galleries

Montclair, New Jersey

 

 

 

 

Portrait of Jesse Firestone by Jenna Bascom Photography, LLC’s Associate Photographer Nelson. Courtesy of Montclair State Galleries.

Jesse Firestone is on the lookout for more genre-breaking art in 2023. In particular, they point to outsider art practices—like using humor or making provocative works with unconventional material and subject matter—as big trends for the year. “I think performance artists who embrace failure while taking their work seriously, but aren’t self-serious, will receive a lot more attention,” they said. “There is a lot to learn from this type of work and I think people are hungry to see how we can work with imperfection, messiness, and unpredictability. 2023 is a year of embracing risk.”

Firestone’s attention to risk comes out of crypto art’s tumultuous year in 2022. The incredibly rapid rise and subsequent fall of NFTs have demonstrated that, while artists will continue to innovate art with new technology, some trends might crash as fast and they rose. Firestone believes that artists will continue to learn from the market and reflect upon the failures of these experiences in their work. Because of the NFT crash, Firestone sees physical media art, or art that embraces the body, as major for 2023. This is work they actively support as a curator: “Ultimately I like being able to provide artists with the space to stretch, take risks, and succeed in those efforts,” Firestone said.

Rachel Vera Steinberg

Curator, Smack Mellon

New York

 

 

 

 

Portrait of Rachel Vera Steinberg by Inna Svyatsky. Courtesy of Smack Mellon.

Rachel Vera Steinberg is excited for a greater number of artists to further deepen the mystery of art production across sculpture and computer-generated art. She is inspired by artists who push the boundaries of the medium they are working in, as well as the space in which they exhibit. She cited the work of Emily Clayton, Tomi Faison, and Charisse Pearlina Weston as key examples. Steinberg also anticipates more conceptually driven work in relation to text- and discourse-based art, like K Allado-McDowell’s recent book Amor Cringe (2022), which was co-written with AI software.

Additionally, Steinberg predicts that last year’s challenges around systemic injustice will usher in artists addressing class and social equity in the art world. “One of the most impactful trends from this past year was the proliferation of AI image generators,” she said. “It’s hard to forecast this as a direction, but it has the potential to further call into question images as receptacles of meaning.”

 

 

Separately, Steinberg believes that more artworks inspired by religion will reach the fore in 2023. “I feel like we are entering a moment of reconsidering religion, inclusive of, but also beyond, its relationship to spirituality,” she explained. “I see this formally in visual symbols and materiality: For example, in the way an artist like Tammy Nguyen incorporates metal leaf to reference illuminated manuscripts, but also in other modes of production that are trending, such as a heightened interest in metal work.”

Zoé Whitley

Director, Chisenhale Gallery

London

 

 

 

 

Portrait of Zoé Whitley by James Gifford-Mead. Courtesy of Zoé Whitley.

Zoé Whitley is looking to painters who are embracing unconventional materials or pushing the limits of their painting practice to render something vibrantly different and new. “The artists who currently inspire me defy genre expectations,” she said.

Furthermore, Whitley is looking forward to artists collaborating more with nonprofit organizations. She hopes that these partnerships, and their accompanying resources, will support ambitious art practices and culminate into long-running exhibitions that a greater number of viewers will be able to see and experience.

These later points are greatly influenced by Tricia Hersey’s manifesto Rest is Resistance (2022) and Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (1997), which both argue for a process of slowing down with media materials to allow for their presence to be felt, haunting the audience.

Ayanna Dozier

Ayanna Dozier is Artsy’s Staff Writer.

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