Material Voices at the Textile Museum of Canada

Textile

Bas-Relief panel by Hicks for architectural project, currently on display at TMC.

The second museum I decided to visit while in Toronto was the Textile Museum of Canada (TMC).  If you’ve been following this blog for awhile you know I get really exited about seeing textile arts in mainstream museum spaces – so visiting the TMC seemed like a logical way to build on that love.  The TMC is the only museum in Canad that “explores ideas and builds cultural understanding through the universally relevant media of textiles.”  The Museum is also well known for its education and interactive programming.

Unfortunately during my visit they were just in the midst of changing out one of the main exhibit spaces so the amount of content on display was substantially smaller than normal.  The main exhibit that I was able to see was Sheila Hicks: Material Voices.  The exhibition focused on the work of artist Sheila Hicks whose practice ranges from weaving to found object sculptures to large scale architectural installations.

This was a wonderful exhibit that included a wide range of Hick’s work in different mediums.  The exhibition also included a number of audio-visual stations some of which included films focusing on Hick’s practice and others explaining works on display by the exhibition curator.  I found the videos showing Hicks process for some of her large scale installation projects particularly interesting. I also just generally loved her art and her ability to use textiles in so many different ways. The exhibition is open until February 5, 2017 and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in textiles, mixed media art, or installation art.

Exploring Ceramics at the Gardiner Museum

While in Toronto recently I had some time before my flight home, unsurprisingly I used that time to visit bookstores and heritage sites.  I was torn between all the possibilities in Toronto but opted to visit a couple of museums I hadn’t been to before.  The Gardiner Museum located in Toronto is Canada’s national ceramics museum.  Founded in 1984 by George and Helen Gardiner it was originally designed to house their collection of ceramic art.  Since the 1980s the collection has grown substantially and is now viewed as one of the most substantial collections of ceramics in North America.

Ground Floor

The ground floor of the Gardiner includes Modern/Contemporary ceramics, Ancient Americas, Italian Miolica and English Delftware.  There is also currently as small exhibition dedicated to Edmund De Waal and another one to Vimmy Ridge.  My favourite part of this floor was the numerous audio visual stations which included tablets where you could learn about different ceramic techniques, the historical significance of pieces on display, and about the collection more broadly.  I particularly enjoyed a video clip which showed an artist recreating an 18th century puzzle jug.  Puzzle jugs were used for drinking games in pubs and taverns and I found the whole idea and complexity behind them fascinating.  In case anyone else is interested (and because it’s just so cool), I’ve included the video which was created by the Victoria and Albert Museum below:

 Second Floor

Ceramic monkey orchestra

Ceramic monkey orchestra

This floor was dedicated to Japanese and Chinese porcelain and also included a substantial European porcelain gallery.  The narrative and historical context in the European gallery was extremely well done.  It placed ceramics within larger political and social movements.  It also really connected the narrative to the idea of a war of personalities and tangible excitement around the idea of collecting new types and styles of ceramics.  I found myself oddly invested in the text panels and wanting to know how the narrative concluded.  This gallery also included a number of slightly bizarre pieces of ceramics – weird looking cats and a monkey orchestra.  In more than one instance I found myself laughing out loud (and probably looking like a crazy person) at some of the stranger items.

True Nordic

Part of the True Nordic exhibition.

Part of the True Nordic exhibition.

The George R. Gardiner Special Exhibition Gallery is located on the third floor of the Gardiner.  At the moment this space is hosting True Nordic: How Scandinavia Influenced Design in Canada This space was by far the most crowded in the Museum and it was also my least favourite gallery.  The Nordic exhibition focuses on seven decades of Scandinavian influence on Canadian design.  It included ceramics, furniture, glassware, interior design pieces, and textiles.  The exhibition also incorporated a couple of National Film Board clips showing various Canadian artists at work – eg. a family making Nordic inspired ceramic light fixtures. I did really enjoy some of the textile pieces in this gallery – but I love almost any example of textile as art – so that probably isn’t too surprising.

Overall

I would recommend the Gardiner to anyone interested in ceramic art.  It’s not a huge museum and you can easily take it all in a couple of hours.  The gallery spaces were well laid out and had a variety of media incorporated to engage all type of users.  I also noticed that Sundays they do programming specifically geared at bringing children into the museum space which I’m always happy to see.

Gerald Richardson – Life Through The Lens

While visiting the Dufferin County Museum and Archives (DCMA) recently I was able to take in the Gerald Richardson – Life Through The Lens exhibit that was in the Silo Gallery.  The exhibit featured many photographs by Richardson that are on loan to the DCMA.

Richardson was from Orangeville, Ontario in Dufferin County and is well known for his photographs of the British Royal family, the Canadian navy, and Canada at war.  Richardson famously photographed the Royal tour of  1939 and 1951.  Richardson started his career as a photographer taking family portraits and went on to serve in the the Royal Canadian Navy as the first Photographic Officer.

The Silo Gallery at the DCMA is named that because it is literally located in the top portion of a silo. The rounded small space has beautiful views of the surrounding area but is challenging as an exhibit space.  Despite the small rounded area I’ve seen a number of successful art, photograph, and print based exhibitions in this space over the years.  The Richardson exhibit did an excellent job of highlighting his connections to Dufferin County, displays some of his more well known works and iconic photographs of the Royal family.  The exhibit had both local, national, and international historical content making it an exhibit which would appeal to most visitors.

Reverb14: Art Installations and Archives

In 2010 I participated in #reverb10. This year I plan on participating in #reverb14 as a way to get my writing habits back on track. The first prompt is Where did you start 2014? Give us some background on this year.

My year started with a lot of thinking about digital preservation, digitization, and community archives. The beginning of 2014 was also marked by me working to organize the Why The Caged Bird Sings: Here I Am exhibition by Cheryl L’Hirondelle.

This past year was filled with great experiences working with Indigenous artists, thinkers, and researcher focused on residential schools. My organizational and planning skills were put to the test as I managed multiple projects and helped bring a handful of art installations to fruition. I had very limited experience with art installations prior to this year, so there was a definite hands on learning curve.

I also reconnected with archival work that had been put on the back burner. Introducing work study students to archival work reminded me of the importance of ongoing learning and the love I have for archival practice.

Ethel Stein Master Weaver Exhibit

Ethel Stein. Portrait, 1999. Art Institute of Chicago.

I recently spent a few days in Chicago, Illinois.  This is the fifth post in a series about the museums, architecture, public gardens, and art I visited while there.  The first post can be viewed here.

One of my favourite exhibits during my visit to the Art Institute of Chicago was Ethel Stein, Master Weaver.  Located down in the basement of the Institute the exhibit included drawloom weavings created by Stein from 1982 through 2008.  This retrospective exhibition includes over 40 works that have either been donated to the Art Institute or have been promised as future gifts.

I was blown away by the detail in Stein’s work, the complexity of the weaving, and the thought behind each piece.  Weaving at the most fundamental level seems like a very simple artisan craft.  But the drawloom technique that allows for each warp thread to be controlled separately has tremendous potential for creativity, complexity, and skill.  Some of Stein’s work does at first glance appear uncomplicated but works like Portrait and Circus and Slapstick by Stein illustrate the artistic process and elaborate nature of her work.

In addition to the textile works by Stein the exhibit space includes a video installation.  The video shows Stein working in her studio and provides insight into the labour intensive, detail orientated nature of her work. For me the video also highlighted the vision, math, accuracy, and planning required to execute textile works on the scale the Stein has.  A copy of the short video can be viewed here.

The exhibition is located on the Lower Level of the Art Institute and is a bit out of the way.  But it is definitely worth the effort to find the one elevator that gets you down there.

Technology and Highlights of the Art Institute of Chicago

I recently spent a few days in Chicago, Illinois.  This is the fourth post in a series about the museums, architecture, public gardens, and art I visited while there.  The first post can be viewed here.

When people say you could spend hours at the Art Institute of Chicago they aren’t kidding.  I spent a full day there as part of my trip to Chicago.   Overall I enjoyed the day exploring the galleries. There is a huge range of artwork and themes in the Institute and everyone should be able to find something that interests them.

There are ipad and other technology stations throughout the Art Institute.  However I saw very few of them being used during our visit.  It made me wonder about what type of media and digital interaction is most effective in museums and galleries.  In addition to the technology stations the Art Institute has a free app and open wifi.

Despite loving the possibilities of technology integrated into heritage sites I’ve rarely downloaded apps for the sites I’ve visited.  But while waiting in line for tickets to gain entry to the Art Institute I downloaded their app.  As much as I wanted to love the app I found it a bit awkward to use.  The app offers 50 tours categorized by collections, themes, or time limits.  The apps location feature that showed where you were inside the gallery was well done.  However including more than just the gallery numbers on the maps might have made it more useful.  The app does support some basic searching of the collections.  However this feature is fairly basic and not fully developed.  The app has potential but I still found myself relying more on the paper map and traditional text panels.

The floor plan and layout of the galleries in the Art Institute can be confusing at times.  This is mainly due to the how the Institute developed.  The first permanent building of the Art Institute opened in 1893 and since then eight expansions for gallery and administration space have been undertaken.  The nature of adding additions onto older buildings has resulted in parts of the Institute being disconnected and only accessible by one or two routes.  For example, not all of the galleries on the second floor are accessible from the same stairwell or elevator.  Even with good planning this can add some additional walking to a visit as you often have to loop back to access a gallery that is only accessible from one spot.

Some of my favourite exhibitions from my visit included: Ethel Stein, Master WeaverMargritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938, and the public art section that includes Chagall’s America Windows. An interesting video about the conversation and installation of the Chagall windows can be seen here.

I also found the Indian Art of the Americas gallery interesting. I had assumed that this gallery would focus mainly on First Nation artwork from the United States.  The collection is much more broad in its scope and includes works from both South and North American with a large percentage of the collection being made up of Mesoamerican and Andean ceramics, sculptures, and textiles.

The gallery had more of a museum feel to it focusing on the history of the numerous Indigenous peoples and their traditional practices.  The gallery contained very little from the 1900s and didn’t address current trends in Indigenous artwork.  That being said, the Institute is well known for its Amerindian art and the items on display were well contextualized and highlights a number of cultures.  Though I did wonder how involved (if at all) Indigenous communities have been in collection, display choices,  and interpretation. 

The Art Institute is definitely worth a visit if you’re in Chicago.  If you have a limited amount of time I would recommend doing some research beforehand to map out what you want to see and planning your visit around must sees.  Looking at everything in the Institute in great detail during a single visit simply isn’t possible.

Commemorative Art: Walking With Our Sisters

Yesterday artist and author Christi Belcourt, hosted by Shingwauk Kinomage Gaimig, gave a talk at Algoma University. Her talk focused on her art practice, traditional art, and the Walking With Our Sisters project. 

Walking With Our Sisters is a commemorative art installation in memory of missing and murdered Indigenous women  in Canada and the United States. The work is a floor installation make up of beaded moccasin vamps arranged in a pathway on red fabric.  Each pair of vamps represents one missing or murdered Indigenous woman.  Vamps were chosen as the focal point of this project as they are part of an unfinished pair of moccasins and represent the unfinished lives of women.

One of the most inspiring parts of Walking With Our Sisters is the community involvement and support.  The project has been entirely crowd-sourced.  In June 2012 a call was put out via social media asking people to create moccasin tops for the exhibit.  By June 2013 over 1600 vamps had been received.  Vamps were donated from people across Canada and the United States and from as far away as Scotland.  A map of participants can be seen here. Photographs and descriptions of some of the donated vamps can be seen here.

The collective and is deeply rooted in community and volunteerism, with the organization of the touring being done by a collective. Christi Belcourt described Walking With Our Sisters as a memorial and rooted in ceremony.  Her description of the far reaching impacts of the project and the community support was moving and inspirational.  Walking With Our Sisters is scheduled to visit over 30 communities in the next five years. The full tour schedule can be seen here

Artifact Meanings and Contextualization

In the museum world, objects are generally described with reference to their designers, or purchasers, or donors…But the whole history of an objects intersects with many other people, who employ many other skills and attach many other meanings.1

The above quotation from Richard Rabinowitz’s article highlights the traditional way that museums tend to display and think about artifacts.  Artifacts are often included in exhibitions with labels about where they were created, who they belonged to, and who donated them.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Provenance allows for the context of an object to come to the forefront and helps tell a specific part of history.  However, Rabinowitz’s statement also rightly points out that artifacts don’t exist in a vacuum.  

Objects are frequently handle by people other than their owners.  For example, the average car comes into contact with an uncountable number of people throughout its existence — the assembly line workers, transporters, the staff at the dealership, mechanics, cleaners, insurance appraisers, junk yard staff, etc. 

In Rabinowitz’s case the inspiration to look beyond the original owners of an object was generated by a lack of artifacts representing the experience of salves in New York.  The possessions of people at the margins have tended to be less likely to end up in museum collections.  The Slavery in New York exhibition included numerous heirloom objects from upper class families accompanied by the text “everything is touched by slavery.”  The point being that household items were polished, cleaned, and maintained by slaves.  Using well known eighteenth century items and re-framing them with contextual research about slavery allows the items to be part of the exhibit in a meaningful way.

In my mind, the whole idea is brilliant.  It allows the hands of those who touched the artifact but aren’t normally associated with it to be exposed.  The example also highlights the importance of curatorial planning, research, and interpretation.  Without interpretation artifacts are just old objects. Interpretation is needed for contextualization, the creation of narratives, and to engage visitors.



1 Richard Rabinowitz, “Eavesdropping at the Well: Interpretive Media in the Slavery in New York Exhibition,” The Public Historian, Vol. 35, No. 3.  

Local History and Artwork at the Galway City Museum

It rained a lot while I was in Galway.  The rain seemed to come in bursts, it would rain for ten minutes and then it would be sunny, twenty minutes later it would rain for another ten minutes.  In my mind a rainy day is a perfect day for a trip to a museum.  The Galway City Museum located near the River Corrib by the Spanish Arch was a great way to spend a couple of hours.  Admission is free and the Museum is well worth a visit. 

The permanent galleries focus on the history of Galway, with the main floor’s exhibitions focusing on prehistoric Galway and medieval history.   The mixture of explanatory text, historical photographs, and archeological artifacts was well done in this area.  This space concisely explains the geographical formation of the area and the early settlers.

In the large atrium of the museum is a Galway Hooker that was made for the museum by Pat Ó Cualáin and Micheál MacDonncha from An Cheathrú Rua.  The boat is named Máirtín Oliver in honour of the last King of the Claddagh village.  The boat is an amazing piece of craftsmanship and the placement of it makes it impossible to miss during any visit to the museum. 

During my visit there was a couple of temporary exhibitions that I particularly enjoyed.  The Derrick Hawker: An Islands’ Retrospective exhibition was a great example of a city museum incorporating local artists into the space.  The exhibition focused on the paintings and sketches done by Hawker with an emphasis on his work showcasing the Connemara region and the Ballynakill Lake in Gorumna. 

The Hawker exhibition was complimented by an exhibition of ceramics and glass works on loan from the University of Limerick.  The exhibit contained works from around the world and the vast majority of them were practical ceramics such as vases or bowls.  The catalogue of the collection which was the basis of this exhibit can be seen here.

Other than the exhibitions I really enjoyed the physical space of the museum.  A number of the walls of the museum are glass which allows for great views of the city from the gallery spaces.  It was also interesting to see that most exhibition text was in both English and Gaelic.  I would be interested to know how many of the exhibition visitors read the Gaelic text over the English.

During my visit there was also a curatorial meeting doing on in one of the exhibition spaces that was under renovation.  The public historian and exhibition in installer in me couldn’t help but listen in briefly.  It was neat to see staff actually collaborating in the exhibition space and actively considering how the space would work with the flow of the museum overall.

Royal Hospital Kilmainham: Modern Art and Heritage Site

Following my trip to the Kilmainham Goal I visited the nearby Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) that is located in the former Royal Hospital Kilmainham building. Unfortunately during my visit the main Hospital building was closed for renovations and only a small new gallery space was open.  Despite this closure the grounds are beautiful and the small exhibition I had the opportunity to see was well done.

The Royal Hospital opened in 1684 as a home for retired soldiers.  The building continued to be used for this purposed for 250 years.  In 1984 it was taken over and restored by the government.  In 1991 the building opened as the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

The IMMA gardens are done in a classical style that reflects the heritage of the site.  This traditional 
atmosphere is contrasted with outdoor sculptural art.  The contrast highlights the usage of the space in a modern purposeful way while still maintaining elements of the long history of the site.

During my visit the only exhibition that was open was “Leonora Carrington: The Celtic Surrealist” located in the Garden Galleries.  The exhibit was framed as a retrospective of Carrington’s work and featured over 80 examples of her work in a variety of mediums including paintings, tapestries, works on paper, and sculptures.  Some of the works exhibited refer to Irish and Celtic lore while others explored the influence of Mexican culture.  Her artwork was also accompanied by a number of examples of her written work and journals.  It was interesting to see a mixture of archival material on display alongside the art exhibition.

The exhibit was organized thematically and was had interesting signage explaining the different styles and influences on Carrington’s artwork.  However, the exhibit space is fairly small.  During my visit there was a number of students in the building as part a formal class visit.  The shear number of students seemed overwhelming in the tight space, with many of them sitting on the floor sketching as there was very little gallery seating. 

Photographs by Andrew MacKay