The good news? Well, unlike performing-arts venues, still shuttered by COVID-19, museums and galleries have reopened to the public—albeit with timed-entry and socially distanced admissions.
The bad news? Many institutions are struggling with drastically reduced exhibition budgets, resulting in the postponement or outright cancellation of scheduled shows and the extension of those already in progress.
The good news again? Curators are resourceful, organizing exhibitions from permanent collections, giving us a chance to view works that have been sequestered in storerooms and vaults for years, if not decades. New ways of looking at local and regional histories are emerging, novel approaches to art-world trends and tropes are taking shape.
Expect an array of visual experiences, from the dazzling to the quietly engaging. (Expect, too, to prebook your visit to public galleries and museums. Please see their websites before setting out.)
To April 25, 2021, at the Teck Gallery, SFU Harbour Centre
Acclaimed for drawing installations that trouble our understanding of portraiture and the making of a likeness, Elizabeth MacKenzie presents us with two monumental black-and-white images, mounted opposite each other on the Teck Gallery’s east and west walls. (A more modestly scaled work greets visitors at the entrance to the space.) Originating in small drawings in which the artist floated and manipulated graphite pigment on stone paper, these imaginary portraits are intentionally ambiguous, refusing to settle definitively on gender, age, or ethnicity. As if to echo our strangely disrupted times, one of them is installed upside down and resembles the map of an unknown country as much as it does a human face.
The Draw: MacKenzie plays with the ways our brains want to assemble abstract marks and gestures into representations of the familiar, the recognizable. She also conveys the possibility that portraiture is dodgy and likeness may not occur.
Kablusiak: “ublaak tikiyuak”
To October 17 at Artspeak
Soapstone sculptures and drawings by Inuvialuk artist and curator Kablusiak evoke feelings of homesickness and cultural displacement. Representations of personal belongings, everyday objects, and domestic scenes speak to Kablusiak’s sense of suspension between their ancestral home in the Mackenzie Delta and their current lodging in Mohkinstsis (Calgary).
Kent Monkman: Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience
To January 3, 2021, at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC
Through his astonishing history paintings, dioramalike installations, and images and objects borrowed from museum collections, Cree artist Kent Monkman critiques Canada’s colonial history and powerfully reenvisions it through Indigenous eyes. (This exhibition was previously featured in the Straight.)
Madiha Aijaz: Memorial for the lost pages
To January 3, 2021, at the Contemporary Art Gallery and off-site at the Yaletown-Roundhouse Station
Based in Karachi, Pakistan, the late artist Madiha Aijaz was esteemed for her quietly revelatory videos and photographs, probing the ways people inhabit public spaces in her native city. As seen in her CAG shows, her camera sought to record both the legacy of colonialism and the complexities of contemporary life in Pakistan’s most populous and ethnically diverse urban centre.
Her moving and still images document what she described as “contested, often fractured landscapes” and examine everything from the linguistic histories embedded in public libraries to the decaying state of the famed Khyber Mail railway.
The Draw: This is the first Canadian showing of Aijaz’s art, introducing us to her practice of wrapping the everyday in thoughtful regard. At the same time, it is a sorrowful farewell: Aijaz died in 2019 at the age of 38, just as she was reaching her creative stride.
September 25 to January 17, 2021, at the Burnaby Art Gallery
From medieval illuminated manuscripts to fragments of text incorporated into cubist collages, the written word has compelled artists in the West for centuries. In recent decades, text has played an ever greater role in international visual expression, its appeal being both formal and conceptual. Reading Art draws from the BAG’s permanent collection of works on paper, supplemented by loans from public and private sources, to both beguile and unsettle us.
On the gallery’s main floor, artists such as Robert Houle, Oraf Orafsson, General Idea, and the Guerrilla Girls demonstrate the social and political power of language in art. Al Neil’s hand-scribbled words evoke a surrealistic commitment to automatic writing. John Baldessari’s I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art makes a humorous promise that he might or might not fulfill. Upstairs, the show continues with illustrations to famous literary works, including Salvador Dalí’s interpretation of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
The Draw: The exhibition spotlights the BAG’s wide-ranging holdings of text-based art. It also alerts us to the witty, process-driven work of the late (and sadly overlooked) Estonian-Canadian artist Enn Erisalu. Read on!
The Eyes Have Walls: Nicole Ondre and Mina Totino
September 30 to December 12 at the West Vancouver Art Museum
Small paintings and ceramic works by Vancouver-based Ondre and Totino experiment with form and materials and blur distinctions between seemingly disparate disciplines. Both engaging and destabilizing, the two artists’ separate yet complementary art practices happily muddle our expectations.
To November 8 at the Polygon Gallery
This important and ambitious show celebrates the creative explosion of media art across Asia during the period 2004-19. Curated by Davide Quadrio, it draws on photography, film, and installation from the acclaimed FarEastFarWest collection of contemporary Asian art, and includes works by China’s Cao Fei, Lu Yang, and Zhou Xiaohu and Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul. (Third Realm was previously featured in the Straight.)
October 17 to April 5, 2021, at the Vancouver Art Gallery
Acclaimed as the father of Op Art, a form of perceptual abstraction that gives the illusion of movement and depth, Victor Vasarely began his career as a graphic artist and designer in his native Budapest.
From Paris, where he moved in 1930, he also revealed his utopian-modernist commitment to making art accessible to a wide audience through ventures into architecture, sculpture, textiles, domestic goods, and the creation of multiple editions of two-dimensional works. The VAG’s exhibition of Vasarely’s paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and multiples from the 1960s and ’70s is organized in conjunction with the Centre Pompidou, Paris, with extensive loans from the Simonyi Collection, Seattle.
The Draw: This exhibition provides us with the chance to reconsider a fleeting aspect of late modernism and especially to appreciate Vasarely’s aspiration to both disrupt art and democratize it. Through the companion exhibition, Op Art in Vancouver, we may also recall the movement’s impact on leading local artists, including Gordon Smith, Roy Kiyooka, Brian Fisher, and the ever-ballsy Joan Balzar.