Critics’ Pick: David Askevold at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

by | May 15, 2013 | Reviews | 0 comments

Last month, when I had the opportunity to travel to Halifax for C magazine‘s symposium on art criticism, I also had the pleasure of joining a half-day tour of most of Halifax’s galleries, organized by Visual Arts Nova Scotia. It was a great chance to see some of the university galleries that are a bit further afield than I would normally get to if I traveled to the city on my own, and I’d been looking forward to the chance to see the traveling retrospective of the work of David Askevold which had returned “home” for its final stop at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS).

Curated by David Diviney and co-organized with the National Gallery of Canada, the overview of Askevold’s work underscores the artist’s collaborative approach to making conceptual art, a theme I tried to draw out in a review I wrote of the show for While the stereotypes of conceptual art from the 1960s are always (to my mind, anyways) that of the solitary, overly intellectual male artist, working with a dry set of constrictions to produce an autonomous work, Askevold’s body of work offers a portrait of a generous and generative peer who often worked with his students and fellow artists to create ambitious, sometimes downright goofy, works. This collaborative zeal is perhaps epitomized by his most famous work, the “Projects Class” at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) that started in 1969 and invited international conceptual artists to send instructions for the completion of artworks to NSCAD students, which they would execute together; but it also appears in the exhibition through his ongoing photo-based projects with Mike Kelley and Tony Oursler.

To me, Askevold is an art world household name, but I’ve realized since visiting the show, and telling almost everyone I meet about the works that I hadn’t known about until this exhibition, that he is not as well known as many of his contemporaries that worked in the United States throughout the 1960s and 70s, at the height of conceptual art production in North America. Part of me wonders if this is just about geography—the artist’s decision to stay in Halifax rather than working from the “centres” of Toronto, Vancouver, New York or Los Angeles—and another part is curious about whether this is also motivated by Askevold’s long-time affiliation with pedagogical practices: it seems telling, for instance, that he is best known for the work he developed as a teacher at NSCAD, work that is difficult to define as an autonomous work of art, separate from the work of teaching (often stereotypically associated with affective labour and “women’s work”). The AGNS exhibition—and incredibly thorough catalogue that was produced to accompany it—will hopefully help to remedy this and give Askevold the (posthumous) recognition he deserves.

“David Askevold: Once Upon a Time in the East” continues at the AGNS until June 23.