Jon Davies’ Top 6 Canadian curated moments
[This list is part of an informal archive of Canadian curated moments put together by Canadian curators from across the country. Jon Davies is a writer and curator based in Toronto. His writing has appeared in C Magazine, Canadian Art, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, and many other publications. He has curated numerous screenings for the artists’ film and video exhibitor ‘Pleasure Dome,’ as well as the traveling retrospective People Like Us: The Gossip of Colin Campbell for the Oakville Galleries, which is currently touring Canada. He also curated Ryan Trecartin: Any Ever with Helena Reckitt for The Power Plant contemporary art gallery, where he is the Assistant Curator.]
This was a tough list to put together – maybe it’s true that there aren’t very many curated Canadian group exhibitions that really deserve to be called touchstones or epoch-defining. Rather than attempting to be comprehensive, I’ve stuck with what I know and love best, as well as focusing solely on Toronto (and in many cases, The Power Plant, where I currently work), and intentionally did not repeat any of the exhibitions nominated here by others. I also seem to have focused on key moments of collaboration rather than individual curators’ strokes of genius.
1) Confused: Sexual Views by Gary Bourgeois, Gina Daniels, Jeanette Reinhardt and Paul Wong, organized by Artculture Resource Centre and co-presented by Art Metropole, The Funnel, Mercer Union, Music Gallery, YYZ, Impulse Magazine, Lacemakers Gallery, Video Inn and Western Front at Artculture Resource Centre, Toronto, 1984.
After this video installation compiling twenty-seven people’s takes on sexuality was cancelled from its Vancouver Art Gallery premiere by Director Luke Rombout, the work was staged soon after in Toronto as a strike against local forces of government repression. Beginning in the early 80s, Toronto became a hotbed of anti-censorship activism as media artists fought off the incursion of the Ontario Censor Mary Brown, who expanded her mandate to include moving-image work shown in galleries.
2) From Sea to Shining Sea: Artist-Initiated Activity in Canada, 1939–1987, curated by AA Bronson at The Power Plant, Toronto, 1987.
This exhibition and publication crafting a chronology of artist-initiated activity (particularly those in “public or non-traditional contexts”) across Canada has been immensely influential. Bronson was interested in documenting how artists tried to create situations of greater freedom and resist the lure of bureaucracy. It is a testament to the vitality of social networks and communities (as opposed to the market) in fostering artistic production in Canada – and everywhere. See also: Golden Streams: Artists’ Collaboration and Exchange in the 1970s, curated by Luis Jacob at the Blackwood Gallery, University of Toronto, Mississauga, 2002.
In a cross-border collaboration, feisty Canadian video artist/filmmaker and activist John Greyson and director of media arts at the Wexner Center Bill Horrigan curated a 3-VHS tape compilation archiving some of the vast output of video created in response to the raging AIDS pandemic. This allowed the work to be more widely seen in schools, libraries, etc. across North America while declaring the dynamism and life-or-death importance of this diverse body of work produced in the first few years of the crisis.
4) The Michael Snow Project, curated by Louise Dompierre at The Power Plant and Philip Monk, Dennis Reid and Jim Shedden at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1994.
Several years in the making, this monument of institutional collaboration resulted in four distinct exhibitions mounted at the same time in two major institutions that covered different periods and facets of Snow’s formidable output in painting, drawing, prints, sculpture, photography, film, video installation, music/sound, books, holography, etc. It was accompanied by four equally ambitious publications – tomes, really – divided into the realms of Snow’s visual art, music/sound, cinema and writing.
5) The Royal Art Lodge: Ask the Dust, curated by Wayne Baerwaldt and Joseph R. Wolin at The Power Plant, Toronto, 2003.
Crammed full of drawings, sculptures, videos and scads of other material, this incredibly charming, landmark exhibition of the young Winnipeg group arguably influenced an entire generation of Toronto drawing artists.
Monk has spent decades charting a distinctive Toronto art history through innovative thematic group exhibitions at the various venues he has curated for. In 2003–4, soon after starting at the AGYU, Monk took stock of the local scene through the lenses of gender and sexuality. What emerged was a thrilling, vibrant snapshot of Toronto as a hotbed of (decidedly queer) aesthetic pleasure, performance and subcultural experimentation.