What are the “great” Canadian exhibitions of the past 30 years?

by | Nov 17, 2010 | Curatorial | 2 comments

I just got back from Kitty Scott’s talk on Betty Goodwin, as part of the Art Gallery of Ontario’s current (very good) exhibition “At Work” featuring Agnes Martin, Eva Hesse and Goodwin. Scott’s talk offered a thorough overview of Goodwin’s practice from the 1970s until the 2000s that was mostly organized around significant exhibitions of Goodwin’s work, either in solo shows, group exhibitions or biennials.

But what piqued my interest about her presentation was actually one of her asides about the history of recent curatorial projects in Canada. Arguing that exhibitions are an important way that new knowledge is produced, and that histories of exhibition-making in Canada are not as thorough as they should be, Scott proposed that most people would find it difficult to name 6 or 7 Canadian curators, or “great” Canadian exhibitions, that have happened in the past few decades.

At first, I thought this was a bit of an overstatement, but after some thought, I’m wondering if she’s right. I’ve had a hard time coming up with any truly “great”, paradigm-shifting exhibitions of contemporary Canadian art. Some of Philip Monk’s AGYU shows come to mind, but they are largely solo shows, whereas Scott was thinking of and asking for group exhibitions. Barbara Fischer’s “Projections” exhibition of Canadian projection-based work also came to mind, but that is still far short of 6 or 7 pivotal shows.

So, I’m curious, what would be on your list of “great” Canadian group exhibitions, organized by great Canadian curators over the past three decades? And why is it so hard to think of a few of them?