Canadian Modern Art Exhibition: in Commemoration of the 50th Foundation Anniversary of Korea-Canada Diplomatic Relations
Kim Hyun-hwa (Director, SMU Cultural Center &Museum)
Sookmyung Women’s University (SMU) Museum has an honor to hold the Canadian Modern Art Exhibition to commemorate the 50th foundation anniversary of Korea-Canada diplomatic relations. Canadian modern art has been intermittently and partially introduced to Korea through exhibitions and some mass media. However, exclusive exhibition has never been planned and sponsored under the title of Canadian Modern Art Exhibition. SMU museum deems it an honor to hold the exhibition to take a good look at the features and movement of modern Canadian art.
Canadian people’s deep interest in and great affection for art has been well-known throughout the world. Art museums are located in cities downtown, rooted in the daily life of the citizens, and spontaneously providing current art movement and information for the people. Furthermore, Canadian museums fully support the local artists, purchasing the local works, whose amount comprises more than half of the total works purchased. As a result, in the 20th century some Canadian artists such as Emily Carr(1871~1945), Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923~2003), and Alex Colville (1920~2013) have attracted worldwide attention to be world famous artists. Currently, Janet Cardiff (1957~ ) and George Bures Miller (1960~ ), who are jointly working, have instantly emerged to the world through the 2001 Venice Biennale, invited to world exhibitions as renowned artists.
Canada is a nation founded by the emigrants coming mainly from England and France since the 17th century. It is natural that the European influence had been dominant all over the social sectors until the 19th century; so was art. In the beginning of the 20th century, however, Canadian artists came to realize the necessity to establish art that clearly represents the national identity of Canada. “Group of Seven”, the first art group of Canada, attempted to depict the national scenery differentiating it from that of European art. Their landscapes and scenery are evaluated to reveal the unique identity of Canada, favorably received by the Canadian people. As of present, identity codes differentiating Canadian art from general western art are two: the sublime beauty of immense scenery filled with coniferous forest of Canada, and history and culture of native Canadians. Currently, they are actively applied in Canadian arts.
Etched, Laura Millard, 73.8×99.1, oil on photograph mounted to Dibond, 2006
This exhibition sponsored by SMU Museum will provide a good opportunity to understand the current movement of Canadian art that goes in parallel with the international trend, but reveals national identity at the same time. Canadian modern art abolishes the borders between abstract and concrete arts, modernizing in abstract ways the sublime beauty of Canadian nature as well as ritual elements in the art of native people. Visitors will be able to meet a variety of genres such as painting, ceramics and photography depicting the Canadian natural scenery, as well as culture & art of the native people combined with modernism. To introduce some, Alain Paiement’s Mosaique Fluid 1 expressed nature in the geometrical form that associates the images of soap bubbles and foams; Laura Millard created abstract art linking the complicated figures of immense nature with photography and painting. Michael Harrington’s Swim makes us think about the long journey of life through an anonymous person who swims all by himself. This man swimming alone in the thick landscape seems to reveal the leisure of the middle class, while he appeals as a moderner who struggles in the crowd fighting against solitude and isolation. Judith Currelly poses questions concerning what the existence of nature is through the animal images inhabiting Canada. His White Bear, for instance, requires the viewers to meditate on the existence of creatures living in the vast category of nature.
Canadian modern art probes abundant formats and subjects by combining the two: 1) modernism that searches for universal themes and 2) postmodernism which respects the revival of locality, individuality and story-telling elements. Canadian artists break from fragmentary and one-sided conventions, combining various life stories of multi-nationalities and multi races, not to mention traditional art of native people, with diverse genres of photography, ceramics, glass art, engravings and visual images. Especially, mystery and fantasy that totem images create using the animal designs and patterns of Indians are actively used in modern Canadian art as subjects to reflect on life.
The Canadian government makes efforts to improve the status of native people, and provides ample support for them to preserve their art and culture, which is reflected in modern art as well. Robert Davidson, who grew up in the Queen Charlotte Islands, the dwelling place of the Haida tribe, has produced himself totem poles and masks. Above all, he has mixed various materials and formats of the Indian art, and has crossed the borders among craft art, painting, sculpture and jewelry art, strenuously making efforts to modernize them. Matiusi Lyaituk and Padlaya Quiatsuq use primitive materials including stones and animal horns, transforming the art of the Innuit tribe into modern one. Especially, Quiatsuq’s stone sculpture of a hunter along with an animal exhibited in the SMU museum looks like an art of the Innuit tribe. Even now he is deeply interested in the preservation of the Innuit tribal art, and his tough primitive work reminds us of the native people’s life of hunting and collecting, as if to warn modern people of their desire for materials and money.
Wane, Greg Payce, ceramic, 2002
Canadian artists try to convey various meanings of life into art, without ignoring the importance of formalities. For instance, Greg Payce depicted the cycle of life, using the op-artistic optical illusion. He is a world famous ceramic artist, having participated in the Canada Exhibition of the 2009 Cheongju Biennale. He is not a stranger in Korea as he also exhibited his ceramic works in the 3rd Icheon Ceramic Biennale.
Ceramic works exhibited in the SMU museum look like simple ceramics at a glance; however, observed carefully, empty space between ceramic works is the core of works, reminding the viewers of human images. Watching the empty spaces reminding us of human images, viewers will be able to sense that they evolve gradually from youth to old age. What does this mean or signify? Is it just to show us the cycle or circulation of life? It is an assignment to each viewer what to feel through this, or what that feeling is. Using the optical illusion of viewers can also be seen in the work of Ken Singer. This work is an op art in that the wave of space created by the rhythmic patterns is produced using the optical illusion of viewers. Visual effect and dynamic rhythm of colors that repeat retreating and projecting by optical illusion are not merely simple composition, but the artist’s core theme, providing the viewers with the beauty of abstract art. Visitors will be able to confirm that many other Canadian artists harmonize universality and locality, applying themselves to pursuing the proper and unique art of Canada.
The SMU museum exhibition might not show the total aspect of modern Canadian art. Also, it is a pity that works of some maestros are absent. However, the works of masters who have emerged on the world stage have the tints of global and universal features rather than the uniqueness and identity of modern Canadian art. Therefore, the proper or appropriate names would be world art or western art.
Canadian Modern Art Exhibition held by the SMU museum represents Canadian art today. At the same time, the unique characteristics of Canadian art, culture and history can be found in the works exhibited. Through this exhibition, it is hoped that Korean people’s interest in Canada would be enhanced further because Canada has developed art and culture, fusing and harmonizing the contrasting elements such as tradition and modernity, or preservation and innovation. Further, it is highly expected that the partnership relations of Korea and Canada that celebrate the 50th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations would develop into artistic and humanistic discourses.