Change is constant: the year in art

Looking back at 2018 it is easy to see that there were trends in the exhibitions and events that made up last year’s art scene. At the risk of being reductive, I would sum the past year up as being about reconciliation and change.
The theme of reconciliation was apparent in exhibitions, particularly at the public galleries, with their focus on projects by First nations artists. The Kent Monkman exhibition at Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, one of that gallery’s most popular shows in years, may have been the highest-profile project, but there were also excellent exhibitions at Dalhousie Art Gallery (Nanabozho’s Sisters), Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery in partnership with Eyelevel Gallery (#callresponse), and MSVU Art Gallery (Maria Hupfield: The One Who Keeps on Giving).
AGNS also brought us the excellent, and ongoing, exhibition by Jordan Bennett: Ketu’ elmita’jik. The broad themes of reconciliation and change also drove the city’s largest art event last year, when Nocturne’s guest curator Raven Davis presented a curatorial program on the theme of Nomadic Reciprocity. Halifax also hosted an important event generated by the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective: Pjilita’q Mi’kmaki: L’nuite’tmukl tan wejkuwaql naqwe’kl / International Gathering of Indigenous Artists and Curators.
The desire for positive change, of course, was a driving force. More prosaically, 2018 saw some physical changes, as two galleries moved to new spaces: commercial gallery Studio 21, and artists’ co-op View Point Gallery. Ingrid Jenkner, long-time curator of the MSVU Art Gallery retired in 2018, with her replacement, Laura Ritchie, set to start later this month.
It’s easy to discern thematic threads after the event. Looking ahead, the upcoming season seems less coherent, though there is a developing approach to how we create and inhabit landscapes that should prove to be fascinating.
The year opens with two exhibitions by artists with ties to this city: former residents Bev Pike and D’Arcy Wilson. Winnipeg artist Pike has lived in Western Canada for decades but many in the arts community still remember her tenure as director of the art gallery at the former Technical University of Nova Scotia.
Pike’s exhibition Grottesque is touring from Regina’s Dunlop Art Gallery. It features several extremely large paintings, invented spaces that conflate landscape and architecture on a scale that envelops the viewer. Wilson, a more recent transplant from Halifax, currently lives in Corner Brook where she teaches at the Sir Wilfred Grenfell campus of Memorial University. Her exhibition, The Memorialist, opens at Dalhousie Art Gallery this week.
Based on the history of Andrew Downs’ Zoological Garden that opened in Halifax in 1847 (around where the Armdale Roundabout currently sits), Wilson will combine photography, video, a large diorama, performance, and objects drawn from museum and archival collections to create a multi-media experience that addresses the fraught relationship Western society has with nature.
The nature of nature, to borrow the title of last year’s exhibition at the AGNS by Thaddeus Holownia, continues as a theme at the AGNS with the exhibition A Sense of Site. This project is based in the national Canada 150 project Landmarks2017/Repères2017 which brought site-specific installations by 12 artists to many of Canada’s National Parks and Historic Sites. For A Sense of Site the artists will re-visit their projects, translating them for exhibition in an art gallery. Including emerging and established artists such as Jin-me Yoon, Rebecca Belmore and Michael Belmore, the exhibition also includes two Sobey Art Award winners: Ursula Johnson and Raphaëlle de Groot.
MSVU Art Gallery and SMU Art Gallery are both exhibiting projects that combine visual art and dance, MSVU right now, with the series of video projections called Slipstream by Jenn E Norton (running until March 3), and SMU later in the year with he exhibition Full Fall by Brenden Fernandes, a former Sobey Art Award nominee who now lives in Chicago (June 8 – August 4).
Where the larger galleries tend to plan their exhibitions months, if not years ahead, the smaller spaces tend to be more flexible, often only planning a few months at a time. The Mary E. Black Gallery operated by the Centre for Craft Nova Scotia features several exhibitions a year. The next two feature jewelry and textile work. Ambiguous Intersections // Among The Garbage and The Flowers is a two-person exhibition by Halifax jeweller K. Claire MacDonald and Toronto textile artist Susan Avishai. It opens later this week and runs until March 3.
Another Halifax jeweller, NSCAD professor Rebecca Hannon, is the subject of the next exhibition, which opens on March 7 and runs until April 28. The show, Contemporary Camouflage, will feature new work by Hannon.
ViewPoint Gallery, a photographer’s co-op, will feature eight exhibitions in 2019, beginning with an exhibition of new work by founding member Curtis Steele. It runs until Feb. 3. The Craig Gallery at Alderney Landing shows a mix of emerging and established local artists. They are featuring four solo shows in the coming months: Beyond Negative Space, sculptures by Zalman Amit, until Feb. 3; Cellular Expressions, drawings by Maria Doering (Feb. 7–March 3), Knickknacks and Psychopomps, paintings by Frank Forrestall (March 7–31); and Effluents, large-scale charcoal drawings by Curtis Botham (April 4–28).
The city’s commercial galleries also plan in shorter increments, but if you visit the websites of Zwickers Gallery, Studio 21 and Argyle Fine Art regularly you’ll hear about what they have upcoming. Studio 21 has three solo exhibitions slated for the first half of 2019, all featuring works by well-regarded Maritime artists: Alex Livingston (March 29–May 1), Janice Leonard (May 3–29), and Jack Bishop (May 31–July 3). Events play a large part in activities of commercial galleries, and both Argyle Fine Art and Studio 21 have events coming up shortly.
Argyle Fine Art is opening Pre-Shrunk on Jan. 25. Their annual show of small works, the exhibition will feature over 300 artworks by their gallery artists. None of the works, in multiple genres and media, can be bigger that 4 x 5 inches. This February Studio 21 will be hosting a ticketed wine tasting event on Valentine’s Day, along with an exhibition of new works by four artists: Jimy Sloan, Yang Hong, Toni Losey, and Sara Caracristi.  You can find out more about either event by visiting the gallery websites.
With so much interesting program in the works it is hard say just what projects I am looking forward to most. Two that I’ll single out are touring exhibitions arriving in Halifax this spring. Here We Are Here: Black Canadian Contemporary Art is a major exhibition organized by the Royal Ontario Museum. Featuring nine artists, including Nova Scotia Sylvia D. Hamilton, it addresses the question, “What is the Black Canadian presence and history in our country?” It opens at the AGNS on June 1.
Born in Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Territory, Montreal artist Skawennati creates virtual environments using installation, virtual realty platforms and other multi-media approaches. Teiakwanahstahsontéhrha’ / We Extend the Rafters, is described as an “Indigenous virtual environment addressing history, the future and change.” It opens at MSVU Art Gallery on March 16.
As always, we are lucky here in Halifax with the exhibitions on offer form our local galleries. Challenge, inspiration, entertainment, information or wonder: whatever you look for in an art exhibition, you are sure to find it on view somewhere in the coming months.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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