Land Matters series
Main Gallery June 20 – September 5, 2008
Curator: Josephine Mills
There is a powerful connection between Canadian identity and landscape. That bond is economic, political, and experiential; it has lasted from the development of Canada as an independent nation to the present; and it is fundamentally based on visual representation. In the 19th century artists like Lucius O’Brien and Homer Watson focused on the range of Canadian landscape as they created the first stages of artistic production based in this country. They laid the foundation for the home-grown, specifically Canadian art practice developed in the early 20th century by artists such as the members of the Group of Seven and Emily Carr. The importance of landscape continues today with many of Canada’s leading artists working primarily in this area. Jeff Wall and other Vancouver photographers have established international reputations for their critical attention to urban and suburban landscapes.
For many people, the idea of landscape art brings to mind beautiful paintings of serene wilderness or gentle rural scenes. Recent work, which frequently focuses on less aesthetically pleasing subjects such as the devastation left after industrial activity, may not have the same immediate appeal. However, the contemporary artists are very much informed by their historical counterparts and are linked by an attention to identity. Previously, identity was not overtly present in the works themselves, but more so in the discourses which enabled the success of the landscape genre. The members of the Group of Seven and their supporters stated that they were aiming to establish a truly Canadian approach to art. They had clear nationalistic goals and the choice of landscape for their subject was crucial to their plan. In critical contemporary approaches, artists seek to deconstruct myths such as the association of Canada with untouched wilderness and to address the diversity of Canadian identity.
The exhibition Location is the first part of the Land Matters series – a trio of exhibitions which will continue in November in both the Main Gallery and the Helen Christou Gallery. Drawn from the University of Lethbridge Art Collection, Location focuses on the key period for the development of critical landscape practices in Canada and presents work from the 1980s and 1990s. The component in the Main Gallery (June 20 – September 5, 2008) includes work by many of these leading artists including Allyson Clay, Jeff Wall, Ian Wallace and Jin-me Yoon.
The Helen Christou Gallery contains a selection from “the Lethbridge Project,” a series by Ontario artist Geoffrey James. In 1998, James created a portrait of Lethbridge by photographing older sections of the city, new developments and the adjacent rural landscape. Like the work of his 19th century predecessors, the images are beautifully composed, expertly produced and often use classic landscape perspective. However, these are not simply documents of a place at a specific time nor just visually interesting objects. The most traditional image, a river winding through the countryside, is a photograph of the Blood reserve – land that is loaded with history, meaning and a strong sense of identity. In others, James turns the cookie-cutter houses of suburbia into fascinating images by showing the stark edges of development or by capturing the incongruity between a sand trap on a golf course and the surrounding terrain.
Director/Curator, University of Lethbridge Art Gallery