Concordia’s Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its extensive collection of Québécois and Canadian art. To mark the occasion, the gallery has planned a series of events and projects, including a unique series of five satellite exhibitions entitled Sightings.
The Sightings exhibitions will be displayed beginning Thursday, April 5 in a large, 10-foot-high, eight-foot-wide, white cube, placed on the metro level of the Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex (EV Building, 1515 Ste-Catherine St. W.). The idea behind the project is to display works from the collection in a non-gallery setting, where lots of people will be able to enjoy them, explains Mélanie Rainville, Max Stern Curator at the Ellen Art Gallery.
The imposing cube, which has acrylic glass (commonly known as Plexiglas) windows on all four sides, and no discernible front or back, was designed and built by Ellen Art Gallery technical coordinator Paul Smith.
Rainville says the cube, which alludes to modernist gallery spaces, is adaptable to all sorts of different types of displays. “The five satellite exhibitions are a chance to test the limits and adaptability of the module.” Although the cube was built specifically for the Sightings exhibits, Rainville says she hopes the gallery will find further use for it as a space to display art.
The Ellen Art Gallery decided to ask graduate students from Concordia’s studio arts and art history departments to curate the Sightings exhibitions. “It’s a rare opportunity for students to collaborate with us on a project, where they are expected to address both the works and the space,” Rainville says. “The students study the collection based on their interests and then make their selection. They then decide how they want to exhibit the works they’ve chosen.”
Anne-Marie Proulx, a Master's in Art History student at Concordia University, was invited to curate the first satellite exhibition, Sightings I, and she decided to focus on photographic works by Raymonde April, a well-known artist and professor of photography in Concordia’s Department of Studio Arts.
Proulx chose to display a small selection of April’s photographs from the artist’s sprawling project, entitled Tout embrasser, which included 517 images taken over the artist’s career that had never been exhibited. The project was the subject of an exhibition at the Ellen Art Gallery in 2001.
The large photographs selected by Proulx include an image of a pile of cement blocks scattered over an unknown setting. This image, in particular, spoke to Proulx, reminding her of her own past.
“The first time I looked at this image, I saw big, broken chunks of ice on the banks of the Chaudière River,” Proulx writes. “Once when the ice overflowed onto the land around my family’s cottage, my father took pictures while it was being cleaned up. It was these that came to mind when I saw the cement blocks in Raymonde April’s photograph.”
In order to illustrate how she responded to April’s photographs, Proulx has decided to exhibit the pictures taken by her father the day the ice threatened her family cottage alongside the renowned artist’s work.
Concordia’s art collection dates back to 1962, when the downtown campus was still Sir George Williams University. At first, the collected works were scattered around the university community, but over the next few years, as the collection grew considerably, it was no longer possible to display them all. Some of the works were put in storage, and in 1966, the Sir George Williams Art Galleries opened.
In 1984, the gallery became the Concordia Gallery, and then in 1992, it was renamed again after Leonard and Bina Ellen when the family made a significant donation. It now houses more than 1,800 works of Québécois and Canadian art. “The gallery is now a prominent contemporary art centre that critically examines current artistic and curatorial practices,” says Gallery Director Michèle Thériault.
Other events planned to mark the Gallery collection’s 50th anniversary, and the 20th anniversary of its renaming, include an exhibition scheduled for the fall, tentatively entitled Reception: Between Surrender and Commitment, which will look at the reception and interpretation of contemporary art. Watch NOW for upcoming details.
An online exhibition, entitled Collecting. The Inflections of a Practice, is viewable on the Ellen Art Gallery website. The exhibition, which was presented in the gallery in early 2010, examines the practices of acquisition, conservation, and display, and demonstrates the effects of these practices through conserved objects and archival documents.
The Ellen Art Gallery is also planning to host a colloquium that will bring together university gallery directors and curators to discuss the rising importance and role of these institutions in Canada.
Sightings I runs from Thursday, April 5 until Friday, May 18. Sightings II to V will follow.
• Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery
• 50th anniversary celebrations on the Ellen Art Gallery site
• “Trafficking Ideas” — NOW, January 25, 2012
• “Ellen Art Gallery Recognized at Gala” — NOW, December 14, 2011