Monday, January 19, 2015

Art Gallery of Hamilton - pt 2

I was going to write something scathing about sports and their place in U.S. culture, but really why bother?  It's all been said before.  Anyway, there is nothing that makes visiting art museums (or reading "literary" novels) inherently better than following sports.  It all comes down to taste (as Bourdieu explores in Distinction). 

Since this is my blog, I will focus on something that did give me pleasure, the recent trip to the Art Gallery of Hamilton (AGH).  I discussed the very nice, though compact, Cézanne show, and now it is time to cover the upstairs galleries.  One tip is that the upstairs galleries are actually free to visit (for the time being), though I think one ought to make some donation if stopping by.

As this is the 100th anniversary of the AGH, they have pulled together 100 masterworks in the collection and put them on display through late April 2015.  (I am not sure what is normally on view upstairs and if they rotate through their permanent collection or not.)  What is perhaps a bit surprising is that, due to the recent Alex Colville show at the AGO, perhaps the single most famous painting in their collection was not on display, namely Colville's Horse and Train (they even named their cafe Horse and Train!).

Alex Colville, Horse and Train, 1954

As the Colville exhibition is traveling to the National Gallery (kind of silly, frankly, when it would make much more sense to send it out West), Hamilton won't get its Colville back for a while. When it does return, I am not sure if they will reinstall it upstairs (squeezing it in) or perhaps put it in the lobby near the cafe.  I would imagine that people would want to see it when visiting.  

While they had a few solid European paintings (Albert Marquet, Pissarro and Leger), I think the ones that caught my attention the most were all Canadian painters.

I thought the single greatest Canadian painting was Tom Thomson's The Birch Grove, Autumn.  This actually looks quite similar to a largish Thomson in the McMichael collection.
Tom Thomson, The Birch Grove, Autumn, 1915-16

They had two Lawren Harris paintings on display.

Lawren Harris, Hurdy Gurdy, 1913

Lawren Harris, Ice House, Coldwell, Lake Superior, 1923

As it happens, they have 8 more Harris's that are still stashed away in their vaults (along with roughly 10,000 other works of art)!  As they have posted fewer than 1000 images in their Virtual Vault (and some of these have been blocked out for copyright issues), very little of the collection is actually available for public inspection.  I quite liked In the Ward, Toronto (1919) and Icebergs and Mountains, Greenland (1930), which were representative of Harris's early and middle periods.  They even had a late abstract painting, though I didn't think as much of it.  Perhaps at some point they will rotate through more of them or put on another Group of Seven exhibition.

Lawren Harris, In the Ward, Toronto, 1919

Lawren Harris, Icebergs and Mountains, Greenland, 1930

It wouldn't be a Canadian exhibit without at least a little Emily Carr on view.

Emily Carr, Yan, Q.C.I., 1912

This painting seems to be positioned halfway between the New York Ashcan school and the urban noir that Edward Hopper occasionally dwelt in.

T.R. MacDonald, One A.M., 1956

Incidentally, T.R. MacDonald was a director of AGH and seems to have been the key figure that really expanded its collection.  Unfortunately, most of his paintings in other museums seem to have vanished into deep storage.

Depending on one's view of William Kurelek, one might consider This is the Nemesis as the third major painting in the AGH (after Colville and Thomson).  I wouldn't go so far, but I am not a fan of Kurelek's work, though I occasionally find it interesting.

William Kurelek, This is the Nemesis, 1965
It is certainly the product of a fevered imagination.  Whenever Kurelek was seemingly in one of his religious ecstasies, he would paint these incredibly detailed, generally apocalyptic scenes.  While I come at it from a completely different perspective, I can understand how one can hate the culture/society one lives in.  In Kurelek's case, it was hardly a secret longing for it all to come to a violent end.  Here are a couple of close-ups of the margins of the painting.

As it happens, several years back AGH was one of the stops of the William Kurelek: the Messenger tour.  Clearly, this is a case where they did have some skin in the game, so it seems much more appropriate to be hosting an exhibit (compared to the Cézanne).  I'm starting to regret missing the exhibit by only a week or so when it was in Victoria, since it doesn't seem likely that I will have a chance to see Harvest of Our Mere Humanism Years at the Manulife corporate HQ and certainly not another one based on Bruegel's The Tower of Babel.  

What does surprise me a bit is that the AGH didn't position the Nemesis painting closer to this mixed installation also heavily inspired by Bruegel and Bosch.  It is in fact simply called Bruegel-Bosch Bus and is by the Canadian artist Kim Adams.  It's a VW minivan completely covered with toys.  It's pretty impossible to convey this without seeing it in person.

It's definitely hard to process, but it was quite interesting and quirky.  

Anyway, the visit was a good one, despite it being so cold.  I'm now starting to plan ahead to the next museum trip and trying to decide if I'll make it to Ottawa or Montreal next.

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