Reading a book I received this Christmas (Mumford on Modern Art in the 1930s) I noted with a smile that one of the “…landmark studies in the general history of art…” that gave Lewis Mumford his early inspiration was Helen Gardner’s “Art through the Ages”. It is curious that the same book should be the one that got me started thinking about art as it was the textbook for my Art History 101 course at university. I wonder if the University of Saskatchewan was a bit behind in its art reference sources as Mumford wrote about art for the New Yorker between 1932 and 1937 and my course was in the 1960s.
The significance of my art course, beside the fact that I actually got several credits, was my introduction to “Modern Art”. While there was almost no reference to Canadian modern artists in the course, that interest was stimulated for me 20 years later by my first serious visit to an art exhibition – “Aurora Borealis” organized by the Centre international d’art contemporain de Montreal in 1985.
It was at the Montreal exhibition that my real “art appreciation” began. It was this experience that fixed in my mind the names of a core group of Canadian artists that I would follow for the next 25 years: Melvin Charney, Tom Dean, Pierre Dorion, Gathie Falk, Vera Frenkel, General Idea, Betty Goodwin, Liz Magor, John McEwen, Allan McWilliams, Michael Snow, David Tomas and Jeff Wall.
An equally influential event in setting me off on a journey of appreciation of contemporary art was the 1989 exhibition “Magiciens de la Terre” organized in Paris by the Musee national d’art moderne. It was at this exhibition that a new set of references were set for me: Marina Abramovic, Rasheed Araeen, John Baldessari, Jose Bedia, Christian Boltanski, Louise Bourgeois, Tony Cragg, Hans Haacke, Rebecca Horn, Huang Yong Ping, Ilya Kabakov, Anselm Kiefer, Barbara Kruger, Claes Oldenburg, Sigmar Polke, Cheri Samba, Lawrence Weiner and Krzystof Wodiczko.
It is from the building blocks of the Gardner text, the Montreal and Paris exhibitions that my journey towards art appreciation is based. The guiding hand behind this journey continues to be a very close friend, a highly respected and knowledgeable leader in the Canadian art scene.
Over the years an ever increasing number of Canadian and international artists have captured my attention. Through exhibitions and the all-important collecting and reading of exhibition catalogues and art history books my interest continues. I am now ready to begin reflecting on my journey.