Monday, 28 November 2011

The Competition for Retrospectives

Back in September I opened the retrospective exhibition of Alexandra McCurdy at the Burlington Art Centre.  From exhibition proposal to opening was about two years of curatorial work.  During that time I became aware of an impending crunch caused by the greying of our crafts community – there's going to be a lot of artists and senior craftspeople competing for available spots to show their retrospectives.  Right now I am working on an essay that will be published for Ann Roberts retrospective at the Clay & Glass Gallery in Waterloo early in 2012.  Our other Ann - Ann Mortimer, I believe, will have a retro soon at the Burlington.  Kai Chan, from the fiber world, just celebrated with a 3 venue retrospective in Ontario of his work.  You get the idea.

Working on Alex's retrospective I formed the opinion that in order to be valid a retrospective had to do more than summarize a career.  I know as a writer I was NOT interested in repeating myself nor did I expect someone to want to see work they'd previously seen  The onus on me was to find a new interpretation and a new way of presenting the work as well.  Luckily, Alex's common thread (pardon the pun) in much of her career was textiles and feminism.  Her career spans 40 years and feminism has changed a great deal during that time and has roughly paralleled her career shifts but no one had pointed that out before.  I also realized that much of the criticism that has been levelled at Alex could be appropriately addressed through her connection to textiles.  She was never a potter's potter but I needed to figure out why.  The other element that I brought forward was her relationship with formalist painting.  Alex had divided her work (in conversation) as "with content" and "without content".  But it hit me like a ton of bricks when I looked up at a Hurtubise print in their guest room that that was the link to the "without content" work.  She agreed.  In terms of display, I wanted to show her early textile work alongside the pots.  And that was very satisfying for all concerned.

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