Sunday, 24 January 2016

I will miss Av Isaacs' Blossoming Smile

Av Isaacs about the time he opened the Isaacs Gallery in 1970.
 The term "art dealer" has been replaced with the more gentrified "gallerist" as if to suggest the earlier term had connotations of car dealer or drug dealer.  A man who made the term "art dealer" a proud and creative one passed away on January 15, 2016.  Avrom Isaacs or Av, as I used to call him, was a leader in the Canadian art scene and in many ways one of my mentors.  I knew him while I lived in Toronto and first wandered into his Yonge Street gallery while finishing my Master of Arts degree in philosophy in 1980.  Isaacs didn't study art history either it turns out. He had a degree in economics and political science, also from the U of T.  I had come from Montreal but he was originally from Winnipeg. We were both autodidacts and cultural omnivores:  big fans not just of visual art but also of a broad range of culture– everything from poetry and theatre to experimental music.  When we wanted to learn about something we waded into the field and learned first hand.  Av delighted in my childhood stories of how I would wake up in the morning and discover my father's trophies from poker playing, such as Venetian glass or Inuit stone and bone carvings.

Reflecting its owner's taste, the stable of artists at the Isaacs Gallery was very wide.  One minute I would be looking at a historical painting and the next it would be a fresh canvas or sculpture from Michael Snow or Gordon Rayner.  In between, it might be a mask from New Guinea.  When Av learned that I had a keen interest in Inuit art, he gave me a special treat.  He took me to what was in essence his personal warehouse.  More diplomatic individuals called it his loft storehouse.  Here was the treasure trove–shelves upon shelves of art!  I got to handle the work of Karoo Ashevak and Jessie Oonark.
Av retired in 2001; he died in 2016 aged 89.

I wonder if the term "stable" will be replaced with portfolio in reference to the collection of artists that a gallery represents. Artist John Greer teased Av once about the term "stable" asking if it suggested livestock or stability.  After an initial frown, Greer says that Av blossomed into a smile.  I will miss those blossoming smiles.

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