Saturday, May 10, 2008

Bill Reid Gallery - One of the biggest visual arts events of the year

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"Spirit of Haida Gwaii" - Bill Reid (1920-1998)
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Kevin Griffin - The Vancouver Sun - Published: Friday, May 09, 2008
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Today's opening of the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art is easily one of the biggest visual arts events of the year. This new Vancouver gallery means more space for art in a public institution, named after one of the country's best-known artists.

Even if people aren't aware of it, they come in contact with a little bit of Reid almost every day. If you're in doubt, take a closer look at a $20 bill next time you're at a cash machine. On the side opposite Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, you can see images of several of his works including Spirit of Haida Gwaii and Raven and the First Men.

Of mixed Haida and Scottish ancestry, Reid has become a national icon. His Spirit of Haida Gwaii, with its cast of real and mythical characters travelling together on a canoe towards an uncertain future, has become one of those rare unifying national symbols since it was chosen to represent the country to the rest of the world at the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C. and at the Vancouver International Airport.The new gallery's location is significant too. Situated right in the heart of downtown Vancouver in the business district, it sends out a message confirming the importance of First Nations people to the future of the city and the province.

What's also revealing is its name. It's no coincidence that it's called the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art which makes it the first public institution in the country to permanently exhibit the work of the people of the Northwest Coast as art.That may seem like a small point but that little word is full of meaning and history when it comes to the works of the people of the Northwest Coast.

For most of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the work of First Nations was included in anthropology and natural history museums alongside fossils, minerals and skeletons. Collectors looked at native-made goods with a scientific rather than artistic point of view.
Among the gatekeepers in the art world, the objects created by First Nations weren't deemed to pass muster when it came to being allowed it into the hallowed realm of art.

There were exceptions. In 1946, none other than the American abstract artist and color-field painter Barnett Newman recognized the importance of the work of the people of the Northwest Coast. Just as the centre of the art world was shifting from Paris to New York, he organized the exhibition Northwest Coast Indian Painting at the Betty Parsons Gallery. He described the 20 historical works as "one of the most extensive, certainly the most impressive, treasures of primitive painting that has come down to us from any part of the globe."

In Canada, the first time the work of contemporary indigenous artists made it into an art context was in 1965-67 when Doris Shadbolt, at the Vancouver Art Gallery, organized the groundbreaking exhibition, Arts of the Raven: Master Works of the Northwest. Reid himself was a consultant for the exhibition.

Since then, the work of First Nations artists have faced an uphill battle for inclusion in the country's art galleries.

In Ottawa, the National Gallery started integrating First Nations art into its historical Canadian galleries in 2003. Three years later, curator Greg Hill organized Norval Morrisseau: Shaman Artist - the gallery's first solo exhibition by a First Nations artist.

Another important show took place two years ago when the VAG and the Council of the Haida Nation co-curated an exhibition called Raven Travelling: Two Centuries of Haida Art. It was a major exhibition not only because it included Reid as well as Charles Edenshaw, Robert Davidson, Jim Hart, and Dorothy Grant, but also because it was the first time the Haida were actively involved in telling their own history and visual culture.

Last year, another milestone was reached for First Nations art. Vancouver's Audain Foundation for the Arts donated $2 million to the National Gallery to establish a new curator for indigenous art, one of a handful of such positions in art galleries anywhere in the world. Hill was appointed to the post, becoming head of the country's first department of indigenous art.

The opening of the Bill Reid Gallery for Northwest Coast Art is a sign of how the relationship between the art world and First Nations artists has changed.

To launch the new gallery, two collections of Reid's work are being exhibited until Jan. 11, 2009. Bill Reid: Master of Haida Art is curated by George MacDonald and Restoring Enchantment: Gold and Silver Masterpieces by Bill Reid is curated by Martine Reid, Bill's wife.

Highlights of the gallery's inaugural exhibition include:*In Celebration of Bill: This totem pole by Haida artist Jim Hart dominates the Audain Great Hall. Carved from 500-year-old red cedar, the totem pole features Reid's ancestral crest figures, including Wasgo, the half killer whale/half wolf figure from Haida mythology who lived in a lake behind Skidegate, Reid's mother's village.

On Thursday, before a packed crowd that included Lt.-Gov. Stephen Point, carver Hart completed the pole by affixing a Copper with a wolf crest figure. A Copper was considered the ultimate form of Haida wealth as it gained value by being exchanged during potlatches.
On top, looking down on everything in the gallery is the trickster Raven, representing Reid himself.

*Mythic Messengers: Relatively unknown, this bronze frieze used to be on the Teleglobe Canada building in Burnaby and then at the international terminal at Vancouver International Airport. The frieze is a swirling mass of mythical and human bodies from Haida mythology. Weighing 1,400 kilograms and 8.5 metres in length, the frieze shows figures linked by long, graceful tongues to illustrate how people with great cultural differences can still communicate with one another.

Although some of the major Reid pieces will remain on permanent display, the gallery will change its exhibitions as it focuses on new and established Northwest Coast artists.
The gallery's next exhibition is Continuum: Vision and Creativity on the Northwest Coast, a two-year project exploring what it means to be a contemporary First Nations artist in Terrace/Kitselas, Masset, Skidegate, Alert Bay and Vancouver.
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Note: Bill Reid was involved in the Indians of Canada Pavilion at Expo '67 in Montreal and was a member of Group of Seven Native artists, better known as "The Indian Group of Seven", which also included: Daphne Odjig, Alex Janvier, Norval Morrisseau, Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness, Carl Ray, and Joseph Sanchez.

11 comments:

herbert said...

Paralleling Reid and Morrisseau:

Very nice entry Spirit Walker. At first I didn't get the parallels.

It certainly is time for Native art to be fully recognized as fine art. The paintings, sculpture, prints and other current media being shown in public galleries and museums alongside their contempararies from other cultures is a dream that has finally come to fruition. These are the roots of our great land, that inspireds many artist today, in the past, (Emily Carr, to name but one)and I'm sure in the future. the importance of this becomes clearer every day. I see that point as being the underlying relavence to this blog entry, and possibly in a modest way, to this blog and others in general.

Also ironically, Bill Reid himself, may be relevent to us as he was accused of having works done by others and then putting his name to them. In the case of Bill Reid it is purported that he commissioned other artists to do works of art, mostly jewelry, and he would then put his name to them, having done none of the work. He would order from a jewellry broker some other sculptor to do the work, he played no part in its creation, then take credit. If true, this is different, of course, from the Morrisseau case, Morrisseau did not do or sign, or even commission the paintings in question. These are also not to be confused with works done by or worked on by apprentices either. They would still have the halmark Morrisseau feel.

Norval had no part in these works, artistically or otherwise.

once again humbly my opinion,
HVK

herbert said...

Native group of seven, as in your foot note:

Spirit Walker,

I must correct you, Bill Reid was never one of the famous "native group of seven" or as Daphne originally titled them "the Professional National Indian Artists Inc." the formal title. It was a reporter in the early days of the group who dubbed them the "native group of seven." Daphne was not fond of the inference to the other group, not because of the artists in the other group, but because it again made the native group seem diminutive.

The other members you list are the seven, unlike the other"group of seven", they kept to the actual number, and though others may have joined the Professional National Indian Artists Inc. in spirit, they are not included in the famous seven.

They were formed to do exactly what this article speaks to, they wanted native art viewed as on the same level as all other art, not as artifact. Their goal has finally succeeded!

Bravo to all who have supported this idea over the decades, not just the slow-to-know public galleries. It is nice they are on board now! Many have known for years, they moved the mountain!

humbly,
HVK

Spirit Walker said...

To Herbert regarding Bill Reid being a member of The Indian Group of Seven.

Please read the day after tomorrow’s posting and you will learn yourself that your comment is incorrect.

When you read who stated that particular detail nobody will try to argue that those words are not correct.

The day after tomorrow, you will learn that The Indian Group od Seven was actually consisted of eight members.

“Just be” Herbert and for myself I can only say that “All is well”.

Megwetch, SW

herbert said...

Eight members of the Native Group of Seven?

I look forward to learning something new. Though there are others more knowledgeable then I who don't know this.

Humbly,
HVK

Spirit Walker said...

HVK, I was also surprised myself when I found recently about it...

Megwetch, SW

herbert said...

Just a note of recognition...

As per Kevin Griffith's article and who recognized Native art as art first:

The McMichael Canadian collection, a public art gallery in Kleinberg, Ontario, was showing Woodlands, Inuit and Northwest coast art alongside their other artists since the seventies. Norval Morrisseau was actually their artist in residence in the late seventies, directly after A.Y. Jackson.

humbly, just for you folks,
Herb

Spirit Walker said...

Hi Herb, thank you for the information that some of the readers of the NORVAL MORRISSEAU BLOG have not known.

I am inviting you to present posting(s) on this Blog and I am extending the invitation to all of those who believe that have something to show/share in relationship with Great Copper Thunderbird better known as Norval Morrisseau.

Megwetch, SW

P.S. You provide material (text, photographs, documents etc.) and I will prepare uncensored presentation(s)…

Important note: Documentation in form of the text that will come with pictures, documents etc. will need to be provided in order to be presented herein.

Bryant Ross - Coghlan Art said...

No matter how easy the negative road may seem to be, Norval Morrisseau always chose the positive road. It is easy to point out the faults of others, but Norval was a man that wanted to live a positive life. He did not like theft, greed or deceit, When these things crossed his path he always found a way to escape.

Norval said on more than one occasion, “Your mind gets so full of shit that you can’t see. You can’t see the positive path that lies before you. All this shit clouds your vision so much that you have to divert your consciousness some how so that you can see past the shit.”


Congratulations to the people behind the establishing of the Bill Reid Gallery. Reid was a great artist that has influenced many younger northwest coast artists. I had the good fortune to meet and talk to him several times and always found him to be a kind and friendly man. He was a great artist that was not afraid to share his technique and love for the Northwest coast art. He taught many carvers, including many non-native artists. The Bill Reid Gallery will be a center for the development of Northwest Coast Art.


There is a small group that have a similar vision for the legacy of Norval Morrisseau. The Norval Morrisseau Museum of Art could be a wonderful center for people to study and learn about the life and art of Norval Morrisseau. It could be a place for teaching and for quite contemplation. It could be a gathering place for people of like minds to find a positive path.

In 1989 I traveled with Morrisseau to France for the Magicians of the Earth art show at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. While we were there we spent a day at The Picasso Museum in Paris. This collection is housed in a majestic old building in the Marias district right in the heart of Paris. Norval was astounded that this huge museum structure was dedicated to a single artist, Pablo Picasso. As he sat in the foyer of the museum I could see his mind working. This is what he wanted.

The Norval Morrisseau Museum of Art may be a dream at this point in time, but dreams can become reality.

Spirit Walker said...

I agree with you Bryant… not that Norval Morrisseau art deserves to be presented in every museum in and gallery in Canada – he deserves to have museum that bears his name.

Megwetch, SW

Spirit Walker said...

Herbert wrote: "Eight members of the Native Group of Seven?

I look forward to learning something new. Though there are others more knowledgeable then I who don't know this.

Humbly,
HVK"

Please, read the posting from 12-MAY-2008 for a very interesting posting regarding "The Indian Group of Seven".

Megwetch, SW

Anonymous said...

News today is that 12 pieces of Reid's work in gold were stolen from a B.C. museum over the weekend. What a shame as museum officals fear they were stolen for the value of the material they were crafted from and most likely will melt them down.

T.C.