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Oh, Canada

  • Exhibition

  • May 26, 2012 - April 8, 2013

Canada is the second largest country in the world by area and boasts both a vibrant nationwide arts community and a strong public commitment to culture, and yet Canadian contemporary art has not received widespread attention outside Canada’s borders. The largest survey of contemporary Canadian art ever produced outside Canada, Oh, Canada, featured work by more than 60 artists who hail from every province and nearly every territory in the country, spanning multiple generations and working in all media. MASS MoCA’s curator, Denise Markonish, spent the three years prior to the exhibition crisscrossing Canada to view hundreds of exhibitions in museums and galleries, visiting over 400 artists’ studios, and making connections with a full range of artists working in Canada at the time.

Check out reviews from The New York Times and The Boston Globe.

Markonish’s extensive research brought to this project the fresh perspective of an informed and curious outsider. While Oh, Canada asked questions such as “What are some of the distinguishing characteristics of art made in Canada?” its aim was not to present a merely nationalistic show. Rather, the goal was to encourage a dialogue about contemporary art made in Canada (one touching on issues of craft/making, conceptualism, humor, and identity), a dialogue resonating just as deeply for Canadians as for outsiders.

The exhibition was mounted in the 14,000 square feet comprising MASS MoCA’s first-floor galleries, as well as additional indoor and outdoor spaces. From an initial list of over 800 prospects, Markonish narrowed down her list, focusing for the most part on artists who had shown less frequently in the U.S. The artists who participated in Oh, Canada included:

Kim Adams, Gisele Amantea, Shuvinai Ashoona, Amalie Atkins, Nicolas Baier, Daniel Barrow, Dean Baldwin, Rebecca Belmore, Patrick Bernatchez, BGL, Valarie Blass, Shary Boyle, Bill Burns, Eric Cameron, Cedar Tavern Singers AKA Les Phonorealistes, Janice Wright Cheney, Douglas Coupland, Ruth Cuthand, Dave and Jenn, Michel de Broin, Wally Dion, Mario Doucette, Marcel Dzama, Brendan Fernandes, Michael Fernandes, Eryn Foster, Noam Gonick and Luis Jacob, Hadley + Maxwell, David R. Harper, David Hoffos, Kristan Horton, Terrance Houle, Allison Hrabluik, Sarah Anne Johnson, Garry Neill Kennedy, Wanda Koop, Diane Landry, Micah Lexier, Craig Leonard, Myfanwy MacLeod, Kelly Mark, Luanne Martineau, Rita McKeough, Divya Mehra, Chris Millar, Kent Monkman, Kim Morgan, Andrea Mortson, Clint Neufeld, Graeme Patterson, Ed Pien, Annie Pootoogook, Ned Pratt, Michael Snow, Charles Stankievech, Joseph Tisiga, Hans Wendt, Janet Werner, Mitchell Wiebe, John Will, and Atienne Zack.

The first work that visitors encountered at the museum was Kim Adams’ Optic Nerve, a car that had been altered to glow from within like a giant lamp. A new massive outdoor commission by Michel de Broin used full-sized picnic tables as its basic building element, while another new work by BGL was comprised of crowd-control barriers fashioned into a fantastic carnival ride in our front courtyard.

Visitors found new work from Gisele Amantea, who created a densely patterned abstraction re-conceiving the foyer of MASS MoCA’s Hunter Center for the Performing Arts. In the lobby, viewers encountered work by Rita McKeough and new songs by the Cedar Tavern Singers (who recorded new songs based on Canada’s arrival in the Berkshires). In the main galleries, John Will’s new text-based piece included the names of all the artists from the exhibition.

Ten other new commissions joined 95 already existing works (made within the previous five years) for the exhibition including Micah Lexier’s A Coin in Every Corner, comprised of a series of specially minted coins painstakingly installed in corners throughout MASS MoCA’s multi-building factory campus; Kent Monkman’s double diorama based on fictitious buddy characters Tonto and the Lone Ranger, and Germany’s Winnetou and Old Shatterhand; Ed Pien’s installation made from cut paper and projected video; and new works from Terrance Houle, Divya Mehra, Graeme Patterson, Garry Neill Kennedy, Mitchell Wiebe, Craig Leonard, Janice Wright Cheney, and David Harper.

A comprehensive full-color 450-page catalog by MIT Press accompanied the exhibition and provides insights into Canada’s thriving contemporary cultural scene. The book guides readers through the provinces and territories of Canada, introducing them to Canada’s cultural topography and the artists who inhabit it. Markonish provides a history of recent Canadian art, placing this new body of work into the context of 20th-century Canadian art. Featuring artist-to-artist interviews, the book also includes contributions from notable Canadian writers and poets Lisa Moore, Warren Cariou, Douglas Coupland, and Jane Urquhart. Contributing curators include John Murchie, Wayne Baerwaldt, Lance Blomgren, Candice Hopkins, David Liss, Lesley Johnstone, Steven Holmes, Louise Dacry, Sarah Fillmore, Pan Wendt, Bruce Johnson, Cliff Eyland, Jen Budney, and Nancy Campbell.

The exhibition was accompanied by live events at MASS MoCA focusing on Canadian acts.

Click here to order an exhibition catalog.

Read the press release.

Watch an interview with featured artist Janet Werner here.

Kent Monkman, Two Kindred Spirits, 2012
Mixed media, courtesy of the artist