The Works of the AMS Art Collection
(yes, all of them)
March 23 - April 8, 2020*
Curated by Yasmine Whaley-Kalaora.
About the Exhibition:
*Due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak, the AMS called for the closure of the Nest from March 17 - April 14, 2020. With the building closure, we were given no choice but to cancel The Works of the AMS Permanent Collection (yes all of them). The irony of the situation is undeniable—perhaps these works will just never be shown!—but we will be sharing digital content on the Hatch’s social channels to try to realize the initial vision for the exhibition to the best of our capacity online.
We would like to acknowledge that the Hatch Art Gallery is situated on the unceded, ancestral and traditional lands of the xwmə0–kwəy’əm (Musqueam). We are very grateful to be guests in this space and we continue to stand in solidarity with all those fighting for a better future for this land. We would also like to recognize the colonial hegemony embedded in collection and archival practices and hope to bring greater awareness to these systems of oppression which have been normalized for too long.
Throughout this year, the Hatch team, Kiel Torres and I, have been working through various questions pertaining to activating the AMS Art Collection. Initially our inquiries were largely related to various organizational discontinuities and issues regarding the declining physical state of many of the artworks. However, as the year went on, other bureaucratic tensions began to come to light in relation to the future of the collection.
The collection is owned by the UBC Alma Mater Society (AMS), but over the last few decades upkeep has been left solely to the two Hatch directors whose positions turn over annually. While this large responsibility is advantageous for emerging curators looking to gain experience in collections management, the position also includes many covert expectations and unexpected learning curves. In the midst of organizing our yearly exhibition schedule, we began questioning how to effectively engage a collection that had no centralized history, mandate, or strategic plan. By and large, it appeared to have slipped between the cracks, both logistically and physically, despite the efforts of those working with it over recent years.
In 1940, UBC English professor Hunter Lewis approached the AMS with the idea of a student governed art collection that featured prominent Canadian art. He intended for the collection to be an integral resource in fostering a vibrant artistic community at UBC. Over the next few years, Lewis worked closely with various UBC staff, including B.C. Binning, the founder of the UBC Fine Arts department (today, the UBC Department of Art History, Visual Art, and Theory), to actualize this idea. The collection officially began in 1948 with the acquisition of E.J. Hughes’ painting Abandoned Village, Rivers Inlet, BC (1947) which was purchased at a discounted rate through connections the faculty had to the artist. The spirit of the agreement was very unique, speaking to how the collection would never have started without the network of interpersonal connections between UBC staff and local artists.
Throughout the next three decades, catalyzed heavily by these connections, about 54 artworks were acquired. Some of these works were purchased under the suggestion of the student led Brock Hall Art Committee. Others were donated from the artists themselves, or facilitated by those managing the collection at the time. B.C. Binning would see the collection through a period of rapid growth through the 1950s and 1960s, facilitating acquisitions and institutional collaborations. One of the most significant of these being a donation from McLean’s Magazine in 1958 of nine modernist landscape paintings at a moment when “Canadian painting” was emerging as a critical force on the global scene. After Binning’s retirement in the 1970s, he passed the collection onto students. However, due to various shifts in faculty oversight, the rate of acquisitions incrementally decreased until the early 2000s and the AMS collection began to drift away from resources of the Fine Arts faculty.
With the transient nature of student government, the collection has seen various oversight within the AMS and the UBC Fine Art faculty. As a result, the works that make up the collection reflect those who were involved in acquisition decisions at the time. The Collection is an x-ray of artistic development in Vancouver, with each work operating as an integral index of the University’s connection to local, national, and international art discourse.
What I find interesting about the history of the collection is the connectivity: both in the acquisition process and the role the collection came to play in connecting local artists to one another and the broader artistic community. However, this connectivity only became apparent after a lot of research gathered over time and through a multitude of conversations with a lot of different people including various artists with works in the collection (I want to highlight this process not as some sort of intellectual flex, but rather to stress the difficulty of even finding this information in the first place considering the many inconsistencies in the records pertaining to the collection’s history). It was through these conversations that I began to understand the central role the collection had played for UBC students and faculty, especially through the 1960s and 1970s. For those involved, the collection functioned as connective tissue between emerging student artists and opportunities in the broader art world. For example, Michael Morris and Ian Wallace explained to me how heavily involved Alvin Balkind, the curator of the Fine Arts Gallery (now the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery) from 1962-73, was in generating opportunities for artists whose works had been chosen by the Brock Hall Arts Committee. They heavily stressed the tightly knit community involved in building this collection at that time which became catalytic in the early stages of their artistic careers.
In 2012, the student body voted in favour of the Art Sale Referendum which gave the AMS permission to sell three artworks from the collection within one year. However, due to various logistical discontinuities, no artworks were sold within the imposed time-frame. Then in 2017, the referendum was passed again as a new solution for the collection that was otherwise seen as “collecting dust.” The messaging behind the referendum campaign was misleading, to say the least. It was unclear as to where proceeds from the sale would be allocated. Many students were under the impression that the funds would directly support initiatives related to the collection, when in reality they were invested in the greater AMS Endowment Fund. In 2018, Jean Paul Lemieux’s painting Jeune Fille en Uniforme (1957) was deaccessioned from the collection and sold for $361,250 CAD through Heffel Fine Art Auction House. It was confirmed that none of this money was invested back into the collection. It is also important to note that both referendums were passed without a strategic plan in place for the collection, or a proper record that the student body could access if they wanted to view the collection beyond the Hatch’s exhibitions. Without a guiding collections policy to inform the decision to deaccession works, the ethics of the sale became highly questionable. As conversations around the sale progressed, I began to better understand the subtext of the Art Sale campaigns and realized just how uninformed the student body had been of the state of collection during the voting processes that passed both the 2012 and 2017 referendums. It became apparent that the referendums served as a quick fix for greater systemic issues and limitations the collection has faced in terms of its management, oversight, and support in recent years.
The Works of the AMS Art Collection (yes, all of them) is one part of this multifaceted research process that has been ongoing for the last year, and is far from being “complete.” Featuring all 71 works in the collection, the exhibition takes a self-reflexive approach to interrogating what it means to have a collection that is both a unique example of the connectivity of the Vancouver art scene, and a limited representation of “Canadian art.”
The collection, of course, holds implicit bias. Just as it records visible shifts in artistic development, it also holds many gaps which speak volumes about who was able to be represented and who was overlooked in the selection process. Currently, there are 63 artists with works in the collection. Out of those, 54 are male identifying and 9 are female identifying. There are currently no work by non-binary or trans artists and the large majority of the artists are of Western European settler descent. There is one work by an Indigenous artist, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun (Cowichan/Syilx First Nations) that was commissioned in 2003, and is the only commissioned work to date.
The intention of this exhibition is not to create further tension by subverting the viewing process, but rather make transparent the circumstances and concerns we’ve encountered this year to open the floor for a more holistic approach to engaging the collection in the future. This exhibition playfully addresses the ongoing critique of Hatch directors for not exhibiting the collection enough, while attempting to bring awareness to the fact that the issues within the collection run deeper than simply showing the work. (yes, all the works) is simply a step towards better understanding how to effectively engage a collection that has been prioritized for its monetary value over its pedagogical potential, while working transparently to set the groundwork for more affective activation in the future.
Artists of the AMS Art Collection:
Jacques De Tonnancour
Arthur (Art) Mckay
Marina Roy, in collaboration with Abbas Akhavan
Elizabeth Wyn Wood
Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun
We would like to acknowledge all our volunteers who helped with this exhibition and text, with special thanks to Heloise Auvray, Melanie Crist, Jamie Lewis, Selina Lo, Tatiana Provoronzy, Maya Rodrigo, Roselynn Sadaghiani, and Ophelia Zhao.
Additionally I’d like to thank:
Kiel Torres for indulging many late night conversations and often erratic experiments.
Dr. Erin Silver for her ongoing support and insightful feedback throughout this process.
Dr. Ignacio Adriasola for his support with the obstacles the referendum presented.
The Belkin staff for indulging multiple inquiries about install, collection management and curatorial logistics.
Tom Burrows, Michael Morris, Ian Wallace, Richard Prince, and Marina Roy for conversations about their artworks and various experiences with the collection over the years.
Click below for a mid-install tour of the exhibition with curator, Yasmine Whaley-Kalaora. Yasmine has also curated a series of responses to the collection by UBC students/alum Jelena Markovic, Sai Di, and Chipo Chipaziwa. Click on names to view their response works.