Heritage grant will help fund Audain's largest and most ambitious exhibition yet 

Museum receives $172K towards its upcoming Emily Carr retrospective

click to enlarge Emily Carr’s 1912 work, War Canoes, will be featured in an upcoming retrospective at the Audain Art Museum alongside an earlier watercolour version of the same painting. Side by side, the paintings show Carr’s dramatic stylistic shift following her year-long trip to Paris. - Wikimedia Commons
  • Emily Carr’s 1912 work, War Canoes, will be featured in an upcoming retrospective at the Audain Art Museum alongside an earlier watercolour version of the same painting. Side by side, the paintings show Carr’s dramatic stylistic shift following her year-long trip to Paris. Wikimedia Commons

The Audain Art Museum will receive roughly $172,000 in grant funding that will go towards its largest and most ambitious exhibition yet.

Funded through Canadian Heritage's Museums Assistance Program, the Audain was one of 19 cultural institutions across the country to receive funding, totalling $905,752. The program is designed to support and preserve heritage collections.

In the case of the Audain, the money will cover around half of the cost of its upcoming special exhibition, Fresh Seeing-French Modernism and the West Coast, which launches in September.

Featuring between 50 and 75 works, as well as a complementary artbook and several satellite events, the exhibit will hone in on three crucial years in the development of iconic B.C. painter Emily Carr: 1910 to 1912.

"What those years represent is the year before Emily Carr went to France, the year that she was in France and the year upon her return," explains Curtis Collins, chief curator at the Audain. "Those three years are really critical in the sense that what we'll be able to see at the show is arguably the biggest shift in her artwork in her entire career. Her experience involved her becoming familiar with what one could consider the most avant-garde movements in Western painting."

Prior to her departure, which in 1910, was a weeks-long slog by boat, Carr was mostly working in the traditional, almost photo-realistic style of portraits and landscapes that was popular at the time. After her stint in Paris, Carr's worked took on a "much higher-cued palette," Collins says, replacing muted colours with bright greens, purples and oranges.

"What was happening in France with the Post-Impressionists was that they were consistently moving away from that aesthetic to a much bolder use of colour," he continues.

Carr implemented a looser brush stroke, focusing less on exact representation in favour of striking a harmony of colour, form, and shape.

"Really, it's the start of acknowledging that any image you see within the context of painting is purely pigment on canvas," Collins says. "It's divorcing itself from that Renaissance concept that you're looking through a window. The surface of paintings becomes much flatter, because there is less emphasis on creating an illusion of depth."

Upon her return to B.C., both critics and art collectors alike universally panned Carr's dramatic stylistic shift, leading her to give up painting for more than a decade. Calling her "by far the most radical artist in Canada" at the time, Collins says the fact it was a female artist leading the charge made it that much more significant.

"It's just a measure of the risk that this artist took, because she firmly believed that what was happening in Europe in terms of the most cutting-edge shifts in painting were something she needed to embrace," he says. "She did so at a really high cost, and that cost, at least in the short term, was her career as a painter."

Fresh Seeing will also include an important historical component. The exhibition's guest co-curator, Dr. Kathryn Bridge, retraced the painter's journey through France last fall, an effort to correct some of Carr's mislabelled landscape pieces from that era.

"There's some really new information as a result of this show, but it also gives some academic teeth, if you will, to this critical period of her career," Collins notes.

Now with more than a year under his belt as chief curator, Collins says the Audain is becoming "more enmeshed" in the local arts community, while not forgetting its important regional clientele.

"It's a time when we're striking a really good balance between Whistler and Vancouver as our powerbases, and coming soon will be some pop-up museum shows in Vancouver that the Audain Art Museum will be hosting," Collins says.

Fresh Seeing runs from Sept. 21 to Jan. 19, 2020. Check back with Pique closer to the exhibit's opening for more details. Learn more at audainartmuseum.com.

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