By Shannon Boklaschuk
The University of Saskatchewan (USask) art galleries will remain closed to the public this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but several exhibitions will still be installed in the gallery spaces.
Leah Taylor, a College of Arts and Science employee who serves as a curator with the University of Saskatchewan Art Galleries and Collection (USAGaC), noted that the university, as an institution, is committed to scholarly and artistic work. As a result, the USAGaC “will continue to play a vital role in contributing to the health and ecology of arts and culture, both locally and nationally,” she said.
“It is important for us to continue to deliver our planned exhibition programming to provide sustained support, and relevant, timely content, for the artists, curators, students, faculty, and gallery public,” she said. “Our programming is arrived at through a series of artistic collaborations and institutional or community partnerships and, as such, our projects require years of complex development. The development includes correspondences, artmaking, grants, and contractual commitments for all of the involved partners.”
For example, the exhibition opening at College Art Gallery 2 in September—Manar Moursi: the loudspeaker and the tower—is a partnership with two galleries in Toronto: South Asian Visual Art Collective (SAVAC) and Trinity Square Video. The exhibition is respectively co-curated by their directors, Emily Fitzpatrick and Toleen Touq.
“Additionally, we have commissioned an exhibition essay by Dr. Nadia Kurd, curator of the University of Alberta Art Collection and Gallery, and the essay has been translated into Arabic by a commissioned translator,” said Taylor. “This example illustrates just how many important relationships and partnerships we develop for the realization of one single exhibition.”
The USask art galleries—College Art Gallery 1 and College Art Gallery 2, the Kenderdine Art Gallery, and the Gordon Snelgrove Gallery—and the permanent art collection are considered to be among the university’s richest cultural and educational resources. The collection consists of more than 6,000 works of art acquired since the university opened its doors in 1907.
Although the USask galleries will be closed in Term 1, people will still be able to view the fall exhibitions online through the gallery website, as well as through social media.
“We will be working with a professional photographer to document the exhibitions for online dissemination, in addition to having a video walk-through that will be guided by the artists or curators with voice-over,” Taylor said. “The walk-through videos will be developed after the exhibition has been fully installed, with either pre-recorded or live walk-throughs. This content will be made available to our public through our various platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook, and our galleries’ website.”
Also beginning in September, Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill’s sculptures and installations in Four Effigies for the End of Property will be featured in College Art Gallery 1. In October, a photographic portrait series by Blake Little, entitled FLUID, will be showcased in the Kenderdine Art Gallery.
Taylor said she is impressed with her fellow gallery team members, who have been doing “an excellent, respectful job working at safe social distances, with masks on,” while closely following USask’s COVID-19 guidelines.
“One major difference for the fall exhibitions is that the artists and guest curators will not be present to work with us on the installation processes and curatorial decisions—and, we will not be programming our typical opening receptions where we celebrate with the artists, curators, and public on the opening day,” she said. “Each exhibition is the culmination of years of hard work for the artists, curators, and our staff. Typically, it is important for us to celebrate and acknowledge that work with the public through social gatherings and talks, but we are working very hard behind the scenes to offer this programming online.”
The gallery staff have adapted to their new working conditions and are accustomed to unique and ever-changing circumstances—during a pandemic or otherwise. As Taylor noted, “each exhibition we host offers a totally unique floorplan and layout, along with a diverse range of installation requirements.”
“We are familiar with working through installation challenges, given that so much of contemporary art is multi-media and interdisciplinary,” she said. “We could be installing everything from a 2D painting on the wall to a synched, diptych video projection with audio components. Luckily, we have a skilled team of preparators who work closely with our curatorial team to actualize the vision of the artist and curator.”
Taylor is also curating an exhibition this fall beyond the USask campus borders. Catherine Blackburn: with these hands, from this land will open at the Wanuskewin national historic site on Sept. 4, as a partnership between Wanuskewin and USask’s Kenderdine Art Gallery. The show was previously on view on campus earlier this year, with Blackburn serving as artist-in-residence at the Kenderdine Art Gallery.
“Wanuskewin will be open to the public for viewing, with COVID-19 protocols in place for the public’s safety,” said Taylor. “If you would like to visit this exhibition in Wanuskewin’s gorgeous main gallery space, I would encourage you to head there with your mask and to also take the time to visit the land, walking the paths that surround the heritage park.”