Flora and Fauna at the Art Gallery of Alberta


James Griffiths, John H. Griffiths, Pansies (after 1836), pen, ink, watercolour, and graphite on wove paper, 15.8 x 18.9 cm. NGC 

Celebrating the arrival of spring, Flora and Fauna: 400 Years of Artists Inspired by Nature, is now on view at the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA).

Exploring how Nature—in all its richness and diversity—has served as the artist’s muse through the centuries, this exhibition of 76 works from the National Gallery of Canada’s permanent collection includes paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and crafted objects.

“I think everyone can identify with this exhibition,” says Ann Thomas, NGC Curator of Photographs and co-curator of the show. “Unless they grew up in an entirely urban environment and are afraid of the chaos of the natural environment, most people, on a primal level, connect with what they see out there, whether the images they are looking at are of close-ups of mushrooms, birds, and flowers or butterflies and trees.”

“We have 400 years of examples of how artists have treated the subject,” adds Thomas. “This exhibition shows that we are still responding to Nature, even if today most of us are living in concrete jungles.”

Along with NGC Associate Curator of Photographs, Andrea Kunard, Thomas came up with the idea for the exhibition after visiting the studio of Ottawa-based artist Lorraine Gilbert. While there, Thomas and Kunard saw Gilbert’s work LeBreton Flats (2010), a large inkjet composite print on canvas depicting wildflowers growing in an urban setting. The idea that artists working today continue to be inspired by the same subject matter as artists working four centuries ago prompted the curators to organize a multifaceted exhibition involving several curatorial departments and various artistic media, to demonstrate the strength and depth of the NGC’s permanent collection.

“Gilbert presents a panoramic view of a natural site in an urban setting, where we see plants and nature flourishing in a cityscape,” says Kunard. “She has taken a scientific approach to this work by collecting samples and studying them for her compositions, although other artists in the exhibition take a different approach to Nature.” 

Kunard points to Lucian Freud’s etching Garden in Winter (1997–1999), which reveals a side of the artist that visitors may not be familiar with. “Most think of Freud as a figurative painter whose works are intensely psychological, through the use of the human figure,” Kunard says. “Here, Freud uses Nature as a retreat—as a way to get away from people that he finds too intense. He wants to move into another realm, and Nature is the vehicle through which he does this.”

Flora and Fauna is the 14th exhibition that the AGA has presented as part of a special partnership with the National Gallery of Canada. The @NGC program began in 2009 with the AGA in Edmonton, Alberta, and has since expanded to the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) in Toronto, Ontario, and the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“It’s important for us to have the opportunity to look into the collections of other institutions, so we can bring the Edmonton audience treasures held at the National Gallery,” says Laura Ritchie, Exhibition Manager at the AGA. “This exhibition is so varied in its content, media and approaches to the subject; it’s a great way for us to complement our own collection.”

Catherine Crowston, Executive Director and Chief Curator at the AGA, says the show’s 400-year time span and its diverse media drew her interest. Just as importantly, Flora and Fauna rounded out the AGA’s own exhibition program, making it a perfect match for Edmonton this year. 

“One of the things we try to do at the AGA is program in thematic blocks so that the shows relate to one another,” says Crowston. “We have a series of exhibitions this winter and into the spring that look at different representations of Nature, and Flora and Fauna really fit well into this series.”

Organized by the National Gallery of Canada, Flora and Fauna is on view at the AGA until June 8, 2014.

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