Alex Janvier Exhibition Begins Cross-Country Tour at MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina
As one of Canada’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, Alex Janvier’s prolific artistic output was on full display recently at the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) in the largest and most comprehensive retrospective on the artist. With its newly reconfigured Canadian and Indigenous Galleries, the NGC is even more committed to working with institutions across the country to showcase the diversity of Canada’s art and artists. If you missed the immensely popular Alex Janvier exhibition at the NGC, it kicked off its multi-gallery, cross-country tour in Saskatchewan, at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina.
Preparing a travelling version of this stunning exhibition presented several curatorial challenges. Imagine having to pare down 154 works to 97 in order to create a show that could fit into smaller spaces, yet still tell a compelling story. The result, a collaboration between Greg Hill, Audain Senior Curator of Indigenous Art at the NGC, and Michelle LaVallee, Curator at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, is an exceptional exhibition.
“This is the first time we’ve worked together to coordinate a touring show of this complexity,” said LaVallee, in an interview with NGC Magazine. “We had to adapt to our space and make some difficult decisions, and then lay it out in a new space so that it appears seamless. I really like that we’re able to share shows between institutions and I am very excited at this transformation.”
Hill agreed. “As this is the first venue on the tour, and as Michelle has a close working relationship with the artist, I trusted her sensitivity and her knowledge of the work and of the spaces at the MacKenzie Art Gallery.”
On display in three different galleries, the exhibition is presented as a circuit that visitors can move through it in either direction. LaVallee notes this is fitting for a show of work by an artist whose Indigenous sensibility sees the world in a holistic and circular way. Janvier is also well known for his mastery of the circular format, which can be seen in paintings such as English Bay West (1979) and Sky Talk Read (2009). Perhaps his most famous circular work is the stunning Morning Star-Gambeh Then’ (1993), a mural on permanent display in the dome of the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec. Interpreted through video, the mural is beautifully projected on a large screen within the exhibition.
Visitors are also able to see a selection of Janvier’s most famous works that feature his unique style. Known for its vivid colours, Dene iconography and abstract forms, these evoke his homeland in northern Alberta and powerful messages about the world around him. One such work is Lubicon (1988), which portrays his outrage over the treatment of the Lubicon Lake First Nation by the federal government and resource-extraction corporations.
Also on view are paintings from Janvier’s series titled Apple- a derogatory term for a North American “Indian” who is said to think like and/or support white people (red on the outside, white on the inside). The term was sometimes hurtfully applied to residential school survivors, and to Janvier himself. The series features works like Apple Factory, which explores the oppression of the residential school system. From the age of 8 to 18, Janvier attended Blue Quills Residential School in St. Paul, Alberta, and has spoken often about the impact it had on him.
LaVallee and Hill also want to highlight Janvier’s role in the Professional Native Indian Artists Incorporated (PNIAI), commonly known as the Indian Group of Seven. Formed in the early 1970s by Janvier, Jackson Beardy, Eddie Cobiness, Norval Morriseau, Daphne Odjig, Carl Ray and Joseph Sanchez, PNIAI was Canada’s first Indigenous art collective. It has been immensely influential, drawing attention to contemporary stories and images and raising awareness of Indigenous art over the past 40 years. Visitors to the MacKenzie Art Gallery may remember the impressive 2013 exhibition, 7: Professional Native Indian Artists Inc., which was organized by the gallery and subsequently toured across Canada.
The PNIAI artists also influenced Janvier’s work. In 2011, he created eight paintings in homage to the collective’s original members (as well as to Bill Reid). One of these paintings, Indian Group of 8: Daphne Odjig (2011), a moving tribute to the artist, is featured in the exhibition.
“Visitors don’t want to miss this exhibition,” says LaVallee. “It’s a rare opportunity to see a large amount of work by this ground-breaking artist who has something vital to say about issues that impact us all, including our relationship to the land, resource extraction, how we treat one another and the importance of Indigenous world views.”
Alex Janvier is on view at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan until September 10, 2017. The exhibition will then travel to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinberg, Ontario from October 5, 2017 to January 21, 2018.