© Liz Wylie, 2005. Used by permission
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Naming and defining the current issues for collections in Canadian public galleries
by Liz Wylie
Date: 17 July 2005
The overall title for this curatorial roundtable project of OAAG/ARCCO is Unspoken Assumptions. I believe that there are a cluster of unspoken assumptions around the area and activity of the permanent collections of Canadian art galleries that are seriously negatively affecting not only the content of these collections, but their future validity and health. Any individual who is hired as an art museum/gallery curator will have to face the situation of his/her collection. Perhaps as early as the first day on one's new job questions might come to mind: what is in the collection? What should be in it? Has it been cared for? Is there room to add to it?
As an institutional curator, part of your role as defined in your job description or hiring contract may be to organize exhibitions at your institution, drawn from the holdings of your permanent collection. The specific nature of your collection will determine whether you will be able to do so in a way that is intelligent and meaningful, both to you as a committed professional, and to your gallery's publics.
This paper will examine the current status of the art collections held in Canada's public art galleries, from the point of view of questioning and critique - not official statistics. Based on responses to my questions being received from my colleagues who are curators in various public galleries across the country, I will present my informal findings by topic and theme. These will include:
Do our institutional collections truly reflect the huge range of activity and exploration in media present in contemporary art practice?
To what degree are institutional curators hampered in their enthusiasms for less marketable art by the notion of fair-market-value appraisals in order to issue charitable tax receipts to donors?
Are curators able and empowered to shape the collections in their care as they would like? With the scope they would like? Are they comfortable ideologically, practically, philosophically about their institution's collecting and collection(s)?
Ultimately curators need to be able to bring to their roles and relationships with their institutional collections the same level of critique and engagement they do to their writing and organizing of temporary exhibitions (in the gallery context or elsewhere). Is there an unspoken assumption that this is an impossible dream? How can we address this issue?