The Gardiner Collects
Museum collections expand through the shared vision of curators, artists, donors, and others invested in an institution. Like archives, collections embody the ideologies and identities of the people who create them.This exhibition features additions to the collection since my arrival at the Museum as Chief Curator in April 2018. The works came to the Museum as gifts, offered by generous donors who had acquired and preserved them. Gifts shape collections in substantial ways: the ones featured here are all modern and contemporary, highlighting an active area for the Museum. As Chief Curator, my work includes shaping the collection for the present and the future, whether by gift or other means. Inevitably, it will come to reflect not just my interests and biases but also those of others working at and supporting the Gardiner. I write in the first person to acknowledge my role in this Museum and to shift away from an anonymous, institutional voice. At a recent Gardiner event artist Cannupa Hanska Luger introduced the idea of the Museum as a site of maintenance rather than preservation. For me, maintenance suggests nourishment, self care, and understanding how we collectively repair the world. How do we at the Gardiner steward a collection while maintaining each other and our communities? How does the art that we preserve maintain our society and our planet? These are some of the questions I ponder while helping to build the Gardiner’s collection. Sequoia Miller, PhD, Chief Curator (January 2020)
Spade Form Spade Form (c.1969) by Hans CoperGardiner Museum
Abstract sculpture and domestic pottery come together in works by Hans Coper, Ruth Duckworth, and Anne Hirondelle. The artists create composite forms, connecting crisp, geometric shapes to emphasize profile, silhouette, and changing volumes while still referring to the vessel.
Untitled Untitled (c.1994) by Ruth DuckworthGardiner Museum
Coper and Duckworth, both Jewish émigrés to the United Kingdom at the onset of World War II, helped bring European modernist ideas into ceramics in the post-war decades and beyond.
Teapot Teapot (c.1992) by Anne HirondelleGardiner Museum
Hirondelle, a generation younger, adapts a similarly refined approach, balancing almost mechanical precision with a richly textured surface. In these works, references to domestic pottery offset their emphasis on abstract visual form.
Pig Tureen and Ladle Pig Tureen and Ladle (1983) by Lizbeth StewartGardiner Museum
In Pig Tureen and Ladle, Lizbeth Stewart creates an uneasy balance between the realistic and the fantastical. The pig looks almost alive, while also being gesturally painted. It is clearly an animal, but seems to express human emotions.
Stewart was among a generation of women artists who worked against the macho informality of artists like David Gilhooly, whose work is seen later on. Her exacting and sensitively wrought forms and surfaces create a very different effect. Stewart blurs the distinction between sculpture and utility by making the pig also a tureen, a form developed in eighteenth-century Europe for serving soup.
Coffee Spill Coffee Spill (1978-1979) by Victor SpinskiGardiner Museum
Coffee Spill is made entirely out of ceramic, excepting the base: spoon, spilled coffee, and even the mug, which is hand crafted to replicate an industrial product. Spinski worked within the tradition of trompe l’oeil, or fooling the eye. Ceramics can, perhaps more than any other medium, take on a variety of colors and surface qualities, making it unparalleled for depicting metal, wood, and many other materials. Spinski was a leader among a group of ceramic artists in the 1970s who worked in a trompe l’oeil style to quote scenes of everyday life, often with an uncanny or surreal twist. Spinski came to specialize in spilled liquids, such as this one.
Bowl (1932-1938) by Bernard LeachGardiner Museum
Pots by Bernard Leach and Steve Smith share an impulse to revive Indigenous traditions, albeit very different ones.
Bernard Leach is a towering figure in twentieth-century studio ceramics. Born in colonial Hong Kong and raised partially in Japan, Leach was the classic British orientalist, positioning himself as the conduit of Eastern ideas and histories in a passionate search for authenticity. Wrapped up in this search was his reverence for what he understood as indigenous English pottery, slipware of the seventeenth century. The honeyed tones and repeated ornament of this bowl reproduce such ware, representing an explicit desire to revive traditions displaced by industrialization.
Vase Vase (1978) by Steve SmithGardiner Museum
Steve Smith also works toward reviving and adapting Indigenous traditions, in his case of Mohawk ceramics. Smith is the son of Elda “Bun” Smith (Mohawk, 1919-1976), a founder of Mohawk Pottery in the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve. Mohawk Pottery and later Steve Smith’s own Talking Earth Pottery revived Indigenous traditions by adapting historical forms and motifs to current materials and technologies.
Leach soon moved away from indigeneity as a conceptual frame for his ceramics, adopting classical East Asian stonewares as a universal ideal. By contrast, Smith has maintained a close tie in his work to his own Indigenous identity, rather than promoting a single, global standard.
Bowl Bowl (c.2004) by Michael SimonGardiner Museum
Leach’s philosophies influenced later artists such as Michael Simon, who integrates Leach with other contemporary sources.
Triumph of the Will (2010) by Shary BoyleGardiner Museum
Toronto artist Shary Boyle is widely celebrated for her ceramic figures, which she began making in the mid-2000s. Positioning her work as explicitly feminist, Boyle draws from hobby craft and historical figurines to question cultural values and assumptions.
In Triumph of the Will, she draws our attention to the “flaws” (the piece cracked apart while firing) by using an expanding adhesive and covering it with gold. As people, how do our flaws make us whole? How do we persist when it feels like we are getting squashed?
Oval Landscape Bowl Oval Landscape Bowl (c.1990) by Wayne HigbyGardiner Museum
When the Cat in the Copycat Was a Dog (2016) by Jim MelchertGardiner Museum
Jim Melchert’s When the Cat in Copycat was a Dog is a conceptual work: how the object looks is the outcome of a series of proscribed steps rather than an exploration of style and expression. Melchert began with commercial tiles, which he deliberately broke, revealing the bonds that are structurally the weakest. He then mirrored these fault lines with brightly coloured glazes. Inspired by his granddaughter’s posture mimicking the family dog, Melchert injects an aspect of the domestic and human in to an otherwise cerebral work.
Mao Tse Toad Mao Tse Toad (1976) by David GilhoolyGardiner Museum
Mao Tse Toad depicts Mao Tse Tung, the founding leader of the People’s Republic of China, as a frog. Made the year Mao died, and at what would be the end of the Cultural Revolution, the work is a form of political satire unthinkable in China then as well as now.
Over decades, artist David Gilhooly created an entire “frog world” depicting both well-known and everyday figures. Emblematic of 1960s and 1970s counter-culture, the form, material, and off-hand style resist the cultural hierarchies of the day. Gilhooly made this work in Toronto while he was an instructor at York University.
This exhibition opened on January 18, 2020 at the Gardiner Museum, Toronto. It was curated by Chief Curator Sequoia Miller.