Last week some of my fellow Canada Council Art Bank staff and I installed an exhibition of 18 artworks at Estevan Lodge. This historic building, the 125-year-old former summer home of the Reford Family, is the centerpiece of Les Jardins de Métis – Reford Gardens, a significant tourist venue on Quebec’s south shore.
The idea for this exhibition, New Faces: Portraits from the Collection of the Canada Council Art Bank, began when we heard that the traditional portraits of Elsie Reford and her family were being moved from the main rooms of the Lodge to the formal gallery. What if we were to replace these familiar works with contemporary portraits from some of Canada’s most exciting artists?
Would Elsie Reford roll over in her grave? Maybe!
What would she think of artist Erika DeFreitas and her mother looking through icing sugar cake decorations into the Lodge’s formal dining room (Erika Defreitas, The Impossible Speech Act, 2007), or four casually-dressed Aboriginal artists comfortably regarding their surroundings with a sense of amusement and belonging (Rosalie Favell, Facing the Camera: Alex Janvier, Shelley Niro, Ron Noganosh, Jeff Thomas, 2008-2011), or artist Lynn Donoghue, boldly painted in bright colours dominating the wall over the huge stone fireplace (Self Portrait in Eyeliner and Red Lips, 1986)?
For me, the juxtaposition of the more traditional Reford portraits in the gallery and the contemporary portraits in the main rooms opened the door to fabulously interesting conversations on the nature of portraiture. In the distant past, portraiture dominated artistic production in Canada then took a back seat to other genres in the recent past. Now it’s enjoying a resurgence in which many contemporary artists are using portraiture to comment on issues of identity. Who is the woman with the icing sugar flowers on her face, one might ask about Erika DeFreitas’ work. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the monumentally-large painting of Elsie Reford astride her horse depicts a person of influence and wealth.
We had a good time installing these works with the helpful people at Reford Gardens! We changed the dim lights in the main rooms to more aggressive floods and totally altered the sense of the space with the strong colours, large format photographs and multiple works. Elsie and her family were given more presence on the white walls of the gallery.
Projects like this are just one of the many ways that the Canada Council Art Bank works with clients to revitalize public spaces and bring art to Canadians. And as the world’s largest collection of contemporary Canadian art – over 17,000 works – there’s a wealth of artwork to choose from.
We hope that the many visitors to les Jardins de Métis – Reford Gardens will enjoy this provocative installation and see how these portraits represent a changing world and changing demographics in Canada.
P.S. If you can’t make it to Reford Gardens, find out more about the Canada Council Art Bank collection through our 40th anniversary celebrations. See my last blog entry for more details.