On Memorial Day weekend, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in North Adams officially opened Oh, Canada, a major exhibit of Canadian Art that includes works by more than 60 artists who come from every province and nearly every territory and span multiple generations and all media. With an exhibition space of over 14,000 square feet, Oh, Canada is thought to be the largest survey of contemporary Canadian art ever produced outside of Canada.
MASS MoCA's curator Denise Markonish spent three years crisscrossing Canada to view hundreds of exhibitions and visit over 400 artists' studios in an effort to display the full range of artists working in Canada today. From an initial list of over 800 prospects, Markonish narrowed down the selection to approximately 60, and focused on artists who have shown less frequently in the U.S.
“After each trip I came home shell-shocked at the great art I saw, and how many of these artists were unknown to me,” said Markonish. “This wealth of creativity made Oh, Canada the most difficult exhibition I have ever curated, having to whittle down such a vast list, to take out artists whose work I believe in and will certainly show in the future.”
Located in the popular Berkshires region, MASS MoCa opened in 1999 and has quickly become a major cultural and artistic centre and, according to their website, “perhaps the most fertile site in the country for new art.” The museum is located in a converted factory building which at one point housed a Sprague Electric Company plant that employed over 4,100 people. The result is a staggering 100,000 square feet of exhibition space which enables MASS MoCa to present installation and performance works that know few boundaries.
A great example is Montreal-based artist Dean Baldwin’s Chalet, a mixed media installation included in Oh, Canada that was assembled from materials available on site and resembles a classic Canadian “cabin.” Chalet is set up in its own building by the river and serves as a space in which visitors can spend time and mingle.
The response to the exhibit has been extremely positive and reviews have been glowing. The Oh, Canada opening weekend also featured live performances at MASS MoCA with Lethbridge, Alberta’s Cedar Tavern Singers entertaining over 500 guests at the official opening and Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning spinning along with sets by Pastoralia and Sleepy Panthers. Shows by Canadian acts will continue throughout the year.
With such an impressive exhibit, Oh, Canada is playing an important role in putting Canadian contemporary art on the map in New England and beyond; such a wide-ranging and high-profile show focused uniquely on Canadian art is a rarity in the U.S. By covering Canada’s vast cultural landscape from coast to coast to coast, Oh, Canada also offers a glimpse at the richness and diversity of artistic talent that currently exists in this country.
“This particular selection of work is perhaps one of a dozen different exhibitions that could have been assembled, each providing completely different, but pertinent and beautiful, takes on the current art scene in Canada,” said MASS MoCA Director Joe Thompson. “It is that depth which was the original impetus for this show.”
The Consulate General of Canada’s partnership with MASS Moca to support the Oh, Canada exhibit provided an opportunity to promote Canada’s cultural excellence in the region and to raise awareness of the importance of the Canada-U.S. relationship. By connecting with artists, the museum’s Board of Trustees, benefactors, collectors, regional business and political officials, the Consulate expects that these new relationships will result in more collaborative partnerships in the future.
“Canada’s cultural industries play an important role in our positive international reputation and the Oh, Canada show certainly demonstrates what we have to offer,” said Consul General Pat Binns. “Our hope is that the exhibit will also provide an incentive for future partnerships – artistic, commercial and otherwise – between the Northeastern U.S. and Canada.”
Oh, Canada runs until April 1, 2013.