LOCAVORE: Works from the NSCAD Community in the Dalhousie Art Gallery Permanent Collection
For 125 years, beginning in 1887 as the Victoria School of Art and evolving into its current form as NSCAD University, this independent art school has been the visual arts engine of the region and, arguably, for Canada. As the first contemporary degree granting visual arts institution – initially with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, then a Masters programme – NSCAD has become a creative powerhouse that supports a wide array of studio production practices balanced with programmes that promote historical, critical and contextual analysis.
NSCAD was in its 66th year when the Dalhousie Art Gallery was founded in 1953. In its inaugural year, the Dalhousie Art Gallery Committee made eight purchases for its permanent collection (funded by donations from the Dalhousie Class of 1915, the Women’s Alumnae and Senator W.H. Dennis), among them a watercolour painting titled Sackville River by NSCAD alumnus (1946) Joseph Purcell. Sixty years later, the Gallery’s most recent acquisition is a painting by Susan Gibson (NSCAD alumna, 1981): Monument #1 – Roof-Raising (Desire for Structure).
The collections mandate of the Dalhousie Art Gallery places an emphasis on work by local and regional artists, and on drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, mixed media and sculpture – disciplines that also feature prominently within NSCAD’s studio-based curriculum. Although NSCAD is legendary for its influence on many other media as well, for example, craft, design, media and film, there are many points of intersection between our mandate and NSCAD’s. In fact, more than 250 works in the Gallery’s permanent collection are by NSCAD’s former students, alumni and faculty, and have been acquired through purchase (while there was a budget to do so, or with funds donated for acquisitions), or by direct donation from artists or collectors. (And “local”? For a period of time the NSCAD campus was less than a block away from the Gallery.)
Beginning with a selection of works from NSCAD’s earliest years, including a small landscape painting by Edith Smith who attended the Victoria School of Art in its very first year, this exhibition clusters together works with similar production values, such as conceptually driven and material-based practices; image-based painterly, sculptural, graphic and photo-based investigations; and hybrid craft-based practices. As the first exhibition at the Dalhousie Art Gallery to shine a light on the NSCAD community’s presence in the Gallery’s permanent collection, Locavore brings together foundational works of art that illustrate the depth and breadth of the intellectual conversations and arguments that continue to define the College. At its best, the elastic tension between topics as varied as the creative postulations and critical positions about visual culture; object versus anti-material production practices; ‘abstraction’ versus image-making strategies – all point towards a passionate and healthy discourse, quarrels and all, about the role of visual culture, and its significance, in our contemporary society.