who claims abstraction? Echoes from the SFU Art Collection. Installation documentation, Belzberg Library, 2023. Photos: Rachel Topham Photography.
who claims abstraction? Echoes from the SFU Art Collection
Roy Kenzie Kiyooka
Attila Richard Lukács
June 9, 2023 – May 4, 2024
Special Project at Belzberg Library
Francisco-Fernando Granados’ research for his 2023 solo exhibition at Teck Gallery, who claims abstraction?, opens an inquiry into the legacies and implications of Modernist abstraction. This attendant exhibition was presented first at SFU Gallery and features notable Modernist works in conversation with those of feminist and queer artists.
Granados’ research into the SFU Art Collection in the early phases of the development of his large-scale, diptych mural, frequently referred to the optical experimentation, architectural linework, and gestural reverberations of colour studies found in these works, primarily produced in the period of the early 1960s to late 1980s. Granados’ findings, however, challenge Modernist claims of purity, autonomy, and absolutism, refuting limitations of the works.
who claims abstraction? Echoes from the SFU Art Collection demonstrates that there are inclusive and ever-changing possibilities of encounter located within artworks, which still actively engage viewers in discourse while echoing relevance towards contemporaneous practices of artists, such as that of Francisco-Fernando Granados.
Curated by Kimberly Phillips and Kristy Trinier with lead artist Francisco-Fernando Granados.
Jack Bush (1909–1977) was born in Toronto and resided there for most of his life. His artistic practice is felt across Canada, as well as in London (UK), and especially New York. Included in Clement Greenberg’s seminal Post Painterly Abstraction (1964) exhibition, as well as a solo exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1972), Bush remains a celebrated Colour Field artist. His beginnings, however, were beholden to the Group of Seven: he worked as a commercial artist by day and painted landscapes in his off time. He was a member of the Canadian Group of Painters (CGP), Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA), Ontario Society of Artists (OSA), and later Painters Eleven; from the 1960s on, he established a prolific painting and printmaking practice.
Francisco-Fernando Granados (he/him) was born in Guatemala and lives in Toronto, the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat Peoples. Since 2005, his practice has traced his movement from convention refugee to critical citizen, using abstraction performatively, site-specifically, and relationally, to create projects that challenge the stability of practices of recognition. His work has developed from the intersection of formal painterly training at Langara College, working in performance through artist-run spaces, studies in queer and feminist theory at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and early activism as a peer support worker with immigrant and refugee communities in Vancouver, New Westminster, and Surrey on unceded Coast Salish territories. This layering of experiences has trained his intuitions to seek site-responsive approaches, alternative forms of distribution, and the weaving of lyrical and critical propositions.
Recent projects include foreward (2021-23), a solo exhibition consisting of site specific installations in dialogue with the permanent collection at The MacLaren Art Centre in Barrie, Vers (2022), an action-based collaboration with NY-based artist Jonathan VanDyke at MassArt in Boston, duet (2019) a traveling two-person exhibition alongside Canadian modernist painter Jack Bush in collaboration with the Art Gallery of Peterborough and The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, and 'co-respond-dance Version II,' an artist book published in collaboration with Centre des arts actuels Skol in Montreal. Other exhibition highlights include a performance installation in partnership with Third Space Gallery and the YMCA Newcomer Connections Centre in St. John New Brunswick, public art installations for Mercer Union and Nuit Blanche in Toronto, and participation in international group shows on contemporary queer aesthetics at the Hessel Museum and Ramapo College in the United States and Malmö Konstmuseum in Sweden.
His writing has been published in books including Other Places: Reflections on Media Arts in Canada, as well as exhibition catalogues, magazines, and art journals like Canadian Art, C Magazine, Canadian Theatre Review, FUSE, and PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art. Awards and honours include grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Toronto and Ontario Arts Councils, and the Governor General’s Silver Medal for academic achievement upon graduating from Emily Carr University in 2010. He completed a Masters of Visual Studies at the University of Toronto in 2012 and has taught art and theory in various capacities at OCAD University and University of Toronto Scarborough. In 2022, Granados began a PhD in Media & Design Innovation at Toronto Metropolitan University.
Corita Kent (1918–1986), born Frances Elizabeth Kent and also known as Sister Mary Corita Kent, was an American artist, designer and educator, and former religious sister. She taught at the Immaculate Heart College, and her artwork thematics frequently referenced social justice. She became increasingly political throughout the 1960s, particularly concerning urgent issues of poverty and racism. Corita Kent produced a large body of graphically powerful serigraphs that often incorporated song lyrics, biblical verses, literature, advertising imagery, and slogans. After Kent began printmaking in the early 1950s, her work was widely exhibited, at more than 230 exhibitions across the country by the late 1960s, and she completed commissions for the 1964 New York World's Fair, IBM, and Westinghouse. Her work was acquired by prestigious museums, such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.
Roy Kenzie Kiyooka (1926–1994) was a painter, photographer, musician, and poet, whose legacy is still profoundly felt in artistic and literary circles of the Northwest Coast. He was a second generation Japanese Canadian, born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in 1926. Kiyooka studied at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art (now named the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and Art). A regular participant in the Emma Lake Artists’ Workshops in the 1950s in Saskatchewan, Kiyooka moved to Vancouver in the 1960s and taught at the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art + Design), where he explored various modes of abstraction. His visual artwork included paintings, sculpture, film, and photographs. During his career he taught at a number of universities including the University of British Columbia. Kiyooka was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1978.
Gary Lee-Nova (1943) was born in Toronto, and studied at the Vancouver School of Art and at Coventry College, England. An important figure in the West Coast Scene of the 1960s and early 1970s, he was a co-founder of Image Bank (a collaborative project with Michael Morris and Vincent Trasov), and active in the Sound Gallery (circa 1965) and Intermedia (1967–1972). Lee-Nova continues to work as an artist, creating single projects that often take years to execute. In 2018 he was named Professor Emeritus at Emily Carr University of Art and + Design. He has exhibited extensively throughout his career, including at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Bau-Xi Gallery (Toronto), University of Saskatchewan, the Western Front, the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, the Burnaby Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Canada, the Demarco Gallery (Edinburgh) and the Paris Biennale. His work is included in collections at the National Gallery of Canada, Canada Council Art Bank, the Institute of Contemporary Art (London), and the Vancouver Art Gallery, among others.
Rita Letendre (1928–2021), born in Drummondville, Quebec, of Abenaki descent. She studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Montreal in 1948, where the rigid methodology and conservative environment was ill-suited to her interest in creative exploration. She exhibited with the Automatists in Montreal from 1952 to 1955, and was included in the pivotal exhibition La matière chante, organized by artist Paul-Émile Borduas, and Espace at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. By the late 1950s, she had begun to exhibit in New York, at both Parma Gallery and Canada House, and her work was included in The Third Biennial Exhibition of Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada (NGC). In 1960, the NGC organized the exhibition Non-Figurative Artists of Montreal, which travelled to other venues in Canada and solidified Letendre's place in the forefront of Canadian non-figurative abstraction. Letendre won numerous important painting prizes in Montreal including the Young Painters Prize in 1959 and the Rodolphe de Repentigny Prize in 1960, as well as the Province of Quebec Award in 1962. In Canada, her recognition is wide, and her international reputation reaches to Japan and France. She was an officer of the Order of Canada and was awarded the Governor General's Award for Visual Arts in 2010 and the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.
Attila Richard Lukács (1962) was born in Alberta and graduated from the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in 1985. Lukács’ work was included in The Young Romantics exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery (1985), an influential exhibition curated by Scott Watson. After moving to Berlin in 1986, Lukács worked at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien Berlin and practiced in New York and Hawaii before returning to Vancouver. His range as an artist is evident in his abstract paintings and collages, as well as his large-scale figural paintings, collection of paintings of flowers and trees, and numerous etchings. Lukács has shown extensively internationally and has work in collections such as Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton; Vancouver Art Gallery; Rideau Hall, Ottawa; Nickle Arts Museum, Calgary; Edmonton Art Gallery; Art Gallery of Ontario; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Canada Council Art Bank, Ottawa; Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Gent, Belgium; Musée d'Art Contemporain, Montreal; Froahlich Collection, Germany; Rudolf Zwirner, Cologne, Germany; Phyllis Kind, New York; John Stewart Collection, New York; Salah Bachir, Toronto; and Dietmar Werle, Cologne, Germany.
Michael Morris (1942–2022) was born in Saltdean, England, and emigrated to Victoria in 1946. In his roles as curator and, primarily, as an artist, Morris was a key figure of the West Coast art scene from the 1960s to the present. Morris studied at the University of Victoria and then at the Vancouver School of Art, followed by graduate studies at Slade School of Fine Art at the University College London, during the 1960s. There he became interested in the work of Fluxus and the European avant-garde, which had a profound influence on his work and on the Vancouver experimental art scene in general. In 1969 he founded Image Bank with Vincent Trasov, a system of postal correspondence between participating artists for the exchange of information and ideas. Morris was acting curator of the Vancouver Art Gallery and organized art events and exhibitions at the Centre for Communications and the Arts at Simon Fraser University from 1967 to 1970, and held many guest curatorships at other institutions. In 1973, he co-founded the Western Front — one of Canada’s first artist-run centres — and served as co-director for seven years. In 1990 he and Trasov founded the Morris/Trasov Archive, now housed at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, to research contemporary art. Morris has participated in artist-in-residence programs both in Canada at the Banff Centre (1990) and at Open Studio (2003) and internationally at Berlin Kunstlerprogramm (1981–1998). Morris has had solo and collaborative exhibitions nationally and internationally, and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Audain Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Visual Arts (2015), the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts (2011) and an Honorary Doctorate from Emily Carr University of Art + Design.