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Evolution in art

Local art galleries in Hamilton, Burlington and at McMaster University are breaking down barriers and envisioning the way forward.

Art galleries around the world are collectively brushing themselves off, sharpening the nature and scope of their programming, diversifying their exhibitions, and addressing the intricacies of human nature as we find ourselves navigating post-pandemic waters. 

Artists are effecting change, participating in a long-awaited political, economic, and social evolution that’s being activated in all corners of the globe. Institutional practices are now clearly positioned under the microscope, social progress is in the spotlight, and diversity is finally gaining ground. 

“Today’s artists and museums are increasingly supporting underserved communities,” says Rachel Gotlieb, former curator with the Royal Ontario Museum and the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art.

“For museums and galleries, this means evaluating the Western canon to be more inclusive in their exhibition and acquisition strategies, along with creating new opportunities to bring diverse representation and staffing, from visitor services to curators, executives, and board members.”

There is an abundance of opportunities in your local galleries and creative spaces this fall to explore vibrant art scenes, support many talented artists and crafters, and discover incredible innovation.

Art Gallery of Hamilton

The Art Gallery of Hamilton, founded in 1914 with an exhibition of 33 works, has served as a long-standing civic anchor within the city of Hamilton, one focused on improving quality of life and contributing to the economic and cultural vitality of the region. It’s remained a steadfast institution through times of industrial revolution, technological advances, and 20th-century growth and change. 

The AGH’s established collection has grown to more than 10,500 works, including distinguished works of art that span over 700 years of history. It’s the third-largest art collection in the province, behind the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada, and operates as an award-winning multidisciplinary leader in Canada. The AGH houses masterpieces that include Canadian historic and contemporary art, American, Indigenous, and international art. 

Always evolving, the AGH is focused on prioritizing both physical and digital access to its collections, creating inclusive community engagement, and joining in the revitalization of the downtown core, ultimately ensuring diverse, cross-cultural long-term relationships are forged through greater resource sharing. 

“It’s important for the AGH to embody and reflect the city’s values and be embedded in the wider framework of cultural sustainability and diversity,” says Shelley Falconer, president and CEO of the AGH. “As both a cultural hub and valued educational institution, we’re in a unique position to engage and provoke meaningful discussion through the voices of artists.”

The AGH has partnered with many organizations, including McMaster University, Six Nations, the Coalition of Black and Racialized Artists, Hamilton You Poets, the Centre for Civic Inclusion Hamilton and the Hamilton Arts Council.

The AGH collections

The William Blair Bruce Canadian Collection at the Art Gallery of Hamilton is more than 100 years old.

The AGH’s William Blair Bruce Canadian Collection, now over 100 years old, is distinguished by a number of its iconic works, including Alex Colville’s ”Horse and Train,” William Kurelek’s ”This is the Nemesis,” and William Blair Bruce’s ”Phantom Hunter.” The gallery is expanding this iconic Canadian collection – named after the Hamilton-born  Impressionist painter – with the inclusion of works by female artists, artists of colour, Indigenous artists, and a number of underrepresented artists from Hamilton and beyond. 

Some of the collection’s prominent pieces include works of art by Toronto-born Canadian Impressionist artist Helen McNicoll (1879-1915), Canadian artist Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923-2002), and French artists Georges Braque (1882-1963) and Phillippe Rousseau (1816-1887).

AGH’s other treasured collections include:

  • The Chedoke Inuit Collection – highlighting stories of the Hamilton Sanatorium and Inuit art influenced by the tuberculosis crisis of the 1950s and 1960s
  • Norval Morrisseau Collection and the Woodland School – 117 impressive works by the Anishinaabe artist
  • Canadian photographer Ed Burtynsky – a collection of 78 works exploring climate change
  • Canadian Impressionism –  led by Hamilton-born Impressionist painter William Blair Bruce
  • Tom Thomson and The Group of Seven – Lawren Harris and stories of national myth-making
  • William Kurelek – Immigration Stories
  • Female artists – Emily Carr, The Beaver Hall Group, Kenojuak Ashevak and Shelley Niro
  • Canadian Realism and Abstraction – Alex Colville, Christopher Pratt, Jean-Paul Riopelle and the Painters 11 
  • Social Realism – a collection of the American Ash Can School and British Camden Town Group, together with works from the Canadian social realist collection
  • European Art – Tanenbaum collection of 19th-century European narrative art
  • African and Oceanic Collections –  a collection exploring the African diaspora

Ways to get involved at the AGH

Talks and tours: find out more about AGH exhibits and events with influential speakers, curators, artists, and cultural leaders

Art Smarts: fully subsidized AGH visits for high-priority schools and education programs for at-risk secondary students 

Family programs: finding the joy in creating art together

Children’s programs and camps: children’s studio classes, March Break and summer camps

Youth and adult: programs and art classes for all levels

Emerge: Youth studio classes, life drawing, arts collective

Quartz: Queer Art Hang: a welcoming, accessible space for LGBTQ+ community members and allies 

Upcoming events at the AGH

The AGH Festival

A 10-day festival of arts that features visual art, music, live performances, media and film, and crafters. Oct.12-22

Exhibition: WONDER: The Real, the Surreal and the Fantastic

In an age of reality shows, social media and fake news, this exhibition featuring two dozen historical and contemporary artists explores the concept of reality. What does it mean to be ‘real’? Is there even such a thing? This exhibition explores the relationship between a logical view of life and the unconscious mind, fantasies, and the dream world. Sept. 23 –Jan. 7, 2024

Exhibition: “Breathing in China”

Guest curated by Yan Zhou, relevant exploratory themes of air quality and smog highlight climate instability, with artists from Canada and China showcasing drawing, painting, sculpture, installation, and video. Until Dec. 31

Exhibition: “I Am My Mother’s Daughter”

This is Farheen Haq’s first solo exhibition in Southern Ontario. Haq’s presentation of cultural performance, video, and sculpture weaves together the intergenerational experiences of her own Pakistani heritage as a second-generation immigrant, the personal relationship with her mother, and her family’s responsibilities toward the work of reconciliation as settlers on Haudenosaunee territories. It’s an exploration of self-inquiry that includes past, present, and future legacies. Until Dec. 31

RBC Artist in Residence: Melissa General

General’s work can be found in the David Braley and Nancy Gordon sculpture atrium, an exhibition and evolving new body of work focused on concepts of memory, land, and language, and her identity as a Mohawk artist from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. Until March 31, 2024

McMaster Museum of Art

McMaster Museum of Art is a public art gallery, offering free admission, nestled in the McMaster University campus. The M(M)A follows a mandate of positively disrupting previously accepted narratives by including greater experiential and dynamic relationships between peoples and artistic practices, advancing decolonization, and collaborating with intention. 

Its current exhibition “Chasm” rethinks the museum concept. The exploratory collection exhibition looks inward at the museum, reframes acquisitions to reflect on inequitable power dynamics and encourages critical dialogue of the oppressive systems embedded in museum practices. It will be accompanied by a series of public events this fall. 

“Chasm” is primarily interested in illuminating the centuries-old authoritarian forces that have generated divisive social structures and dominated museum culture.

“Chasm” invites visitors to challenge convention with an experience that seamlessly weaves together culture, politics, and language. Through art that explores colonialism and patriarchy, multiculturalism, love and loss, land, and language, it confronts preconceived notions of the traditional white cube gallery. The complex nature of the art object itself within a space and place provokes unexpected internal dialogues.  

Guest curator and former M(M)A senior curator Pamela Edmonds, and M(M)A adjunct senior curator Betty Julian worked together to select significant pieces from the MMA’s more than 6,000 pieces of European, Canadian, and Indigenous art.

“Our interests are to consider and to actively shift hegemonic paradigms through a radical rethinking of the exhibition space,” say Edmonds and Julian. 

It offers the opportunity to continue the conversation surrounding the elitism inherent in the foundations of many art institutions, and the social reform that can be realized through critical discussion and accessible, diverse, inclusive spaces. 

Canadian abstract artist Yves Gaucher's work creates a stark esthetical juxtaposition of black and white, while in the same space Abenaki painter Rita Letendre’s (1928-2021) vivid paintings fill the space with bold colour and magical movement. 

Francisco de Goya’s visual protest, “Lo Mismo” (1810-1820) urges the viewer to confront the atrocities of past injustice while simultaneously resonating with a future promise of reform. 

"Chasm" is, above all, a diverse collection of transcultural perspectives, and interpretations of selected works from the museum’s permanent collection with the addition of more recent post-pandemic acquisitions from the 1990s onward.   

Visitors have a chance to look beyond themselves, to glimpse the bigger picture, with a number of progressive curatorial choices that have created a successful space for introspection and contemplation. The exhibit explores powerful subjects of pain, grief, and divide, yet concurrently offers an antithetical whimsical ride. 

“Chasm” is a poignant look at the dualities of our existence and is “inescapably hybrid, like the world we live in,” say its curators. 

“Chasm” curated by Pamela Edmonds and Betty Julian
Opening reception: Thursday, Sept. 28, 5 p.m.-8 p.m.
Runs until Dec. 8

Art Gallery of Burlington

Centrally located in downtown Burlington, across from Spencer-Smith Park and the waterfront, the Art Gallery of Burlington’s 44,000 square feet of galleries and event spaces are free to visit. The AGB, founded in 1978, maintains the largest collection of contemporary Canadian ceramics. The building has unique spaces for rentals, and inclusive arts programming options for both young and old, with classes, workshops, camps, and guilds. It bills itself as “a place of intersection where creators, cultures and communities meet and share in the wealth of human creativity.

Its current exhibition “The Weight of Clay” represents a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the permanent ceramic collection at the AGB.

The foundation of the collection was more than 300 pieces donated by Herbert O. Bunt in 1984 that set the stage for the growth of an exceptional body of work.

From functional pieces to sculptural, the centre of the exhibition is a selection of over 40 works by 40 artists, representing a chronological timeline of each year of the evolution of the collection. 

Curator Jonathan Smith acknowledges the immense network of artists, members, volunteers, and gallery curators that have worked to build the collection over time, an entity that exists as both a history and an ongoing project helping to drive current discussions around clay and the future of contemporary ceramic art in Canada. 

“The Weight of Clay”
Lee-Chin Family Gallery, Dan Lawrie Courtyard, and corridors
Until Oct. 8

Don’t miss: The Conservatory, the AGB shop with 2,400 square feet of unique art, jewellery, and gift ideas from an array of exclusive Canadian artists. You can also explore the AGB’s picturesque sculpture courtyard and year-round lush indoor conservatory.   

Guilds at the AGB: Burlington Fine Arts Association, Handweavers and Spinners Guild, Latow Photography Guild, Potters Guild, Rug Hooking Guild, Sculpture and Carvers Guild

Other local galleries

Earl’s Court Gallery
215 Ottawa St. N.

A major supporter of Hamilton’s art institutions for the last half century, this year marks Earl’s 50th anniversary. Owner Bob Daniels started the gallery in 1973 on George Street and moved to the current location in 2009. 

Upcoming exhibit: Barry Hodgson and Murray Gainer exhibition featuring soft oil paintings inspired by the Sandbanks region and Prince Edward County.  Oct. 5-Nov. 11, opening reception: Oct. 5, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. 

Beckett Fine Art
196 Locke Street South

Beckett Fine Art has existed in Hamilton since 1966. It represents a select group of established and emerging artists in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Japan, including painters, sculptors, photographers, printmakers and other mediums. The gallery also features a collection of Canadian Indigenous art. In addition to sales of rare and collectable art, Beckett Fine Art also offers a wide array of fine art-related services including private, corporate and museum art consulting and collections management, art appraisals, art conservation and restoration, custom conservation picture framing and art installation and design. It is owned by Thomas G. Beckett, the son of gallery founder Thomas L. Beckett and grandson of Hubert Beckett, a famed Hamilton photographer. Tom Beckett studied art history at  Christie’s in London, England and owned galleries in Toronto, Vancouver and Oakville.

The exhibit, running Sept. 5-23, includes the private collection of band memorabilia of Teenage Head, along with art from Tom Wilson, Daniel Lanois, Stephan Mahon, Maggie Shepherd, Gary Spearin, John Coburn and others. The exhibit is free and the gallery is open Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Carnegie Gallery 
10 King St. W, Dundas 

Housed within the 1910 historic Andrew Carnegie Public Library in downtown Dundas, the Carnegie Gallery is a not-for-profit gallery and shop, run by the Dundas Art and Craft Association since 1980. Exhibitions of art and crafts rotate monthly, and artists are encouraged to apply for membership. 

Upcoming exhibits: 

John Miecznikowski (1943-2021): A memorial exhibition of drawings, paintings, and sculpture by this Hamilton artist, a master of the portrait tradition and accomplished sculptor. Miecznikowski’s public sculptures includes monuments to Frederick Banting and John Galt, and portrait busts of prominent Canadians Gerhard Herzberg, David Suzuki, and Margaret Atwood.

“Sticks & Stones” – Joseph Panacci 

Working from his Simcoe studio, this highly accomplished functional and sculptural ceramic artist is known for creating wood-fired vessels characterized by their elegant forms and unique surface glazes.

“Cartoons from Groundhog Hill” – Rose Anne Prevec 

Lively ink drawings by Dundas cartoonist and illustrator Rose Anne Prevec. Her light-hearted cartoons feature the animals she encounters hiking the Dundas Valley trails. 

Hamilton Artists Inc.
155 James St. N.

Hamilton Artists Inc. (The Inc.) is a charitable, not-for-profit artist-run centre that was founded in 1975. It offers an alternative to commercial spaces and established public galleries and museums and serves more than 300 members at all stages in their careers by presenting local, national, and international exhibitions, workshops, artist talks, and professional development services. Programs are free and open to everyone.

Birdie Gerhl exhibit "Wormshop" runs Sept. 6 to Oct. 28 at the Cannon Gallery. Multidisciplinary and interactive textile and sculptural works, formed by disability art. Textile exhibit "(No)Body" by Laura Honsberger, Alana Morouney, and Par Nair also runs Sept. 6 to Oct. 28.

Crown & Press Gallery 
303 Ottawa St. N.

An Art Deco inspired café and fine art gallery, curated by Canadian artist Julia Veenstra. Find food pop-ups and live painting demonstrations in this historic 4,000 square feet of space. The gallery features the work of over 30 artists from across Canada, including Holly Dyrland, Janet K. MacKay, Jessica Masters, and Michelle Paradis. 

You Me Gallery
330 James St. N.

Back by popular demand, The Whirlygigs exhibit, curated by Bryce Kanbara, runs Sept. 8-10.