By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
It is a rare opportunity – many galleries may only be able to display a single piece by a certain artist, a snapshot of their capability. However, the Robert McLaughlin Gallery is offering more than that with its newest exhibition of York Wilson paintings.
Wilson, a Toronto-born artist, was a key figure in Canadian abstract art, and throughout his 30-plus years as an artist, which included a mostly nomadic way of living, his style changed drastically. Wilson is most known for his murals, some of which can still be seen today, including at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto.
The RMG, already in possession of a core selection of Wilson paintings, was offered the chance by Wilson’s estate to receive a few more in 2014, and senior curator Linda Jansma says the gallery jumped at the opportunity to chose those paintings that would give a fuller picture of Wilson’s work, and fill in the gaps in the RMG’s collection.
“Now we have this 30-year trajectory of York Wilson’s career,” Jansma explains.
And with the works now adorning the walls of the gallery until the fall, RMG visitors will get a chance to see a little bit of everything, and it is something Jansma is really excited about.
“We really like the idea because we have prints, we have works on paper, we have ink, and we have canvases, so it covers everything he did,” she explains.
And Wilson’s works are not the only additions to the gallery’s growing collection.
In the 20-plus years Jansma has been at the RMG, the collection has grown from around 2,000 to more than 4,500, the pieces mainly coming in through donations, with a select few pieces being purchased by the gallery.
And while the acquisition process may have slowed its gears in recent years, dropping from around 150 new pieces a year in the early 90s, to between 12 and 15 now, Jansma says she is no less inspired by the collection.
“I think it’s more exciting to look at the collection as a whole,” she says, noting that the rate at which the gallery was bringing in new work before was just not sustainable.
Now, the gallery has the chance to be picky and bring in pieces that will improve the RMG’s mandate of abstract and Canadian art. And every additional work of art “breathes new life into the collection,” Jansma says.
“I’ve been walking through that vault for years and when we have a new work in, it makes all the difference in the world.”
Jansma estimates that at the gallery’s current rate, it has approximately five to 10 years of vault space left, depending on the size of new works and any pieces that are taken out of the gallery’s collection.
Following the gallery’s policy, to remove a work from its collection, it is first offered back to the artist. If the artist is deceased, it is then offered to his/her estate before it is finally offered to any public institution free of charge.
If there are still no takers, the gallery has the option of selling the work, with any funds received going back toward purchasing new art.