By Davin Luce
The McGill Visual Arts Collection (VAC) provides students, staff and faculty firsthand engagement with original works of art. Working to find the best locations to display works of art in the VAC is therefore at the very heart of what we do. As our collection and presence across McGill’s two campuses has grown – thanks to our generous donors who have given works to the collection and provided funds for conservation and proper display – the VAC’s staff and team of interns has become increasingly involved in the wonderful and exciting challenge of selecting the perfect space to maximize the exposure of an artwork while safely displaying it.
This summer, with the support of the Student’s Society of McGill Library Improvement Fund (SSMU LIF), I was a curatorial intern at the VAC, charged with curating displays of objects and sculptures from our collection of indigenous art in two locations in the University’s libraries, namely the McLennan Library and the Nahum Gelber Law Library. In addition to these display cases, a large mural by Robert Houle was installed in the main floor of the Law Library.
My goal was to increase the visibility of indigenous artworks in the University’s libraries, while simultaneously fostering inspiring and productive library spaces which can be enjoyed by faculty, staff, and students alike. Below is a brief description of these three new displays by the VAC – a sneak peak of the discoveries that await you if you pay them a visit in person!
Inuit Sculpture at the Nahum Gelber Law Library
The Inuit sculpture display in the Nahum Gelber Law Library features over 20 works by Inuit artists from the late 20th to early 21st centuries, such as Seepie Ipellie, John Nutarariaq, Tytoosie Tunnillie, Wayne Puqiqnak, and Celina Seeleenak Putulik, to name a few. The artworks were generously donated by Margaret Anne Ganley Somerville, Dr. Joanne Jepson, and Danielle LaRivière.
The exhibit provides a brief history of Inuit sculpting practices and features two important motifs: Sedna, the revered Inuit deity, as well as the Dancing Bear. This motif is whimsical and particularly difficult to master due the careful weight distribution necessary to balance the figure. To see the full display, visit the Nahum Gelber Library, whose opening hours can be found here: https://www.mcgill.ca/library/branches/law .
Robert Houle at the Gelber Law Library
Robert Houle, a member of the Saulteaux First Nation, is a prominent artist, curator, critic, teacher, and graduate of McGill (B.Ed ‘75). Largely concerned with exploring bi-cultural identity, Houle’s work typically combines Euro-Modernism and hard-edged abstraction with traditional Ojibwe motifs.
This early work from 1975, while somewhat experimental and atypical of Houle’s mature style, similarly explores some of these issues, although through a more figurative approach. This three-panel mural was recently conserved by Legris Conservation Ltd., with support from the SSMU LIF, the Faculty of Law, and Daniel Boyer. To read more about this wonderful artwork – in French, English or Ojibwe – and to experience it in person, head to the Nahum Gelber Law Library!
Indigenous Makers in the Visible Storage Gallery, McLennan Library, 4th floor
Custom-built and of museum-quality, this display case presents woven, sculptural, and graphic works which explore and highlight the diverse materiality of modern and contemporary Indigenous art practices. Artists featured are Lucy Tasseor, Tony Hunt Jr. and Sr., Gryn White, Gregg Tagarook, Elmer Ekayuke Frankson, John Collins, Glen Pollard, Rufus Moody, and Percy J. Ellis.
When viewing the cabinet, don’t hesitate to open the drawers to discover what is contained within! The works on display were generously donated by Dr. Joanne Jepson, Danielle LaRivière, and Mr. and Mrs. Paul Gallagher. The VAC Visible Storage Gallery is open to the public Monday to Friday from 10 am to 6 pm.