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Robert Amos: Gallery exhibits a variety of delights

Lured by an exhibit about the Kabuki theatre of Japan, I dropped in to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria recently. It’s based on the gallery’s unparallelled collection of Japanese woodcut prints.

Lured by an exhibit about the Kabuki theatre of Japan, I dropped in to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria recently. It’s based on the gallery’s unparallelled collection of Japanese woodcut prints. I came away almost two hours later, inspired by many features of a well-considered program created by a staff who are working hard to win for the gallery friends from all directions.

It begins before you enter the building. On the lawn stand sculptures by Jack Ritchel, Greg Snider and Bob di Castro, and on the front wall is an ever-changing mural on panels. At the moment, you’ll see a painting by Rick Leong derived from the hem of a mandarin’s gown.

Inside, the staff at the desk are well-informed, busy with the bustle of meetings and visitors coming and going. To get to the far rooms usually reserved for Asian art exhibits, I walked down past the windows looking out onto the moss garden and Japanese shrine. Then I stopped to consider the bonsai display: beside a bent pine, a tiny tree in blossom. My kind of place.

In the Asian lounge are a superb few pieces of antique Chinese cloisonné. The Asian Gallery this time is given over to Marimekko, With Love (until May 3). That’s a show about 1960s-style printed fabrics from Finland, circulated by the Textile Museum of Canada.

In the next gallery is A Study in Contrast, an extensive exploration of wood engravings by British artist Gwenda Morgan and linocuts of Sybil Andrews (until April 12). Andrews was a leading Vorticist artist in England before making her home in Campbell River. The show, largely drawn from our own collection, also offers a selection of historical prints by Durer, Hiroshige, Cyril Power and many others.

While visiting that show, security guard (and linocut artist) Gordon Friesen engaged me in a discussion about Andrews’ choice of inks and paper. Bonus!

Overseeing curatorial responsibilities is Michelle Jacques, who came to us two years ago after an impressive term at the Art Gallery of Ontario, where her credentials in presenting contemporary art were extensive. Her current project, In Another Place, And Here presents the work of six contemporary photographers, and is the main show at the gallery (until May 31).

Jacques is also responsible for Emily Carr and the Young Generation, the current evolution of the mandatory and ongoing Emily Carr show. With some of our best paintings by Emily Carr on tour in London and Toronto, Jacques has had to reconfigure the gallery’s exhibit.

And Jacques is also one of three curators (with Ian Thom and Linda Jansma) of the forthcoming major exhibition, J.W.G. Macdonald: Evolving Forms (opening in Victoria on June 13 and running until Sept. 7). “Jock” Macdonald came from Glasgow to teach at the Vancouver School of Art in 1929, and in the late 1930s became a cosmically inspired mystic. In the 1950s, he became a leading abstract painter in Toronto. The Evolving Form show has already been a big hit in Vancouver and in Oshawa, Ont.

There is more. Jacques is preparing a show of David Milne, as seen in the gallery’s impressive collection (June 26 to Oct. 25). This “painter’s painter” created oils and watercolours that are treasured as the very essence of Canadian modernism. Jacques’ continuing attention to the gallery’s collection of historical Canadian art is welcome. Her calm professionalism and intelligent engagement with the gallery’s extensive collection is just what we need.

In June, another curator will arrive to share the responsibilities. Her name is Haemea Sivanesan. After 10 years as assistant curator of Asian art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Australia, and some time in Toronto, Sivanesan was executive director of Centre A, a centre for contemporary Asian art in Vancouver, and then at the Mendel Gallery in Saskatoon. She will bring some fresh air to the gallery’s programs.

The kabuki show, Japan’s Dynamic Theatre in Prints (until June 15) presents about 50 strong figurative works from the collection. I was equally engaged by a video — with information brought from many sources — and by the art.

Barry Till, curator of Asian art, met me and we discussed his preparations for a gallery-sponsored tour to Kyoto in the fall. The Associates (formerly known as the Volunteer Committee) have basically sold out the trip already. That group, in a symbiotic relationship with the gallery, is a real going concern.

I’ve enjoyed issues of the Associates’ 24-page online magazine. In a recent issue, Joan Fraser wrote (with obvious enthusiasm) about an Associates field trip to Fairfield’s Russian Orthodox Church to view the mosaic murals there. This magazine should be widely published, for I think members of the public would be fascinated by what the Associates do.

In the Art Rental (and sales!) area I discovered a smart little show by Wendy Skog (our leading abstract expressionist) and Roberta Sutherland (who paints Zen dots, and is just off to a residency in Italy). These are fully professional senior artists among us and it’s great to see them on display in the gallery.

You can’t leave without seeing what’s available in the Gallery Shop. Manager Lisa Samphire has brought her taste and expertise to bear on glass, ceramics, books and much else. To my surprise, a collection of masks from around the world (Korea, Japan, Africa) has recently been donated to the shop and are offered for sale in aid of the gallery. Fifty bucks each. Good deal!

I went away, inspired and delighted. Buy yourself a membership and don’t miss a show. In next week’s column, I will report on my conversation with director Jon Tupper. Stay tuned.