On May 1, Andrew Hunter will join the AGO as its new Fredrik S. Eaton Curator, Canadian Art.
He has collaborated with the AGO in the past, specifically on Tom Thomson (2003) and Emily Carr: New Perspectives (2007). He has more than 20 years’ experience and is an accomplished curator, artist, writer and educator.
Currently the co-founder and co-principal of DodoLab, an international program of community collaboration and interdisciplinary creative research, Andrew has held many curatorial positions at such institutions as the Vancouver Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Kamloops Art Gallery, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection and Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre Art Gallery, to name a few. He has taught at OCAD University, the University of Waterloo (Faculty of Arts and School of Architecture) and lectured on curatorial practice across Canada, the United States, England, China and Croatia.
Andrew graciously answered some questions we had about his outlook on Canadian art and his decision to join our curatorial team.
AGO: First, congratulations and welcome! We’re very happy you’re joining our staff. What are you looking forward to when you come on board in May?
Andrew: There is much that excites me about joining the AGO, but front of mind is certainly the exceptional collection and being tasked with formulating and executing a new approach to its articulation, display and animation. Also, I am a keen collaborator and like to work with people with different ideas and experiences. I see great potential both within the institution as well through connections out into the community that a dynamic organization like the AGO has and can be nurtured.
Can you tell our readers a bit more about your area of expertise and education?
My formal training was primarily as an artist but it also included curatorial and critical studies. I went to NSCAD at a time when so many of the artists I encountered were directly engaging with collections and museums, experimenting with and critiquing the art system, and this led me to be interested in curating and eventually to becoming a curator.
I studied Canadian art, but it was really through working with collections (including archives) that my expertise in a number of areas developed including the Group of Seven (particularly Lawren S. Harris), what I consider the industrial landscapes of Tom Thomson and Emily Carr, as well as Carl Schaefer, to name a few, and I have worked with a number of First Nations artists and curators across Canada. Beyond the traditional parameters of art, my areas of expertise touch on the First World War, Canadian folk culture and myths, Algonquin Park and National Parks, the history of art galleries and museums, documentary film and urban development. Outside of Canadian subjects, I have always had a strong interest in early American modernism and the photographers associated with the Depression era WPA/FSA program.
Is there a work in the Canadian collection you have a soft spot for?
Well right now there are two: the Haida argillite and ivory carving of a sea captain, a truly remarkable object and a prime example of the expanding of the collection to include historic First Nations art (it was acquired in 2008). The other is a work I have always liked but only recently did it register as more significant to me: Plamondon’s painting of three boys hunting passenger pigeons in Lower Canada in the mid–19th century. Like many people, I have deep concerns about the state of the environment and decreasing biodiversity, and this image of the hunting of the now-extinct passenger pigeon is a prime example of a work in the collection that allows us to engage with a significant issue of our time.
What’s your definition of Canadian art?
At heart, I don’t think my definition of Canadian Art is that unique or different from many of my colleagues, although my inclusion of some elements of popular culture, anonymously authored material culture and the built environment might stretch some people’s definitions. I think the more important issue is exploring an expanded field of ideas within which we present and consider works of art. Canadian Art is in a constant state of flux and change, critique and evaluation, just as our contemporary world is, which is good for art, keeps it dynamic. We don’t live at a time of singular narratives and the challenge for a Canadian Art program at this time is to not be limited by one dominant history or to simply replace one with another. Actively rethinking the history is what brought First Nations and Inuit work into the story of Canadian art, and that approach needs to continue.
What do you hope to accomplish in your new role?
I want to establish a dynamic, active and more participatory program that is meaningful to the wider community. I want the collections to be considered an important catalyst to understanding the contemporary world and I look to be a connector, someone who brings diverse groups and ideas together. I want to see more emerging artists engaged with the full historic depth of the Canadian collection. I also hope to be mentor to an new generation of curators and educators.