When Alex Colville closed on Jan. 4, it had attracted 166,406 visitors, making it the 10th–best attended exhibition in our history. Notably, it is the only exhibition in the top 10 that focused on Canadian art. The Gallery’s last Colville exhibition, which ran from July 22 to September 18, 1983, welcomed 49,984 visitors.
What made this presentation different? Our director and CEO, Matthew Teitelbaum, ascribes the recent exhibition’s success to timing and the universality of Colville’s work: “At the moment of Alex Colville’s passing there was an acknowledgement of what he meant to so many people around the country. He was understood as a truly national figure in a new way. When we made the decision to mount the exhibition, we had confidence that people would respond, because Colville’s story is everybody’s story, which is: there is mystery in life. Life is born of relationships and of the place where you are from, and Colville’s work captures that complex sense of place that lies deep in our psyche.”
Comments from our visitors confirm that they connected with the themes in Colville’s work. Elise Kayfetz, winner of our #ColvilleAGO contest, told us the way Colville portrayed aging was especially meaningful to her and her work in gerontology. “I love Colville,” she writes. “He’s in line with everything I’ve learned throughout my career in the aging field, and he represents aging flawlessly and with so much colour.”
— Elise Kayfetz (@elisekayfetz) December 8, 2014
In addition to the compelling themes in Colville’s work, the exhibition showed visitors his influence on contemporary artists and popular culture. Through in-gallery video and panels, it demonstrated ties to the films of Stanley Kubrick, Wes Anderson and Sarah Polley, as well as the writings of Ann-Marie MacDonald and Alice Munro.
The exhibition’s curator, Andrew Hunter, Fredrik S. Eaton Curator of Canadian Art at the AGO, asked contemporary artists to respond to the work. “Exhibitions of this scale and ambition need to go beyond art history. AGO visitors want to see the full scope of an artist and understand better what it means to dedicate oneself the way Colville did, which involves unlocking his motivation and achievement, and raising issues in his work in relation to the work of other artists,” says Hunter. “Our extensive audience research and in-gallery visitor feedback told us that the pairings and connections truly resonated with our audience. The film connections had particularly high impact, especially for the significant percentage of younger visitors. Including this material was very important because it set Colville’s work in a wider context and showed him to be in dialogue with and part of a global culture.”
We’re also happy to report that the exhibition’s catalogue, entitled Alex Colville, is also a success. Edited by Hunter, the book is the best-selling AGO-published Canadian catalogue ever, with 12,500 copies sold so far.
Now in its fourth print run, it’s ranked #30 in top sellers by Amazon.ca’s art books category, and we continue to sell copies in-store at shopAGO, as well as online.
A big thank you again to everyone who helped us celebrate a true icon of Canadian art by creating, visiting, discussing and supporting the exhibition. If you missed the exhibition at the AGO, it will be at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa from April 23 to Sept. 7, 2015, and in the meantime you can connect with Alex Colville and his work at welcometocolville.ca.