The J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous and Canadian Art (Essay Sample)
This assignment asks you to:
1. briefly describe the work
2. consider its meaning and why it might have been chosen by curators
3. discuss how the context of the museum and the Canadian Galleries impacts the way you
understand the artwork.
Questions to answer-
What does the work look like? (This need only be a sentence or two of its most important
formal qualities. The focus of this assignment is not formal analysis.)
What is the subject matter of the work? How did you come to identify the subject? Did you
discern this by looking at the work or by reading the title on the wall text or information on
the AGO"s website?
Does the work provide a particular point of view? How did you come to this conclusion?
The J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous and Canadian Art
The J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous and Canadian Art was inaugurated in 2018. It archives the notable projects by contemporary indigenous artists alongside contemporary historical Canadian art. Distinctive subjects have been explored, a few of which include aspects such as water and land. The artworks presented within the assemblage offer a comprehensive perspective towards the brunt softer settlor colonialism and violence that was experienced by the indigenous peoples. As Wanda Nanibush, the curator of this indigenous art, states,
“the McLean center revitalization, enables the AGO to showcase contemporary Indigenous art leading conversations with Canadian art to highlight critical discussions about identity, the environment, history and sovereignty” (AGO Insider).
Kent Monkman is a Cree artist of ‘Aboriginal and Irish descent’ (Filgiano) based in Toronto, who presents his art as a representation of subjects such as sexuality, resilience, loss, and most importantly the intricacies of the indigenous experience. He utilizes figures in the history of indigenous peoples, to display the story of the experience, and represents it in his own unique perspective.
A very significant goal that he carries in the representation of his artwork is the rectification of the completely inaccurate, misrepresented and objectified perspective that art history has had of the indigenous community.
His working mechanism is very similar manner as Nazgol Ansarinia, whose manner of work is the derivation of inspiration from Tehran and assembling elements by reconnecting them to represent a fresh perspective (Nazgol Ansarinia - Artists - Green . Art . Gallery). In a like manner, the tales and history of the indigenous people is taken as an inspiration, for the representation of this artwork.
“The Academy” by Kent Monkman is a large scale, “parody piece”, which takes reference from the art developed in European Style. It is situated in room 238, in the Art Gallery of Ontario, created in 2008. The painting features an art class, taking place in a First Nations Hut, whilst students are busy replicating, and formulating a tableau, based on the Classical Sculpture centered in the class. The satire of the piece lies in the presence of a Cree Indian, who seems bored and uninspired by the sculpture.
It can also be observed that within this artwork, Monkman has reframed various artworks. Some of the most prominent include Zeuxis choisissant des modèles by Nicolas-André Monsiaux, which represents a blank canvas, before which Zeuxis as an artist stands, contemplating, before several nude models (“Nicolas-André Monsiau”). In addition to this, the painting also appears to display a reinterpretation of Laocoön and His Sons, an ancient sculpture, presenting the struggle of three men, being attacked by serpents. In the version represented by Monkman, Five European men stand at the center of the painting, presented in the form of objects.
On the left-hand side of the painting, there is a woman that seems to be Harriet Boulton Smith. A shoe, that seems to belong to her husband William Henry Boulton, seems to be playfully drawing up her skirt. However, on close inspection, it can be observed that it is actually Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, a repeating character in the works of Monkman, adorned in the dress of Harriet Boulton.
Further, on the right-hand side of the painting, one can observe Norval Morrisseau, an Anishinaabe artist, busy painting his work, Self Portrait Devoured by Demons (“Norval Morrisseau, Self-Portrait Devoured by Demons, 1964”). The artwork of Norval Morrisseau, Man Changing into Thunderbird, 1977 is situated in the same room. However, this time, it is the artist himself (“Norval Morrisseau, Man Changing Into Thunderbird, 1977”). This makes The Academy a double portrait of himself in both female and male roles. He is observed standing behind the easel, in a traditional Cree coat, busy in a conversation with Jacques-Louis David, a French Neoclassical painter (“Jacques-Louis David | Biography, Art, and Facts”).
The presentation of the artwork within the gallery by the curators in it
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