Made in Calgary: The 1980s
September 7, 2013 - January 5, 2014
Made in Calgary is a five-part exhibition series that explores the character of Calgary's artistic community from 1960 to 2010. Each exhibition will reflect the contributions of individual artists in the context of the social and cultural factors that influenced their work.
As Calgary soared to economic power in the 1980s, a maverick new energy in the visual arts also arose in the city. "Calgary became truer to itself in the 80s – artists created things moulded in the Calgary spirit," says Jeffrey Spalding, curator of Made in Calgary: The 1980s.
In discovering that spirit, Calgary artists found themselves reevaluating their conceptions of art, and, in many cases, reinventing their entire approach to the creative process.
A survey of just some of the individuals whose work is featured in the exhibition reveals how pervasive was this climate of change and exploration. In ceramics, for instance, important sculptors such as Mary Shannon Will and Gisele Amantea abruptly reversed course, with the former leaving behind the organic tradition that had defined her work for a more geometric approach, while Amantea took a 180 degree turn from representational work and produced pieces that were an onslaught of colour, pattern and stimuli.Meanwhile, Chris Cran began to embrace what Spalding describes as "zany narratives" – as evidenced by his Self Portrait Watching a Man About to Shoot Himself in the Foot. John Will, the definitive master printmaker, stopped making prints in 1980 to allow himself the freedom to explore other avenues of art making.
Spalding says that one must look at both regional and international developments in the art world in the preceding decades tounderstand the significance of the upheaval that marked the 1980s. In the 60s and 70s, the local art scene followed a steady evolution based on a kind of master-apprentice model with key instructors in the city imparting their vision to the next generation.
Meanwhile, a more rigid hierarchy was at play on the international stage with leaders of the modernist-reductivist school setting the criteria for what art should be – formal, austere and minimalist.
By the late 70s, though, artists began to question, and actively reject, the paradigms governing what was considered high art and began defining criteria for themselves. "People start to embrace all kinds of different ideas about art that have seemingly nothing to do with what the main storyline is and they just break with it," says Spalding. "It's not a small jailbreak … it's massive."
The results, whether in ceramics, painting, sculpture and so on, were adventurous, expressive and singularly Calgarian. "Calgary went from being a place that was very peripheral to a place that said 'we might as well be leaders – we might as well do something new,'" says Spalding.