CAG Curator Jenifer Papararo joins our series of CAG book recommendations with a short review of the popular 2004 publication SUPERNATURAL.
When I began working at the CAG in late 2004 this exhibition catalogue was well under production, in its final stages of proofing and colour correction. Unfortunately, I missed the exhibition SUPERNATURAL curated by Roy Arden, but feel the catalogue captures the radical and reflective drive behind pairing the wall and collage work of abstract painter Neil Campbell next to the masks of master carver Beau Dick.
The slim hardcover book which respectively features an image of each artist’s work on the front and back covers, immediately sets a formal opposition between the two artists practices: Campbell’s as a cool white and Dick’s bathed in dramatic black. The numerous installation shots throughout the publication establishes this divide, showing Campbell’s work presented in the typical starkness of a white cube while Dick’s work is suspended in darkness.
The aligning of these two artists is mysterious, but also seems to make perfect sense. Arden states, “Supernatural aims … to entertain the similarities of intention, means, and effect in their work without losing sight of their significant differences.”
SUPERNATURAL can be purchased, with a special discount of 40% during August, either online (click on the titles above – on check out use the coupon code CAGSUMMER) or in person at the CAG bookshop.
This exhibition proposed a look beyond obvious differences to examine commonalities of intention, technique, and effect in the distinct work of two artists. Vancouver artist Neil Campbell’s abstract, quasi-geometric paintings are scaled to the human body, and despite their apparent flatness, are performative in nature. They exact a calculated effect on viewer’s bodies and senses. Far from ‘abstract’, the experience is both physical and spiritual.
Beau Dick is a Kwakwaka’wakw chief, one of the most accomplished and talented traditional carvers and artists on the West Coast. Actively engaged in all aspects of Kwakwaka’wakw culture, he is highly regarded as a teacher and mentor. Dick has concentrated on studying and revivifying the traditions of carving, dance and storytelling, and this exhibition presented several of Dick’s masks in the admittedly compromised and alienated context of the Contemporary Art Gallery, far from their purpose integrated into rituals of dance and Potlatches. Dick mitigated these circumstances by preparing a dance for the exhibition opening.
The work of both Campbell and Dick share a basis in bold graphic design and theatrical effect. Supernatural shed light on these parallels while questioning the aesthetic apartheid which separates the conditions under which similar artworks have been (and continue to be) displayed, with the aim of producing a serious dialogue on the relationship between artistic cultures and traditions.