Itee Pootoogook – Buildings and Land

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Itee Pootoogook – Buildings and Land



28 Jun, 2013 to 25 Aug, 2013

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The Contemporary Art Gallery presents the first solo exhibition in a public institution of work by Canadian artist Itee Pootoogook.

A resident of Cape Dorset, Nunavut, he belongs to a generation of Inuit artists who are transforming and reshaping the creative traditions that were successfully pioneered by their parents and grandparents during the second half of the 20th century. In his large-scale graphite and coloured pencil drawings, Pootoogook shows us an image of modern northern life quite different from the one we are accustomed to seeing both historically and in much Inuit work. In this vast and often inhospitable region, instead of traditional subjects such as igloos and parka-clad hunters and their prey, we are shown an everyday world, one made up of recognizable contemporary accoutrements including snowmobiles, boats, soft drinks and television sets.

Pootoogook makes images of places, people and things, observed with prosaic intimacy. Here at the Contemporary Art Gallery we focus not on works involving portraits of family and friends but on those images that picture the things which structure daily routine in this part of Canada — buildings, landscape and the means to travel to other parts of the country. Working from photographs, Pootoogook’s drawings appear to be situated within a documentary tradition, yet despite their overall ‘snapshot’ composition, the transformation of media results in an ambiguity to these notionally familiar scenes. That the drawings themselves are often a composite of several source photographs further underlines the constructed nature of the images.

While the artist’s training as a carpenter may account in part for the attention to line, edges and planes, there is an economy to the work which defies such simple reasoning. Blocks of pure colour, palette shifts away from the merely naturalistic, areas of paper left raw, and expanses of flattened space, all combine to create an abstraction which recalls a range of Western art historical references. The apparent sophistication of Pootoogook’s images causes them to transcend any attempt to label or classify within generic assumption and thereby thoroughly resist our impulse to conveniently locate them within conventional aboriginal practice. While focusing on the commonplace, the artist’s work shifts our perception of the factual; understated, deliberate restraint foiling any tendency toward the grandiose or heroic.

The exhibition features a number of images representing northern architecture, a theme that is especially important to Pootoogook. In some cases, works such as Burnt Garage (2011) show a modern structure in barren northern landscapes, countering any romantic reading in its straightforward honesty, while serving as poetic testament to daily human resilience. In other works, Pootoogook focuses on the rectangular forms of doors, steps and exterior walls, revelling in their formal clarity and abstract elegance. Through the Window (a) Low Hill Could Be (2008), Apartment #342 (2010) and Reflections (2011) present images of windows, at once smart and knowing in their pictorial reference to surface, framing, viewing and the picture plane itself. Simultaneously they convince as actual representations of glass, wood and metal.

First Air, The Airline of the North (2011), Calm Weather and 3 Ribs of Whale (both 2012), all similarly depict forms in the landscape, their shapes emerging from the white or black of the paper itself as a material suggestion of snow and rock. Respectively these drawings show the fin of an airplane, the horizon of sea and land, and skeletal remains, and yet each hovers between the figuration suggested by their titles, a depiction of light and shadow, and a formal series of marks and gestures on the paper ground.

There is stillness to much of Pootoogook’s drawing that suspends any sense of time despite the clearly contemporary nature of the imagery. The notion of a captured moment can be seen in pieces such as Long After Midnight (2010) the transitional nature of the world in which we all live suggested by the cabin, perhaps abandoned, against the evening sky. The artist’s work can be seen to evoke a time passing, the day’s turning, retrieving it for generations to come but signifying a continual state of flux, a fundamental understanding of the inevitability that the structures we inhabit and the lives we lead will undoubtedly be outstripped by the landscape that surrounds us.

Off-site a specially printed version of a drawing of the landscape is presented large-scale at Yaletown-Roundhouse Station, its physicality altering as light changes throughout the day, its imagery deliberately playing with and gaining meaning from the specificity of the site.

The project at Yaletown-Roundhouse Station, Canada Line is presented in partnership with the Canada Line Public Art Program – IntransitBC.





Exhibition Bulletin





Itee Pootoogook  


Related Event

This series invites cultural and critical producers to present thoughts and ideas rooted in their own interests and practices, and invites audiences to join in the conversations that will explore relevant contemporary issues, theories, ideas and culture.

In response to the exhibition Itee Pootoogook, Buildings and Land, Crosby will discuss some aspects of her PhD research, which focuses on the formation of Aboriginal cultural production in urban spaces in Vancouver, B.C., for Native and non-Native publics; these include diverse forms of performativity, the display and sale of Aboriginally produced objects, and urban community supports by well-known First Nations artists through their association with new Aboriginal social organizations.

Marcia Crosby is currently completing her PhD in the Department of Art History and Visual Culture, UBC, and also works as an independent scholar. Crosby has a BFA in Fine Arts and English Literature, and an MA in Art History, UBC (1993), her MA thesis focused on the tension between representations of Aboriginal cultures and peoples in the public sphere, the work of Indigenous art and artists, and representations of Aboriginal title in B.C.

In addition to teaching literature and Native Studies at Vancouver Island University for 16 years, she has worked as a researcher, reviewing Aboriginal programs in public institutions. Her current work as a PhD candidate at UBC, builds on the curatorial work completed for the exhibition and accompanying publication, Nations in Urban Landscapes (Contemporary Art Gallery in 1994 and which toured to Oboro, Montréal, 1996), and the more recent exhibition: Aboriginal art in the city: Fine and Popular (2008), which is one of several web projects produced through the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, as part of Ruins in Progress: Vancouver Art in the Sixties. More recently in 2012, she co-curated with Karen Duffek, The Paintings of Henry Speck: Udz’stalis at the Belkin Satellite Gallery, Vancouver.

Next in the Feedback series:

Kathy Slade
Tuesday, July 23, 7pm

Karol Sienkiewicz
Tuesday, August 20, 7pm


Feedback Talk | Marcia Crosby


Related Blog Posts



It is with deep sadness we at the Contemporary Art Gallery learn of the death of Itee Pootoogook. His exhibition here last year proved a highlight of our program, it success seen in the positive reception from critics and visitors alike. We remember him fondly through his work which lives on.

The CAG exhibited Itee Pootoogook in 2013 with the solo exhibition Buildings and Land and an off-site commission Sky At Night  at the Yaletown-Roundhouse Station, Canada Line. A selection of images from the exhibitions are seen above.
“His drawings of vernacular architecture in the North are daring in their simplicity, and his portraits of everyday activities, such as watching TV and fixing skidoos, are similarly unsettling in their apparent modesty and their claims about the sources and nature of Inuit art.”

– Lisa Gregoire, Nunatsiaq online




Related Blog Posts

Today, the CAG (and people across Canada) celebrate Nunavut Day, a day that commemorates the NLCA (the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement). The NLCA is the largest comprehensive claim settlement in Canada, and it marked the first time that the Canadian map has changed since 1949 (with the incorporation of Newfoundland and Labrador).

Nunavut Day is a day to celebrate arctic traditions and the northern way of life. As our current exhibition features Inuit artist Itee Pootoogook, we invite anyone interested in celebrating Nunavut Day in Vancouver to join us and experience his work.

While you might seek out Wikipediato learn more about Nunavut today, the listing doesn’t say much about their fine arts scene. There has been an accelerated change in artistic expression in the past 50 years as many modern Inuit artists react to the present and the wider, more accessible world. Today’s northern nunavut artist is not as isolated, and the work produced is more contemporary, but no less representative.

If you are unable to make it today to the gallery, be sure to visit us on our forthcoming English, French, and Spanish tours of the current CAG exhibitions.

As I was researching more about Nunavut Day, I learned that while the official languages of Nunavut are English and French, 8% of the population speaks neither English, French, nor Inuktitut (the primary language of Nunavut). Unfortunately, my language skills are limited to English and French, so to those remaining 8%, I say: Nunavut Quviahugvik (Happy Times Nunavut in Inuinnagtun!)


Aujourd’hui, le CAG (et les personnes à travers le Canada) célèbrent la journée Nunavut qui commémore l’ARTN (Accord sur les revendications territoriales du Nunavut). L’Accord est le plus important règlement de revendications territoriales au Canada, et il a marqué la première fois que le plan canadien a changé depuis 1949 (avec l’incorporation de Terre-Neuve et Labrador).

La journée du Nunavut est une journée pour célébrer les traditions arctiques et la vie nordique. Comme notre exposition actuelle présente l’artiste inuit Itee Pootoogook, nous vous invitons à célébrer la journée du Nunavut à Vancouver avec nous et à découvrir son travail.

Alors que vous pourriez rechercher Wikipedia pour en savoir plus au sujet du Nunavut aujourd’hui, l’article ne dit pas beaucoup à propos de leur beaux-arts. Il y a eu un changement accéléré dans les expressions artistiques dans les 50 dernières années et nombreux artistes inuits modernes réagissent à l’actualité et à le monde plus accessible. Ces artistes d’aujourd’hui n’est pas aussi isolé, et le travail qu’ils produisent est plus contemporain, mais non moins introspective.

Si vous n’arrivez pas à venir aujourd’hui à la galerie, n’hésitez pas à nous rendre visite à nos visites guidées à venir en anglais, français, et espagnol de les expositions au CAG.

Comme je faisais des recherches au sujet de la journée du Nunavut, j’ai appris que même si ses langues officielles sont l’anglais et le français, 8% de la population ne parle ni anglais, ni français, ni l’inuktitut (la langue principale parlé au Nunavut). Malheureusement, mes compétences linguistiques sont limitées à l’anglais et le français (rouillée), donc à ceux qui tombent au 8%, je dis: Nunavut Quviahugvik (temps heureux Nunavut!)


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