The 2017 Canadian Biennial opens today at the National Gallery of Canada. The fourth of the Gallery’s Biennial exhibitions that present selected recent acquisitions of Canadian and Indigenous contemporary art, the 2017 edition also includes international artworks for the first time. The exhibition features more than 50 artists and more than 100 works covering a diverse spectrum of contemporary production from painting, sculpture, and photography to drawing, print-making, video and large-scale mixed media installations.
Running through 18 March 2018, the 2017 Canadian Biennial visualizes a current moment in art-making as viewed through the filters of the Gallery’s national collection and the research, travels and dialogues of curators working in the departments of Contemporary Art, Indigenous Art, and the Canadian Photography Institute. All of the works in the exhibition were acquired by the Gallery through purchase or donation between April 2014 and June 2017.
Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, Jonathan Shaughnessy, is the lead curator for the 2017 Canadian Biennial. He was also co-curator with Catherine Crowston, Executive Director and Chief Curator, Art Gallery of Alberta, and Josée Drouin-Brisebois, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Canada, for Turbulent Landings: The NGC 2017 Canadian Biennial.
The exhibition begins with an incisive yet comedic engagement with a past century of Western art-making as encountered through Kent Monkman’s 2015 video and mixed-media installation Casualties of Modernity (2015). Paintings by Mickalene Thomas and Cynthia Girard-Renard, a textile by Shannon Bool, and a large collage by Wangechi Mutu are also featured in the opening room of the exhibition.
Together, their works introduce numerous critical, political, aesthetic, and material threads that run throughout the exhibition. Highlights include Stan Douglas’ compelling six-hour meander into an Afrobeat jam session in Luanda-Kinsasha (2013), the late Kwakwaka’wakw artist, activist and hereditary Chief Beau Dick’s celebrated performative masks, Nick Cave’s enchanting Sound Suit (2015), borne from the horrors of racialized violence, to Latifa Echakhch’s sculptures and paintings that reconcile personal narratives against broader cultural or nationalistic norms and expectations.
The many Canadian, Indigenous and international contemporary artworks on view in the 2017 Canadian Biennial at the National Gallery of Canada offer forms of worldly engagement between Canada and the global histories within which the complex fabric of the nation is connected.