Offering, 1978, pencil
In 1978 or ’79, the director of the Dalhousie Art Gallery resigned. C. herself, who was on the gallery committee, was invited to become Acting Director, accepted on the understanding that it would be for no more than a year, and did a magnificent job.
The 4th Annual Drawing Show that she curated was exemplary, and gave a rich representation, for the first time in the series, to Nova Scotia artists, among them the very gifted Graham Metson.
She had a superb eye, and chose fearlessly. There were some large full-frontal nude portraits by Charlotte Hammond of males fixing cars, taking photos, and so forth. I’m sure Carol hoped that they’d be found provocative, and had her innocent-eyed reply ready (sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander, what was the problem?).
The show was refused funding by the Canada Council on the grounds that none of the artists except Alex Colville were good enough. Colville’s pieces were the weakest in the show.
She looked, she gazed, she discriminated (in the proper sense of that word).
She did not depend on the kind of crude historicity that, once having decided that this or that artist is “significant” or insignificant, knows that anything by the former will be worth attention and nothing by the latter will. She did not include any of her own drawings in the show.
She also introduced lunchtime talks and film-shows, and did other things to bring people back into a gallery that had not been much visited of late. Among other things, there was a large show of Mexican art sponsored, I think, by Rothman’s.
She enjoyed the work, enjoyed the chance to put some of her ideas into practice, enjoyed (again with a sense of irony) the fact that she was now treated with respect when she attended meetings with other gallery directors.
She was Somebody now, not a mere artist.
I think she even enjoyed the paperwork, or at least the business of seeing that things were done as sensibly and efficiently in the office as possible. And she got along well with her staff, and was able to deal effectively with senior members of the Dalhousie administration.
But she had, I know, no desire to continue in the job. It gave her no time for her own work, and the damp basement where the gallery and offices were housed was bad for her lungs. She felt increasingly the lack of an Art History Department at Dalhousie. And she was deeply hurt, I know, by the awareness that a whispering campaign had been mounted, to the effect that she had forced out the previous director in order to become director herself.
She was honourable and had behaved, in the proper sense of the word, disinterestedly, her eye, during the time of struggle, always on the problems in front of her—Dalhousie’s needs, the legitimate claims of local artists, the nature of the drawing collection that Dalhousie should be building up. After she left, a number of the policies that she established were continued. It hurt her very much to feel that she was perceived by various people across the country, who got their opinions from her adversaries, as a vicious person on the make.
She wasn’t just being paranoid here, either. I know that on one occasion, near the end of her tenure, Dalhousie’s president said something to her about having been pleasantly surprised by how well she had done, given what he had heard about her at the outset.
I’m sure she must have heard other things too that she didn’t impart to me. She tried not to inflict merely personal problems on me, as distinct from ones where serious intellectual issues were involved.
I might add that the power network that she had to cope with in fact or in her head,—the Art College’s inner circle, the University administrators, the Nova Scotian politicans and bureaucrats, the National Gallery, Canada Council, and Art Bank officials—was overwhelmingly male.
Possession, 1979, pencil