Afterword: Actual Size
In 1999, the Dalhousie Art Gallery mounted an excellent exhibition called A Century of Canadian Drawings. The hundred works in it, taken from the gallery’s permanent collection, ranged from detailed observations of natural objects to tasteful rows of near-identical small circles, and among them (an agreeable irony) were six from the exposition des refusées that Carol herself had curated, plus four of her own.
Not a single work was included that would not be considered a drawing in the conventional sense or senses of the term—in other words, no paintings, sculptures, weavings, assemblages, and so forth. These were works on paper, framed, and hanging on the wall, more or less at eye level.
No doubt money came into it. Some works are obviously cheaper to collect and house than others. But in principle, if some of those extra-drawing “drawings” were worthy of being exhibited in the past, then they were worthy of being collected (I do not know if they were) and exhibited now.
They did not, that is to say, cease to be drawings simply because of the passage of time—I mean, if they were correctly classified to begin with. And if they weren’t, then the apologetics involved were obviously faulty.
But would that be the verdict now? I doubt it. I imagine that we would be told that what was done was still valid as a doing, because that is what curators did then (and for all I know, still do).
But this privileging of rupture over development, and curators over everyone else, simply reduces the history of art to the history of fashion. And the history of fashion is a history of arbitrary decisions (hemlines are up, hemlines are down), and of sanctions, in one form or another, against individuals who don’t conform to the dictates from above, the dictates of art-bureaucrats.
But the show, as I said, was excellent, and displayed what could be called a principled ongoing extension and incorporation of types of drawing, and a silent dialogue in which all the works took their unaided chances equally on the walls in relation to each other.
In other words, the viewers were invited to concentrate on the works themselves, and not on the “mind” of the curator-as-art-hero, and to decide for themselves how successful and lastingly interesting the various works and styles seemed to them to be. Which is as it should be. “Art” is not some kind of Platonic essence, and things are not all equally good and worthy of deference by virtue of being classified as art and included in a gallery space.
When it comes to aesthetic judgments and aesthetic principles, as with other kinds, everything does not all come down to questions of power and “merely personal” prejudices.
Carol, I imagine, would have enjoyed the show.