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Making It New! (the big sixties show)

July 24, 1999 - October 10, 1999

AWE Gallery

Through the 1960s many Canadian artists were experimenting with new approaches to art that included constructions made from found objects, installations (as opposed to discrete objects), and performance art. While such artists as Iain Baxter, Micheal Snow, Joyce Wieland, and Greg Curnoe have received acclaim for their work of the 1960s, many others who made major contributions to the spirit of the decade are becoming forgotten. Making It New! (the big sixties show) includes works both by the better-remembered artists of the decade and by others whose work is in danger of being lost. With 87 works by over twenty artists and artist collectives from Halifax to Vancouver, the exhibition provides the first opportunity to consider Canadian avant-garde art of the 1960s in a national context.

Like the 1990s, the 1960s was a decade of radical change. A catch phrase, often repeated in articles in Canadian Art, was “Make It New!” That admonition was followed by art colleges, in which curricula and facilities changed; by publications (Canadian Art, renamed artscanada in 1967, had four different editors and underwent a series of changes in format); and even by the National Gallery of Canada which, towards the end of the decade, revised its programming so as to be more responsive to contemporary developments in Canadian and international art. However, if the 1990s are a period of contraction, the 1960s were a period of expansion. New civic galleries were built in Fredericton, Charlottetown, Saskatoon, and Edmonton. In cities across the country, artists banded together to open their own (non-funded) galleries at the same time that the number and sophistication of dealers’ galleries increased substantially. The budget fro the Canada Council, founded in 1957, grew as it developed and refined programs that supported the visual arts. Artists organized to establish the artists’ union, Canadian Artists Representation, in 1967. It was, in short, a dynamic and progressive decade in the history of our art.

During the 1960s, Canadian galleries were showing more work by American artists than at any previous time in our history; American magazines were readily available and lavishly illustrated, American or American-trained artists were filling positions in newly developed or expanding schools of art and university art departments, while young American citizens, seeking to avoid the draft, were moving to our cities; American artists and critics were also visiting Canadian cities and received unprecedented attention in the press. Nevertheless, by 1967 a nationalist movement was emerging that sought to address American cultural imperialism. At the same time the independence movement was developing in Quebec. The vigorous contemporary debate concerning national identity is represented in several works in Making It New! (the big sixties show).

A large portion of the works have not been exhibited since 1960s and many have been restored or reconstructed for the exhibition.

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