Andrew Hunter may be moving to a job at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, but he says his heart is still firmly planted in Hamilton.
Hunter was the curator of the Art Gallery of Hamilton from 1992 to 1994. Since then, he has worked on a number of projects, including a collaborative creative research program called DodoLab in Hamilton.
On May 1, he takes over as curator of the Canadian Art Department at the AGO. Matthew Teitelbaum, the AGO’s director and CEO, said in a statement that Hunter has the right combination of leadership and expertise to create compelling art experiences for a variety of audiences.
That expertise has been years in the making. Born and raised in Hamilton and building his reputation here, Hunter has been an active part of the city’s artistic community.
He has more than 20 years of experience in the field, holding curatorial positions at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, as well as the Vancouver Art Gallery, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, and many other galleries and institutions. Hunter has taught locally, and given lectures and exhibited globally.
Despite this, Hunter says Hamilton is a huge part of his life and has defined who he is.
“It’s a very resourceful city; it’s a very resilient city,” Hunter says of Hamilton. “It’s still very much rooted in that long history of a working community. People make things. People do things. And that informs the artist community here — it certainly informed my career.”
Having travelled extensively, Hunter says Hamilton is known for its incredible upward momentum in the arts. People have constantly expressed their surprise at how Hamilton’s artistic community has flourished in recent years.
This energy and momentum is key to what Hunter is planning to do at the AGO.
“I think there’s a sense, a bit, that the momentum and the energy around the Canadian collection needs to be re-energized,” Hunter explains.
Hunter says he worries that some galleries are too detached from important issues. He says art should have a key role in instigating conversations, and one critical conversation that people are having is the idea of building the Canadian narrative.
“Art and culture have contributed and have been defined by that conversation for years,” says Hunter. “The AGO has a significant and lead role to play in both contributing to and being present in, but also – as in the past – leading some of that conversation.”The Passenger Pigeon Hunt, by Antoine-Sébastien Plamondon, was painted in 1853. Supplied
During his interview for the curatorial position, Hunter says he chose to speak about a specific 1853 painting in the AGO's Canadian collection, “The Passenger Pigeon Hunt” by Antoine-Sébastien Plamondon. The painting features a group of young men holding dead passenger pigeons, which are now extinct. Hunter explains his concern about declining biodiversity in the world and says art should be engaging with those big issues.
“We talk about the significance of works of art, but we can also talk about bigger issues that impact society today,” Hunter says.
His interest in biodiversity and using creative research methods is reflected in DodoLab, a collaboration he started with his colleague Lisa Hirmer. The collaboration is about using art, design and creative critical tools to understand challenges that organizations and communities face.
“DodoLab was for me, and is for Lisa, about really putting those creative tools out there and saying art is more than just a show,” says Hunter. “More than just a gallery. It’s also something that needs to happen out in the community. It needs to contribute to the dialogue in communities.”
Ultimately, Hunter says these ideas will influence what he plans to do at the Art Gallery of Ontario. He also stresses the fact that he still plans to live in Hamilton and continue contributing to the local artistic community. One of his formative experiences happened at the Art Gallery of Hamilton early in his life.
“The initial impetus for approaching museums and collections with a narrative approach comes from my grandmother,” Hunter recalls. “When we used to go to the gallery and look at objects, and look at the art, we didn’t read labels. It wasn’t educational in that way. It was more her encouraging me to tell stories.”