Olympic digital gallery showcases Canadian art

A digital art gallery that is part of the Cultural Olympiad associated with the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games has begun giving online viewers a taste of Canada's best contemporary artists.
The Masked Ball, by Canadian artist Aganetha Dyck, is a statuette portraying an 18th century chess game — augmented by bees. The work, created in 2006-08, is part of the first Code Screen 2010 exhibit. ((Peter Dyck/Aganetha Dyck) )

A digital art gallery that is part of the Cultural Olympiad associated with the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games has begun giving online viewers a taste of Canada's best contemporary artists.

CODE Screen 2010, which began at the beginning of September with a single exhibit, is rolling out online over the next six months.

Every two weeks a new gallery highlights work by Governor General's Award-winning artists such as Michael Snow, Alex Janvier and Kenojuak Ashevak.

"We're not suggesting that this is the definitive showcase of Canadian art," said Code Screen 2010's director, Rae Hull.

"It's rather that we could use digital platforms and the scope that it provides to put 100 works of art in front of many, many more eyeballs potentially than might walk through a single gallery."

Six curators with different backgrounds from across the country were asked to curate the 14 shows, each of which features 11 or 12 artists, including sculptors, painters and photographers.

While a Governor General's Award winner is a jumping off point for each exhibit, the curator then selects related work by other contemporary artists, Hull said.

"It's their discretion to select a work, be inspired by that, to come up with a curatorial theme and then to find other works of art and build an online group show around that work," she said.

A group of chairs, recalling human figures, tangle and jockey in the presence of spectacle. The 1988 work by artist Michel Goulet is part of curator Kate Armstrong's playful exhibit about groups. ((Ron Diamond/Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal))

Kate Armstrong, 37, an independent curator based in Vancouver, created the first exhibit, which gathers the work of 12 award winners.

"The process was to think of it in a traditional way, in terms of creating a curatorial theme," she said.

The show pulls together works such as Snow's Bees Behaving on Blue and Aganetha Dyck's Masked Ball in a slide show that viewers can control themselves.

"I wanted to take it a bit further and make it a bit playful and make it a group show about groups," Armstrong said.

She said she reflected on "the way we organize ourselves and the things that we do" and wanted to include some images referring to both sports and politics.

With an eye on the exhibit's connection to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, she included Kenneth Lochhead's painting of an Ottawa hockey team, titled The Juniors.

"It's very impressionist. You can't see the individuality of the players in this portrait," she said. "You sort of apprehend the portrait as a group and there's something a little bit abstract about this team formation … If you look at it closely you see the individuals, if you back up … you start to see them as a structure or a single entity working together."

Curators of later shows have taken up themes such as consumerism, if these walls could talk — which concentrates on Canadian architecture — and la lumière and la nuit (light and dark), Hull said.

The trick is finding what works in a digital environment, she said, as some art works have more impact than others in a still image online.

"It's been a process of exploration with the curators working with the medium to evaluate what really does work," she said.

Hull said the online galleries should find an international audience, in part because of the Olympic connection. The project is being supported in part by the Canada Council for the Arts, which hosts the Governor General's Awards.

Two exhibits, by Armstrong and a second focusing on aboriginal work by curator Donna Wawzonek have been posted and new exhibits will appear online every two weeks.