Footprints of Expo ‘67 Retraces Defining Moment in Canada’s and Glendon’s History
Glendon Gallery’s final exhibition for 2007 is an interesting juxtaposition of the “then and now” kind, displaying the work of three Canadian artists who contributed their work to Expo ‘67 forty years ago, and tracing their artistic trajectory to the current day.
Footprints of Expo ’67 started out as a historical retrospective for Canada as well as for Glendon. The brainchild of Glendon economics professor Rafael Gomez, shared with graduate research assistant Kirsten Greer, the original concept was to draw parallels of events and developments over the forty years that have elapsed since the opening of Expo and of Glendon.
Eventually, the accumulated artifacts – Expo passports, programs, catalogues, pins, scarves, even a souvenir tray showing the most prominent pavilions – were displayed in the glass cases at the entrance to Frost Library. But the focus of the project shifted exclusively to art, inviting Canadian artists Ann Roberts, David Sorensen and Tony Urquhart to display some of their work, ranging from the time of Expo to the present. It is important to note that these artists have also completed highly successful academic careers, providing a further link to Glendon as an educational institution.
Expo ’67 (also known as Man and His World) was a ‘coming of age’ for Canada, welcoming the countries of the world, their art, crafts, foods, fashions – their culture - to this country for the first time. Long before the age of multiculturalism, this mix brought excitement and exoticism, and offered Canadians a unique opportunity to experience it first-hand. Against this colourful background, Canada also had a first chance to define itself and its aspirations for the future. That youthful optimism was also characteristic of a brand new institution at the time: bilingual liberal arts Glendon College – a reflection and representation of what Canada was striving to be, a place of excellence, acceptance and collaboration towards a great future.
Gomez, not yet born at the time, often heard his parents talk about the impact Expo had made on them. “They were new immigrants from Spain”, said Gomez, “and Expo allowed them to find a Canadian identity, which meant the world to them.” He never forgot their enthusiasm.
The artists with their curator, left to right: Ann Roberts, Tony Urquhart, Kirsten Greer and David Sorensen
Gomez’ idea was developed in collaboration with research assistant Kirsten Greer, and Glendon Gallery’s Marc Audette and Martine Rheault. The result is a fascinating collection of sculptures, ceramics, paintings and drawings, imaginatively curated by Greer herself, currently working on her PhD at Queen’s University (Kingston). “As a historical-cultural geographer, I was interested in how objects bring people back to specific places and experiences”, said Greer. “Through their work, these three artists returned to some of their early experiences and childhood memories, which clearly emerge from the art they have displayed.”
The three participating artists described the late sixties as a time of great optimism and many opportunities, when Canada was ready to define itself in art. It is interesting to note that all three have produced sculptures as well as drawings and paintings. Their careers and accomplishments are detailed on the Glendon Gallery’s website.
A native of Vancouver, B.C., David Sorensen’s work reflects his deep connection to nature: mountains, water, and a lifelong fascination with horizons. His early large stone sculptures were followed by colourful, abstract canvases, and a series of snowy landscapes in understated wintry shades, which are reminiscent of works by Canadian painter David Milne. The Glendon exhibition also includes some of his beautiful black-and-white ink drawings on rice paper, portraying hills and mountains in the style of the Japanese masters.
Born in Durban, South Africa, Ann Roberts migrated to Canada with her geologist husband in 1960. She has had a lifelong, successful career as a ceramic sculptor, contributing to numerous exhibitions and museum collections. Her childhood associations of water, represented as female in African cultures, inform many of her sculptures, such as Floating Woman and Ice Floe with Immigrant Fruit, both exhibited at the Glendon Gallery. “The theme of survival runs through my work, but is most clearly visible in the River Riders series”, said Roberts. “The displacement of peoples, ethnic brutality and the intransigence of life were a visible part of growing up in South Africa.”
Tony Urquhart was born in Niagara Falls, Ont. Initially a painter and later a sculptor, Urquhart was a pioneer of abstract art in the 1950s and 1960s, whose work evolved toward the creation of multidimensional pieces which combine elements of the surreal, the mythic and the symbolic. For some time, he focused on creating articulated boxes of great diversity. The Glendon exhibition includes a wonderful, quirky example called Pile of Rocks 2000-2001, a magic castle of a box with doors opening in unexpected ways: a mixed media relief of oil on wood, with rocks. His Histoire naturelle (oil on canvas, 1980), also on display at Glendon, shows a large, old-fashioned armoire full of artifacts reminiscent of provincial museums in the French countryside: stuffed birds, snakes in formaldehyde, old crockery. Histoire naturelle evokes sights and smells which take you back in time and place, a parallel to Proust’s first bite of a ‘madeleine’ in his Remembrance of Things Past. Urquhart’s output also includes photo collages, watercolours, pen-and-ink drawings, and large oil paintings of landscapes with Gauguin-like colours. At the centre of Urquhart’s body of work is his focus on “memories of place and people, and a longing to be one with the world of nature.”
Setting the background to the exhibition was the continuous screening of the official video of Expo ’67, interspersed with the home video made by Rafael Gomez’ family – a charming touch, further enhanced by the presence of Gomez’ mother who was clearly touched and enthusiastic about this project.
Opening night on November 27th welcomed a record crowd of Glendon community members, as well as alumni and other visitors, some of whom travelled from far in order to attend. There was a buzz of eager discussions, reconnections, discoveries. Why did this exhibition attract so much attention? Clearly, for many of those present this was a trip back on memory lane, revisiting wonderful memories and reliving a time of great aspirations. For the students who attended, this was a window into their country’s history, a widening of their understanding of Canada’s and, with it, Glendon’s youth.
Footprints of Expo ’67 is at the Glendon Gallery until December 21st. For gallery hours, location and information about upcoming exhibitions, please visit their website: www.glendon.yorku.ca/gallery .
This article was submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny