Not boring art: Leonowens Gallery re-creates one punishing exhibit

GRACE KENNEDY
@gracekenn

The only art displayed in the entrance of the gallery is the pencilled words “I will not make any more boring art.”

The words are light; at first they are barely visible. Then, they emerge.

Long lists of repeated sentences; the phrase spiralling between blocks of letters. Some are written backwards, others sideways.

Some are in cursive, boxy printing, or determined capitals.

All were written on the walls of the NSCAD University’s Anna Leonowens Gallery on Monday, Jan. 18, in preparation for the recreation of John Baldessari’s 1971 exhibit. I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art.

“Some people went up as high as they could go” with their writing, said Melanie Colosimo, the gallery’s director.

“We did have a ladder earlier in the day when we weren’t open to the public, so people could go … (to) the ceiling of the gallery … and right down to the floor. And I could see last night that there were some people who actually wrote on the floor.”

Baldessari’s original 1971 exhibit was staged at the Anna Leonowens.

Although he likely never visited NSCAD, the California-based artist created an exhibit at the gallery.

Called his Punishment Piece, Baldessari dictated that NSCAD students write lines on the walls of the gallery.

Melanie Colosimo, gallery director, wanted to recreate Baldessari’s original Punishment Piece (Photo: Grace Kennedy)
Melanie Colosimo, gallery director, wanted to recreate Baldessari’s original Punishment Piece (Photo: Grace Kennedy)

“I can’t be there to take my self-imposed punishment but that’s o.k. since the theory is that punishment should be instructive to others,” Baldessari wrote in a letter to Charlotte Townsend, the then-director of the gallery.

“And there’s precedent for it – Christ being punished for our sins and think of all the others.”

The exhibit – coming soon after Baldessari had destroyed many of his landscapes and abstractions in disillusionment – was part of the conceptual art movement, which focused on ideas rather than aesthetics.

“It privileges the idea over the art object itself,” said Kate Walchuk, the exhibitions coordinator for the gallery.

“These people (artists) flocked here to be engaged in that particular kind of dialogue and make that kind of work,” she added.

“It was definitely a movement.”

The exhibit now at the gallery is part of a larger exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

The exhibition – named after and dedicated to Garry Neill Kennedy’s book The Last Art College: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1968-1978 – showcases many artists who worked with NSCAD between the late ’60s and ’70s.

The Last Art College exhibition has been three years in the works, and the Anna Leonowens has been an important part of putting it together.

As part of NSCAD, it has many archived materials from the period – and when the curator of The Last Art College suggested they recreate Baldessari’s original Punishment Piece, Colosimo jumped in.

“I was like ‘Why don’t we do it here? Why don’t we take that on because it was here originally,’” she said.

“The show is at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, but it’s about us, NSCAD. We’re neighbours. So we wanted to have some things that tied us together, the history of this place and the exhibitions.”

The Last Art College exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia runs until Apr. 3.

I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art runs until Jan. 30.

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