AT THE GALLERY
What: Denyse Thomasos: Odyssey
Where: Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 1040 Moss St.
When: December 11 to March 13
Admission: $13 (adults), $11 (students and seniors)
An art exhibition the size and scope of Denise Thomasos: Odyssey, which contains more than 50 pieces, some nearly 20 feet long, were never going to go unnoticed. But the showcase of works by the famous Trinidadian-Canadian painter made its way to the Art Gallery of Victoria with far more drama than expected.
“There is always something different at every exhibition,” said Stephen Topfer, Head of Collections and Exhibitions at AGGV. “I’ve been in the business for 30 years, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, something new is going to happen.”
The original start date of Denyse Thomasos: Odyssey was November 27, but that was pushed back at the last minute (more on that later) to December 4. Other delays (more on that later too) have anticipated this opening until December 11th. at the AGGV during the pandemic finally opens today, and will remain in place until March 13, 2022.
The forces working against the organizers went through several stressful weeks of preparation. From a staff shortage at Gallery Victoria and layers of strict procedures delaying COVID-19 protocols, to a broken goods lift inside the main building on Moss Street, nothing about the installation of this exhibition did not go as planned. Add to this list several bouts of extreme weather in November that brought many parts of the province to a standstill, creating a veritable storm of problems for AGGV.
“It would otherwise have been a normal traveling exhibit,” Topfer said. “But at some point you start to think it was meant to be a challenge all along.”
Denyse Thomasos: Odyssey is on loan from the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, which co-curated the exhibition with Toronto’s Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery. The work of Thomasos, who died suddenly in 2012 at the age of 47 following a routine medical examination, is rarely presented on this scale, which required special transport via trucks equipped with security measures, including air conditioning, to protect multi-million dollar contents. inside.
Heavy rain and its aftermath blocked the path of the cargo truck carrying the art to Victoria last month, leaving the driver stuck with the truck in Golden, British Columbia, for several days. The truck was eventually driven back to Calgary, where the driver reassessed his situation. He eventually mapped out a route across the United States, to avoid fallout from the floods in the province. When he arrived in Vancouver, he faced ferry cancellations.
AGGV chief preparator Ali Khan, who is believed to have played a key role in the installation, was on leave with a newly arrived baby when the paintings arrived. An additional problem: the gallery’s freight elevator was out of service, so the art could not be unloaded using the loading dock. It went through the main public entrance, that is, until the biggest crate of cargo got stuck going through the entrance doors to the gallery. “We had four or five employees trying to dislodge him,” Topfer said.
“There are a number of very large and spectacular pieces in the show, and they required equally large and spectacular boxes.”
The 600-pound crate was wedged through the doors on a specially cut piece of coroplast, until it could be placed on a dolly and rolled into the gallery space. Being out of a few key staff members in the age of COVID-19 hasn’t helped matters. “We were using our administrative assistant and building manager, all kinds of people to help us out,” Topfer said with a laugh.
The larger exhibit was easier to maneuver, but required more manpower. The canvas, nine feet wide and over 17 feet long, had been taken out of its frame and rolled up for transport; it was accompanied by a “stretcher” which allowed Topfer to reframe it and hang it once the painting was inside the building. The process took two days, Topfer said. “It’s the biggest painting I’ve ever hung in this building. It could only arrive rolled up.
Denyse Thomasos: Odyssey definitely worth all that effort. The artist’s work – sociopolitical in nature, as it explores racism, slavery and the industrial influence of both – is gaining momentum across the country and has been appreciated both critically and at auction ever since. his death (The catalog that accompanies the exhibition features a 1,300-word Essay on Thomasos by two-time Giller Prize-winning Victorian writer Esi Edugyan.) The legacy of Thomasos, who studied at the University of Toronto and Yale School of Art, then taught at Rutgers University in New Jersey, is deepening conversations about race and reconciliation long after his death.
Now that it’s open to the public, Topfer can rest easy until March, when the exhibit leaves the gallery walls and returns to the transport trucks heading for Toronto. Hopefully there is less stress associated with leaving than upon arrival, he said.
“All of this activity upset our well-ordered schedule. But we are anything but resilient in this sector.