DEUX NATIONALISMES? TWO NATIONALISMS?
Greg Curnoe and Serge Lemoyne
Curated by Carl Johnson
Runs until November 15
Nickle Arts Museum
"Which nation do you want to be separate from, Quebec or the U.S.?"
Seen from the perspective of good old alienated Alberta, and on the other side of September 11th, this question seems nostalgic at best or, depending on who you talk to, downright obscene.
Twenty-five years ago, however, when London, Ontario artist Greg Curnoe posed this question in painted bold text in his work National Referendum Question, it tapped directly into a fervent discussion of nationalism occurring throughout Canada.
Deux Nationalismes? Two Nationalisms? is both the title of the Nickel Arts Museums exhibition curated by Carl Johnson, and the question he asks as a way of considering the paradoxical relationship between the work of the late artists Curnoe (London, Ontario) and Serge Lemoyne (Quebec).
For both artists, its impossible to separate their work from their political sensibilities, based in opposition to an oppressive, dominant political ideology. Curnoes Mariposa Ten Speed combined his ongoing obsession with bicycles with his political stance. A meticulously painted portrait of his bike, complete with written technical jargon, includes a call (in French) to close the 49th parallel.
Similarly, Lemoyne's two paintings Boum Boum and Le Gros Bill, pay homage to a tradition of abstract painting in Quebec, but also the bond between sports and political identity exemplified by the fervent idolization of the Montreal Canadiens, especially players such as "Boum Boum" Geoffrion and Jean Beliveau. One visitor to the gallery remembers the intense outrage of a stadium full of Canadiens fans when Maurice "Rocket" Richard was suspended leading to a riot. This was one of the first sparks igniting the tensions of the Quebec national sentiment.
Referencing another contentious national icon, Johnson suggests former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeaus maxim "reason over passion" as a way of considering their distinct practices. Text figured strongly in both artists works, but where Curnoes text was based in graphic conventions and intellectual theory, Lemoyne was more spontaneous.
Dimanche 6 Aout is believed to be Lemoynes immediate reaction to Trudeaus repatriation of the Constitution, without the consent of Quebec. Painted on paper, the piece calls for the abolition of the "Feddal" regime by the national assembly of Quebec. The shorthand feddal could be read as federal or feudal, a tension intended by Lemoyne.
Another wall in the gallery is devoted to artists practising in Calgary in and around the same time, such as Chris Cran and Ted Godwin. In contrast to Lemoyne and Curnoe, these works are strikingly apolitical. I would have liked this wall to include work by local artists such as John Will or Don Mabie, whose consideration of identity politics in particular Mabies Dadaist and anti-capitalist practice are closely aligned with Curnoes. Mabie even attended a curling match with Curnoe, and you dont get much more Canadian than that.