We all surround ourselves with things that give us comfort and let’s be honest, we live in a consumerist society and all feel a bit of guilty pleasure every once in a while after purchasing certain things. For some it becomes an addiction of sorts, and our personal belongings become akin to a museum collection. This hard push for acquisitions would be a good way to describe the gallery holdings of late, with several works of art from important artists joining the vault every year. Unlike at home though, this collection is for the benefit of the entire community, province and nation, not unlike our exhibiting mandate.
Museum collections are varied and the public collections of individual galleries like the PAG often reflect the historic and contemporary artistic endeavors of its particular region. Our collections policy may have a regional focus, but does not exclude works of art from other regions which help to place the works created in this region within a provincial, national or international context. The policy allows us to seek out works of art specific to the region, either by subject matter or by artist, works can be sought out which relate in some way to the cultural fabric of society in the South Okanagan.
New additions to the collection must be considered carefully when considering the museum’s defined area of interest. Accessioning an object carries an obligation to care for that object in perpetuity and is a serious decision and therefore before a work is accessioned into the collection it must go through a formal, legal process. Final decision to accept an object generally lies with the museum's board of trustees. Once the decision has been made to accept an object, it is formally accessioned through a Deed of Gift and entered into the museum's catalog records.
Once accessioned into the collection, museum objects must be appropriately cared for. Museum storage conditions are meant to protect the object and to minimize any deterioration. This often means keeping objects in a stable climate, preventing exposure to pests, minimizing any handling and using only archival materials that will not deteriorate or harm the objects. Object safety also includes providing appropriate security, and planning for disasters and other threats, and making sure that museum staff are trained in proper handling procedures. The collection then becomes a public resource and is often used by historians, scholars, family members, other artists or interested individuals doing research. It is impossible to showcase the entire gallery holdings with over one thousands objects in our care, but it is our obligation, if not honour, to periodically roll out exhibitions from our collection. This exhibition will focus on works donated in the previous six years or so and will be a potpourri of contemporary and historical works byBritish Columbian artists.
Curators have long been considered the authority in their field, and so it is interesting to see what kind of work they collect and how it reflects upon their taste and point of view. When choosing art for the collection the curator typically looks at work singularly in comparison to choosing an exhibition of highlights where many things must be considered amongst them being the significance of each particular piece of art as it relates to another. The art must pass the curatorial standard of excellence and importance and it should have a sound provenance and its creator should have a strong exhibition history and be a contributor to the artistic fabric of the region, province or nation. The art produced by these artists goes beyond decoration, this is the art that tackles the tough issues such as war, environment, corruption, love, it is the art that comes with a message. It is what is defined as high art. High art comes with an elitist stigma and this is where it becomes tricky for the curator trying to balance exhibiting work deemed elitist in a socialist manner.
During the nineteenth century social commentators were discussing and defining the trends set apart by the elite classes from the bourgeoisie and the populace. The ideologies of ‘high’ or ‘elite’ art and culture versus those of ‘low’ art and culture were being defined and established around this time. The mass produced culture borne of industrialisation was a form of low culture for the working classes and it has endured since. It is thought the disruptive nature of the raw and uncultivated masses would interfere with politics and affect the social structure and order and that the social function of culture is to police this disruptive presence. This debasement of art and culture, an intellectually reduced culture, is a debasement of emotional life and the quality of living. The shift in culture has never been more complex with the advent of the internet and the modern audience has more tools to investigate the depth of understanding. However mainstream media continues to blur the lines of high art/low art concepts, in turn controlled to shape our consumption habits. Where does the modern curator draw the line? How does the curator separate and blend high from low, and does the modern day art museum shed the elitist stigma that has dogged it for centuries by doing so?
Thus begins the delicate dance between high art and low art; what is what and how it pertains to the gallery mandate to promote audience participation, education, artistic excellence and viewer appreciation. When making a distinction between high and low art we should think about the difference between art as a business venture and art as a product of the creative process. Art is typically something that is created and bought as part of the business of the art world, whereas creativity is something all people do at some point in their lives. As a result, popular and traditional forms of art now influence each other, therefore closing the divide between high and low culture. It is important then for today’s curators to differentiate the categories, or is it?
This complex relationship between art, the artist and the audience is reflected nowhere more clearly than in the galleries which display them, people will always want to see works in person. The recent shifting of subculture or mainstream culture into high culture has allowed contemporary curators to acknowledge these class differences and by blending them, modern museums are not only bucking the trend of art for the bourgeoisie but are also letting galleries become stewards for things like social justice and the environment. This makes art a powerful tool by enlightening people and fostering critical thought.
It is the artists that make the observation, and the gallery to share those insights and visual thoughts.
Our curator has done a brilliant job of late in engaging the local public with many tough and hard hitting exhibitions that challenge the status quo. This exhibition, while highlighting a half decade of collecting at the PAG, will also reflect the taste and intellectual leanings of our Curator. It will showcase some of the best art produced in the province during the twentieth century, it will challenge the notion of class distinctions by bringing it to the public domain, and it will inspire the viewer through the excellence of its creation. It must be exciting work being the curator of a gallery, and this exhibition will question the politics that affect the social structure and order while highlighting the accomplishments of those bearing the message. Art is a powerful tool and to wield it properly takes many years of practice, and this gathering of work by likeminded artists will attest to the notion of shifting cultural boundaries within a world where nothing ever seems to change at all.