Select historical objects and artworks illustrate White origin myths in 'Conceptions of White' at Vancouver Art Gallery

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Select historical objects and artworks illustrate White origin myths in 'Conceptions of White' at Vancouver Art Gallery
Deanna Bowen, White Man’s Burden, 2022 (installation at MacKenzie Art Gallery, 2022), giclée prints on paper and selected works from the MacKenzie Art Gallery permanent collection, Collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery, Gift of the Artist, Photo: Carey Shaw.

VANCOUVER.- The Vancouver Art Gallery has opened Conceptions of White, a thought-provoking exhibition that examines the idea of Whiteness as a concept and a racial construct—an idea invented by humans to organize and enforce power relationships. Organized by the MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, and co-curated by John G. Hampton and Lillian O’Brien Davis, the exhibition examines the relatively recent idea of a distinctive “White race,” and the various ways in which this construction has shaped the modern world.

“Conceptions of White is the product of extensive research on the part of the curators and artists, and the resulting exhibition prompts thoughtful consideration of the show’s relevant themes,” said Vancouver Art Gallery CEO & Executive Director Anthony Kiendl, “This exhibition asks us how our history and contemporary moment have been built with the aid of mobilizing visual information, sometimes with very specific and effective ends. This exhibition contributes to the Gallery’s extensive history of presenting exhibitions that connect art to ideas in the realm of visual culture and social history. We believe the Gallery is a vital space for our public to engage with challenging ideas and to be a safer space for debate and learning.”

Collectively, the assembled artworks in Conceptions of White elaborate on the origins and effects of Whiteness. The exhibition establishes a timeframe which begins in ancient times and includes reproductions of historical artworks which figured within narratives about race in the 1700s and 1800s. Other featured artworks point to the ways that Whiteness has been prized within gallery and museum settings―in both the convention of the “white cube,” and within art movements such as minimalism. Many of the other pieces in the show are recent works produced within the last 10 years. These contemporary artworks explore the varied ways that visual signifiers—and specifically the colour white—contribute to racial identity and structural inequality.

Exhibition co-curator John G. Hampton expands on the thinking behind the project: “Western society has been built on top of the concept of a White identity. Whether it is the cultural mosaic or the melting pot, the blending of fair-skinned peoples from various cultural backgrounds into one unified monolith is not a natural state of things, it is an invention of the seventeenth century. Although racial categorization is an invented concept, it has very real consequences, many of which are there by design. As we take stock of our current cultural climate, these artists help us take on the important task of examining how we got here, the ongoing impacts of ‘race science,’ and the complex realities of present articulations of Whiteness.”

Conceptions of White features work by 15 artists, largely from Canada and the US, in a wide range of media including sculpture, photography, installation and video. The artists include Jeremy Bailey, Deanna Bowen, Jennifer Chan, Nicholas Galanin, Ken Gonzales-Day, Arthur Jafa, Ryan Kuo, Michèle Lalonde, Barbara Meneley, Robert Morris, Nell Irvin Painter, Howardena Pindell, Hiram Powers, Fred Wilson and Artist once known, after Leochares. Many of the works are being shown in Vancouver for the first time.

Organized and circulated by the MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, in partnership with Art Museum at the University of Toronto and curated by John G. Hampton and Lillian O’Brien Davis. Circulated with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Vancouver Art Gallery
Conceptions of White
September 9th, 2023 - February 4th, 2023

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