If Ian Thom’s Challenging Traditions (2009) flew under the traditional book news radar, Whitelaw, Foss and Paikowsky’s The Visual Arts in Canada: The Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press, 2010) did not, appearing on the last page of this morning’s Globe and Mail’s “Focus & Books” section, under the redundant headline: “One hundred years of fine Canadian art.”
Any book so titled is of interest, if only because the idea of a Canadian art has been in decline since the 1980s, and because, as Roy Arden nicely pointed out in the accompanying essay to his 2003 Supernatural: Neil Campbell & Beau Dick exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery, Canadian art today is art made by First Nations artists.
Not that you would know that from Iris Nowell’s review, focused as it was on “high points – admittedly, subjectively, mine.” Indeed, the only mention of art made by First Nations artists is an allusion that apears in one of those “high points,” a chapter on Emily Carr (the other was on Paul-Emile Borduas and the Automatistes): “Of great interest is [Gerta] Moray’s account of Carr’s influence on Canada’s West Coast ethnocultural art history.”
I am not even going to begin to unpack that bit of nonsense. Nor am I going to endorse a book that, based on its review, does not even approach the period where the idea of a Canadian art, like Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s cancellation of the Foreign Investment Review Board (the first thing he did upon taking office in 1984), is no longer part of the conversation. But I will look for this book next time I am out. And if I find it, of course I will peek inside.