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The Spotlight on the Masters

Stephen Borys, Director and CEO, exhibition curator

There were many elements to consider when selecting the artwork for 100 Masters—including period, school, medium, and genre—all of which impacted the formation and character of the final list. From the start it was my intention to split the selection evenly between Canadian and non-Canadian works; among the loans there are fifty Canadian works and a combination of fifty European and American works. While the list includes paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, and some photography-based works, paintings lead the presentation. No artist is represented by more than one work (excluding pendants or multiples) with the exception of Alex Colville, who has two paintings. The one-hundred loaned artworks by the Canadian, European, and American artists span six centuries, from 1500 to 2010. Within this five-hundred year time frame, there is also a larger concentration of 19th  and 20th century works, as we planned to include primarily historical and modern works—or pre-contemporary works. The weighting of the exhibition in the earlier periods reflects the exceptional opportunity for the WAG to borrow important paintings that are rarely lent or that would not otherwise be available for loan.

The curatorial decision to focus on pre-contemporary works was also based on the WAG’s Centennial exhibition program, which launched with two major contemporary shows, Winnipeg Now and Creation and Transformation: Defining Moments in Inuit Art, and is concluding with 100 Masters: Only in Canada. Organizing a major loan exhibition ranging from the Old Masters to works of the 21st century presents many challenges, not the least of which is what a survey show can really accomplish in its coverage. Clearly it was not possible to address, let alone highlight, the important developments in contemporary art as represented by Canadian institutions. For that reason, only a small group of mainly Canadian contemporary pieces are included, often providing critical links within the overall presentation. Not surprisingly, this exhibition contains some of my favourite works, but many of these also turned up on the shortlists of the directors and curators who assisted in the final selection.

Michiel Sweerts, Flemish, 1618–1664, Self-Portrait with Skull, c.1661. Oil on canvas, 78.7 x 60.9 cm.
Gift of Alfred and Isabel Bader, 2004; 47-001. Lent by: Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario

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