In Retrospect – Section 5: NEW ROUTES

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Here is the fifth major text panel in the In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica exhibition, which continues until November 15:

This section explores how the National Gallery has responded—and in many ways contributed—to the new directions that are currently emerging in Jamaican art, which is characterized by a bold contemporary outlook, a strong affinity with popular and online culture, a new, open-ended and more critical engagement with issues of Jamaicanness, and the use of various new media, including digital media.

The Gallery first positioned itself as a platform for the artistic development and emerging artists in the mid-1980s, with exhibitions such as the first Young Talent and Six Options: Gallery Spaces Transformed, both in 1985. There have been five Young Talent exhibitions since then, the most recent of which was staged in 2010, and in 2013 we staged New Roots, another major exhibition of young artists that built on the Young Talent concept. The Annual National exhibitions, which in 2002 became the National Biennial, while inclusive of all major trends in Jamaican art, have also been instrumental in encouraging experimentation and exposing new and emerging artists.

Six Options was the first exhibition of installation art in Jamaica and actively encouraged local artists to experiment more with media and formats. Dawn Scott’s popular installation A Cultural Object was acquired from this exhibition and is presently undergoing restoration. It will soon be available again for public viewing. However, Ebony G. Patterson’s Cultural Soliloquy (A Cultural Object Revisited) (2010), which was part of the Young Talent V exhibition in 2010, pays active tribute to this ground-breaking work and repositions Dawn Scott’s cultural critique in the contemporary Jamaican context. Continue reading

Last Sundays: September 28, 2014, featuring in Retrospect and Barre None

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The National Gallery’s Last Sundays programme for September 2014 is scheduled for Sunday, September 28, from 11 am to 4 pm, and will feature the In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica exhibition and a dance performance, titled Soulscaping, by the Barre None Dance Collective.

The In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica exhibition opened on August 31 and represents the first major event in the National Gallery’s 40th anniversary celebrations. In Retrospect tells the National Gallery’s story through its exhibitions and publications, through major donations, and through the debates that have surrounded the Gallery from its earliest years, with a special focus on the Gallery’s role in articulating how Jamaican art is understood. The exhibition consists mainly of key works from the Gallery’s collection and features a diverse range of artists from the 18th to the 21st century, including John Dunkley, Edna Manley, Ebony G. Patterson, Isaac Mendez Belisario, Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds, Albert Huie, Barrington Watson, Eugene Hyde, Vermon ‘Howie’ Grant, Karl Parboosingh, Leasho Johnson, Carl Abrahams, Robin Farqueharson, George Robertson, David Boxer, Laura Facey, Maria LaYacona, Petrona Morrison, Omari Ra, Cecil Baugh, Matthew McCarthy, Everald Brown, Norma Rodney Harrack, A. Duperly and Sons, Osmond Watson, Renee Cox, Marlon James, and Colin Garland.

The dance performance Soulscaping by the acclaimed and innovative Barre None Dance Collective, which will start at 1:30 pm, was choreographed by Oniel Pryce and the dancers will be Neila Ebanks, Sophia Mckain and Kayon Wray. Barre None has described the performance concept as follows: ‘The soul is the self, the “I” that inhabits the body and acts through it. Without the soul, the body is like a light bulb without electricity, a computer without the software, a space suit with no astronaut inside. With the introduction of the soul, the body acquires life, sight and hearing, thought and speech, intelligence and emotions, will and desire, personality and identity.’ The performance was choreographed for the National Gallery space and will interact with parts of the In Retrospect exhibition.

As is now customary for Last Sundays, admission to the NGJ will be free on Sunday, September 28, and guided tours and children’s activities will also be offered free of cost. Our gift and coffee shop will be open for business and contributions to the donations box are welcomed. Revenues from our shops and donations help to fund programmes such as the In Retrospect exhibition and our Last Sundays programming.

In Retrospect – Section 4: ALTERNATE TRAJECTORIES

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Eugene Hyde – Colonization II (1960, Collection: NGJ)

Here is the fourth major text panel from the present In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica exhibition, along with the more detailed text panels from the Ceramics and Photography sections.

This section explores some of the alternatives to and departures from the art-historical narrative and artistic hierarchies the National Gallery articulated in its early years. Some were readily accommodated by the Gallery, or actually came from within, while others came about as a result of external challenges but these course corrections have all added to the dynamic and diverse picture presented by the National Gallery’s collections and exhibitions today.

The hierarchies of Jamaican art had already been challenged before the National Gallery was established. The Contemporary Jamaican Artists Association (1964-74), which was established by Barrington Watson, Karl Parboosingh and Eugene Hyde, presented a challenge to the tenets and dominance of the nationalist school and advocated the professionalization of art and the development of individual and corporate art patronage. Most importantly, they wanted to be recognized as artists first, and as Jamaican artists second. While the National Gallery included these artists and others who similarly departed from the conventions of the nationalist school in its exhibitions and acquisitions from early on—a Parboosingh retrospective was for instance staged in 1975, the year he died—the ideas about art the Gallery articulated existed in lingering tension with those advocated by these artists, as was illustrated by the Intuitives controversy which was discussed in the previous section.

Petrona Morrison - Altarpiece 1 & 2 (1991, Collection: NGJ)

Petrona Morrison – Altarpiece 1 & 2 (1991, Collection: NGJ)

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In Retrospect: Section 3 – JAMAICAN ART 1922-1982

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Here is the third sectional text panel in the In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica exhibition, which continues until November 15.

The Jamaican Art 1922-1982 exhibition, which was a collaboration between the National Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, was the first and most ambitious survey of Jamaican art to tour internationally. The exhibition, which was curated by David Boxer and Vera Hyatt, consisted of 76 paintings and sculptures, many of which came from the NGJ Collection, although there were also loans from private and corporate collections. Between 1983 and 1985, it was shown at 11 venues in the USA, including the Inter-American Development Bank Gallery in Washington D.C., where it premiered, and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. It was also shown at the Hart House Gallery at the University of Toronto in Canada and the National Museum of Port-au-Prince in Haiti. The exhibition had its final showing at the National Gallery in 1986, on its return to the island.

As the title suggested, the exhibition provided an overview of sixty years of modern Jamaican art and it was accompanied by a catalogue with an introductory essay by David Boxer, which provided an overview of Jamaican art from the Taino to the early 1980s. This essay represented the culmination of the art-historical narrative the National Gallery had been articulating since its establishment in 1974 and remains as a standard text today. It covers most major aspects of Jamaican art history, the narrative rests on two pillars, both of which have been controversial: one is the pivotal role of Edna Manley’s 1922 arrival in the island as the symbolic start date of ‘true’ Jamaican art; the other is the central role given to the Intuitives, with John Dunkley (whose Banana Plantation (c1945) was featured on the catalogue cover and also serves as the lead image for this present exhibition) and Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds who were both given equal prominence to Edna Manley. Continue reading

In Retrospect – Section 2: SEMINAL EXHIBITIONS

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Here is the second sectional text panel from the In Retrospect: 4o Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica exhibition:

In the years following its establishment, the National Gallery staged three exhibitions that were instrumental in articulating a Jamaican art history:

Five Centuries of Art in Jamaica (1976) was the first major survey exhibition organized by the National Gallery, and included art from the 16th to the 20th century, in a first major departure from the Gallery’s original mandate to focus on the nationalist art that emerged from the 1938 uprising. The pre-twentieth century section of the exhibition did not include Taino art, because of the unavailability of significant artifacts in Jamaica at that time. It consisted entirely of colonial art, with no reference to any African-derived art forms from that period. This bolstered the underlying thesis, namely that Jamaican art had a longer history but that modern Jamaican art represented a necessary, nationalist reaction against the cultural repression of the colonial period.

The Formative Years: Art in Jamaica 1922-1940 (1978) documented the pioneers of the nationalist school. It was the first exhibition in which 1922 was used as the start date of modern Jamaican art—the three earliest art works included, Edna Manley’s Beadseller, Wisdom and Ape, each dated from that year—and the first to use the term Intuitive. In The Formative Years, David Boxer also refined his position on the relationship between pre-twentieth and modern Jamaican art and he wrote in the catalogue:

There is no painter, there is no sculptor from [before the twentieth century] we can point to and say: “This is a Jamaican artist; this is someone painting Jamaica and her people through Jamaican eyes.” Indeed, the true Jamaican artist is a product of the 20th century.

Five Centuries and The Formative Years also departed from the Gallery’s original narrow focus on ‘fine art,’ as in painting and sculpture, and included a few examples of photography, furniture design and, in Five Centuries, also ceramics. Continue reading

In Retrospect – Section 1: FOUNDATIONS

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We continue the publication of the text panels in In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica, with the text panel for the first section of the exhibition, which looks at the earliest beginnings of our collection:

When the National Gallery opened its doors in 1974, a significant part of the Institute of Jamaica’s art collection was transferred to the new organization. According to our records, this comprised 237 paintings and drawings and 25 sculptures which thus became the Gallery’s foundational collection.The initial transfer consisted of modern Jamaican art only, starting with Edna Manley’s Negro Aroused (1935), but a group of pre-twentieth century works was later also transferred, in 1976, which now forms the core of the National Gallery’s historical collection.

The artworks that were transferred to the National Gallery in 1974 not only says a lot about how the Institute of Jamaica went about its exhibitions and acquisitions—and most acquisitions were from exhibitions that were held at the Institute—but also helps to explain how the early National Gallery was conceptualized. Negro Aroused (1935) had been acquired by public subscription in 1937 as the first modern work of art to enter the Institute’s collection—its acquisition can be seen as the symbolic beginning of what later became the National Gallery. Before that, the Institute had acquired art mainly for its historical value, for instance for their portrait gallery, and furthermore made those decisions from a decidedly colonial perspective. This was challenged by the nationalist intelligentsia in the late 1930s, who pressured the Institute of Jamaica to become receptive to the emerging modern Jamaican school, and it is the resulting change in policy direction which generated the art collection that was eventually transferred to the National Gallery. The articles of association of the National Gallery mandated it to exhibit and collect the art that had come out of the 1938 uprising, which was a narrow and ultimately untenable mandate that was, as we will see in the next section, quickly challenged and expanded by its Director/Curator David Boxer, but it was consistent with the context in which its core collection had come about.

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