In Retrospect: 40 Years of the NGJ – Introduction

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As has become customary for all our exhibitions, we are publishing the text panels in the In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica exhibition. Here is the introduction:

When the National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ) opened its doors on November 14, 1974 it was the English-speaking Caribbean’s first national gallery, and forty years later it is the region’s oldest and largest national art museum. The recent addition of National Gallery West at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, has further added to its reach and size. Since 1974, the NGJ has held over one hundred and thirty exhibitions and established an encyclopaedic collection of Jamaican art. Through the process of amassing and exhibiting the art of Jamaica it has done more than preserve and display Jamaica’s artistic heritage. What the NGJ has truly excelled at is telling a story (‘the’ story, the NGJ has at times claimed) of Jamaican art, crafting the raw material of artists, artworks and anecdotes into a coherent narrative that resonates with how Jamaicans see and understand themselves in the world.

When the original two-hundred and sixty-two paintings and sculptures from the Institute collection arrived in 1974, the NGJ inherited a set of artworks but not a cohesive art history and its new Director/Curator, David Boxer, who joined the staff in 1975, embarked on articulating such an art history. What we now know about Jamaican art has been the product of dedicated research and, at times, fortuitous discovery, but still the process of compiling facts and perspectives into history is a storyteller’s art. This story has been told through our exhibitions and publications, through major donations, and even through the controversies that have swirled around the NGJ from its earliest years. It is a story about personalities, about nation building and competing interests and perspectives, and about articulating who Jamaicans are as a people.

The task we have set ourselves with In Retrospect: Forty Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica is to tell the story of that story, examining with a critical eye the role the NGJ has played in establishing how Jamaican art is understood. Since our acquisitions are an integral part of that story, the exhibition consists mainly of works from our collection, supplemented with a few loans and works that are presently in acquisition. For our examination of the NGJ’s history to be manageable, decisions had to be made about what to include and what to leave out. We do not claim that this exhibition provides an exhaustive overview of the NGJ’s history—this story, too, could have been told in a number of different ways—but we have sought to represent what we consider to be key events and developments.

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Jamaican Art Exhibition in Cayman

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The National Gallery of Jamaica is pleased to report that a exhibition of Jamaican art, Jamaican Art from the 1960s and 1970s, is presently on view at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands in Grand Cayman. The exhibition, which opened on Friday, March 21 to an enthusiastic capacity audience and continues until May 15, is the second Jamaican exhibition in the Cayman Islands that was brokered between the two country’s national galleries – the first one, an exhibition of contemporary Jamaican art, was held in 2004.

The present exhibition examines Jamaican art from around Jamaica’s Independence in 1962 to the politically eventful 1970s – one of the most culturally dynamic periods in Jamaican history – and consists of thirty works from the National Gallery of Jamaica Collection and two works from Cayman-based collections of Jamaican art. It includes later works by artists who were already established at that time, such as Edna Manley, Alvin Marriott, Albert Huie, David Pottinger and Carl Abrahams, and younger artists who emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Barrington Watson, Eugene Hyde, Karl Parboosingh, Osmond Watson, Judy Ann MacMillan, Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, Everald Brown, Gaston Tabois, Hope Brooks, George Rodney and Winston Patrick. The works were selected by NGJ Executive Director Veerle Poupeye and Acting Senior Curator O’Neil Lawrence.

“The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands is delighted host Jamaica Art: 1960s & 1970s from the collection of the National Gallery of Jamaica,” says National Gallery of the Cayman Islands Director Natalie Urquhart. “This exhibition marks an important international collaboration between NGCI and NGJ, and it is an opportunity to reflect and celebrate the long-standing social, cultural and economic relationships between our two countries.” The exhibition, which is one of several planned exchanges between the two national galleries, also reflects the NGJ’s present thrust towards greater regional engagement and visibility.

Presently on View: Selections from our International Collection

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Whenever our central and mezzanine galleries are not in use for our formal exhibitions, we mount selections of our permanent collection. We have just updated the display with selections from our International Collection, with a special focus on a group of works from the London Group. Here is the text panel for the London Group section of this temporary exhibit, which includes works which have not been on view for more than twenty years.

The London Group

These early London Group works were brought to Jamaica for exhibition by Edna Manley in 1937. Established in 1913 to contest the dominance of the Royal Academy and its conservative view on art, the London Group is one of the world’s oldest continuing artists’ collectives and continues to promote the work of contemporary artists working outside of institutional settings.

The London Group was an influential resource for Manley and a strong connection can be seen between the painting styles of its early members and the “Institute Group”, the collection of Jamaican artists that Manley herself was instrumental in cultivating. Manley joined the London Group in 1930, the same year as British sculptor Henry Moore. Both the Group’s representational approach and interest in Modernism made it a good fit for the Jamaican nationalist school as it looked for ways to picture a forward looking and confident nation.

Frank Bowling, whose large abstract work Maverick is also shown in this gallery, is a current member of the Group, having joined in 1963. Ronald Moody’s 1938 sculptural head Tacet is from the same period as many of the London Group works shown here. Though not a member of the Group, the Jamaican born Moody lived and worked in London since the 1920’s and it is there he became a sculptor of note.

Remember This: Tributes and Selections from the National Collection

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Having spent three months exhibiting a wide range of work produced in the last two years in the National Biennial, we at the National Gallery now turn our attention to history and memory. The current temporary exhibition honours those who are recently departed and brings back some of our Permanent Collection favourites.

In the last few months, the Jamaican artistic community has reeled from the deaths of three of our most long-standing, productive and prolific members; Gaston Tabois (d. Nov 20, 2012), Petrine Archer-Straw (d. Dec 5, 2012) and Fitz Harrack (d. Jan 10, 2013). To honour them, three mini tributes have been installed, showcasing their work. For the next few weeks, patrons will be able to see several of Tabois’ most beloved works (including Taino Cave Rituals - on loan from Michael Gardner), a display of a number of Harrack’s wood sculptures and his larger-than-life metal work North, South, East, West in Conversation. Both displays are accompanied by a text panel with a brief biography. In the case of Archer-Straw who was an artist, but also a curator and art historian, patrons will be treated to a small sampling of her art work, a display of a selection of her publications and an additional text panel that explains her work and its relationship to global and local art world trends.

The rest of the exhibition features works from our National Collection drawing on four themes: Pattern and Decoration, Postcolonialism and Religion, Depictions of Motherhood and the Intuitives. Longtime favourites of the Jamaican public such as Barrington Watson’s Mother and Child and Allan ‘Zion’ Johnson’s Peacock are back on display. However, there are also a number of rarely seen works such as Sherida Levy’s unusual Jamaican Madonna and J. McCloud’s Mother and Child.

Needless to say, the current exhibition offers something for everyone and complements our permanent exhibitions, which provide an overview of Jamaican art from the Taino the the late 20th century. School groups will benefit from the thematic focus of the current exhibition and families are encouraged to take advantage of our Last Sundays and other special events. Our more familiar visitors can engage with memories of friends passed and artwork long missed. We hope to see you soon!

In Memoriam: Gaston Lascelles Tabois (1924-2012)

Gaston Tabois – John Canoe in Guanaboa Vale (1962), Collection: NGJ

I put out my effort. Hopefully I’ll die very old having accomplished a lot of good for mankind.

Gaston Tabois, 1987

The National Gallery of Jamaica deeply regrets to announce that the Jamaican Intuitive artist Gaston Lascelles Tabois passed away earlier this week, on November 20, 2012.

Gaston Lascelles Tabois, circa 2010

Gaston Tabois was born in Trout Hall, Clarendon in 1924 but grew up in the small community of Rock River. He spent quite a bit of time on his parents’ small farm, but it was the solid work ethic that was instilled in him by instruction and example particularly that of his mother who insisted on the importance of him taking his educational opportunities seriously.

Gaston Tabois – Road Menders (1956), Collection: NGJ

His artistic talent was apparent from an early age as his elementary school teachers regularly tasked him with making charts for the classes. His dedication to self improvement saw him teaching himself Latin, Spanish, History and Mathematics but it was art that remained a constant in his life, even with his entry into the civil service.  Tabois eventually became the Acting Chief Draftsman in the Ministry of Construction but it was his artistic production that brought him national attention. As a self taught painter,he held his first solo show at the Hills Gallery in Kingston in 1955, where he was immediately hailed as one of the era’s most significant “primitive” painters. He continued exhibiting with the Hills Gallery for several years and his painting Road Menders (1956), which is now a prized part of the NGJ Collection, was originally shown there. Continue reading

Last Sundays: November 25, 2012

 

Join us on Sunday for our monthly Last Sunday opening hours, 11 to 4. The free tours and children’s activities will focus on our permanent collections, including the pre-twentieth century collections, the Edna Manley and Kapo Galleries and the AD Scott Gallery. Free admission + special discounts in our gift shop.