Kingston: Institutions and Collections

Phannel Toussiant - National gallery of Jamaica, Devon House (rgb)

Phannel Toussaint – National gallery Ballroom, Devon House (1980), Collection: NGJ

Here is another feature on the Kingston – Part 1: The City and Art exhibition:

As we speak of “crossroads” and opportunities, we have to recognize that Kingston is also the centre of cultural infrastructure in Jamaica. This includes the two main visual arts institutions, the Edna Manley College and the National Gallery of Jamaica, and several major corporate art collections. Jamaica’s main private art collections are also located in Kingston. This Kingston-centeredness is slowly changing as governmental and corporate authorities as well as other private interests have been employing strategies to de-centralize the infrastructural dominance of Kingston. The 2014 establishment of the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, which houses the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Montego Bay branch National Gallery West, is one such example. That being said, this section of the exhibition acknowledges a selection of those Kingston-based entities that have been key pillars for the development of visual art practice and promotion in Jamaica, and have also contributed to urban development and renewal.

Devon House

Sidney McLaren – Devon House (1979), Collection: NGJ

The Institute of Jamaica, which was established in 1879, is the oldest cultural institution in Jamaica and has been pivotal in the development of national art exhibition programming and art educational opportunities, especially from the 1930s to the present. The National Gallery of Jamaica has its origins in the pioneering art collecting and exhibition programmes of the Institute and presently operates as one of its divisions. Established in 1974 at Devon House on Hope Road and then relocated to the Roy West Building on the Kingston Waterfront in 1982, the National Gallery of Jamaica functions as the custodian of carefully developed collections of Jamaican art, representing more than ten centuries of artistic history in our country. Other Institute of Jamaica divisions that have been involved in the visual arts are the Junior Centre and the National Library of Jamaica, before the latter attained autonomy. The Junior Centre hosted Edna Manley’s seminal free adult art classes that started in 1939 and served as a meeting place for the members of the emerging nationalist school, and it continues to offer children’s art programmes today.

Whitney Miller - Little North Street (rgb)

Whitney Miller – Little North Street (1963), Collection: Edna Manley College

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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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2010 National Biennial: Silver Musgrave Medalist Gaston Tabois

The Jamaican Intuitive painter Gaston Tabois in 2010 received a Silver Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica, the NGJ’s parent organization. As has become customary for artists who have been awarded Musgrave medals, the 2010 National Biennial includes a special tribute exhibition of his work. Below is the citation for Gaston Tabois’ Silver Musgrave medal.

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

The Institute of Jamaica recognizes Gaston Tabois for outstanding merit in the field of Art.

Born in Trout Hall, Clarendon in 1924, Tabois’ early years were spent on his parents small farm in the village of Rock River, a few miles from Chapelton, where as an only child he received the full attention of a doting mother who instilled in him a sense of order, discipline and of pride in completing every set task with a maximum of constructive effort. The late Gloria Escoffery, author of a memorable account of Tabois’ journey as an artist, adds other early lessons from his mother:

Today Tabois has his mother to thank not only for the moral
standards she set for him…, but also for the example of those nimble
fingers as they brought to life the intricate designs she embroidered
on the bridal gowns of Rock River belles (…) without realizing that
he was learning, Tabois came to understand the importance of
planning, of careful craftsmanship, of giving thought to the
materials, or ground on which one worked, the tools and medium
one selects for a particular job.

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2010 National Biennial: Silver Musgrave Medalist Gene Pearson

The Jamaican ceramicist Gene Pearson in 2010 received a Silver Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica, the NGJ’s parent organization. As has become customary for artists who have been awarded Musgrave medals, the 2010 National Biennial includes a special tribute exhibition of his work. Below is the citation for Gene Pearson’s Silver Musgrave medal.

Installation view - Gene Pearson exhibition in 2010 National Biennial

The Institute of Jamaica recognizes Gene Pearson, O.D., for outstanding merit in the field of Art.

Ceramicist and sculptor Gene Hendricks Pearson was born in 1946 in St. Catherine, Jamaica. He attended the Jamaica School of Art; now the Edna College of the Visual and Performing Arts, where he studied under Jamaica’s Master Potter Cecil Baugh and was one of the School’s first graduates with a diploma in ceramics in 1965. He subsequently taught at the Jamaica School of Art, for some eighteen years, and has also taught ceramics at the Calabar and Vere Technical High schools. At present, he works exclusively as a studio artist and divides his time between Jamaica and California. A keen cultural entrepreneur, he recently opened a gallery in New Kingston – the Gene Pearson Gallery – where he sells his ceramic and sculptural work.

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The National Biennial: A Catalyst in the Development of Jamaican Art

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On December 12, the National Gallery of Jamaica will open the 2010 National Biennial, the fifth edition since the biennial was established in 2002. The National Biennial is the successor of a long tradition of national exhibitions in Jamaica, which dates from 1938, when the first All Island Exhibition of Art and Craft was held at St George’s Hall in Kingston. This exhibition was a private initiative by members of the nationalist intelligentsia. The Institute of Jamaica took over the baton in 1940, when it began to stage its annual All-Island Exhibitions. In 1968 the Institute of Jamaica also established the annual Self-Taught Artists exhibition, which ran concurrent with the older exhibition for several years, but featured work by amateur and self-taught artists, while the All Island Exhibition became the domain of the professional artists. The two exhibitions were merged into a single exhibition, the Annual National Exhibition when the National Gallery, which started operations in 1974, took over responsibility for the major annual art exhibitions that had previously been staged by its parent organization, the Institute of Jamaica. The Annual National Exhibition was held annually from 1977 to 2001 and is thus the immediate precursor of the National Biennial.

The decision to move from annual to biennial in 2002 was motivated by a number of factors but two stand out: we wished to give participating artists more time in between these national exhibitions to produce significant work suitable for an exhibition of this caliber and we also needed to make space in our programmes for exhibitions that provide much-needed alternate perspectives on Jamaican art and a greater diversity of curatorial perspectives, such as the guest-curated Curator’s Eye series and the Young Talent series, which features the work of some of Jamaica’s most promising young artists. Continue reading