Permanent collections are complex and amazing things. The ways they are formed, presented, and interpreted all speak of choices—choices made one hundred years ago and yesterday. Whether an artwork was given to us by donation, or purchased, these choices express who we are, and crucially, who we want to be.
The Art Gallery of Hamilton is proud of its collection, while at the same time recognizing that there is still work to be done in accounting for the biases, omissions, and idiosyncrasies of our holdings. Although we aim to have old favourites on view, we are equally committed to bringing lesser-known works and the voices of contemporary artists to the fore, many of whom are grappling with current and pressing social issues. Given the challenge of properly balancing these concerns, and knowing that because of our limited space only a small percentage of the collection can be out of the vaults at any given time, what kind of decisions inform how we present the collection?
These are the questions we ask ourselves when deciding what to exhibit. How can artwork reflect the shifting perspectives and priorities of artists over time? How does the work reflect our changing views of land and place, identity, abstraction, our social fabric? How do the works speak to—or confront—each other across a room?
Who do we see represented? And perhaps most importantly, who is not here?
These questions are fluid and organic; they change and shift and morph and should reflect the times we live in and the issues that affect our communities.
That is how objects come alive. And that is why they matter so much.
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Funded by the Government of Canada
Image: Shelley Niro (Mohawk b. 1954), Raven’s World (detail), 2015, oil on canvas. Purchased in part through the support of the Elizabeth L. Gordon Art Program, a program of the Gordon Foundation and administered by the Ontario Arts Foundation.