Wednesday, October 14, 2015

McGill's Visual Arts Collection

Roy Lichtenstein, Modern Tapestry, (detail) 1976
first floor corridor of the Arts Building

Montrealers, did you know that McGill University has more than 2000 pieces in its art collection, including paintings, sculpture, installations, prints, murals, stained glass and tapestries? There is no single location for these holdings: they are scattered over the many buildings at the downtown site, Macdonald Campus and the Galt Estate. They are in conference rooms, offices, libraries, hallways and staircases. Some of the sculpture is located permanently outdoors.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney,
Caryatid Fountain, 1913
popularly known as "The Three Bares"

Only three years ago McGill created the position of Director for its collection, hiring Gwendolyn Owens in 2012. Her first task was to do an inventory, which has since been repeated and is to be done every two years. This first survey located the art and determined its condition. All works were documented and some were set aside for cleaning or restoration.

At any one time, about one-eighth of the collection is in storage, but these items are constantly changing, as buildings undergo renovation and as staff decide to exchange a piece for something new.

Charles Daudelin, Polypède, 1967

Quebec law requires that when a publicly-funded building project is undertaken, one percent of the budget must be devoted to art, whether in the form of an acquisition or an event. The collection also grows through bequests. Should anything from the collection be sold, or "deaccessioned", the proceeds must be used to fund the care of the collection, or to buy more art.

Owens has said that one of the highlights in her tenure as Director of the VAC has been the assembly of many of the works for a one-time fundraiser to support cancer research. Some 300 donors were treated to a private showing in the Bellini Building.

Robert Roussil, La Danse de la Paix, (detail) stainless steel, copper and tin, 1953
entrance to Brown Student Services Building

Not only does the collection bring pleasure to staff and students, it is also used as a basis for studies in art conservation and cataloguing.

The VAC is not yet available as an on-line data base, but you can learn more about it by going to its website.

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