Oshawa Express Column 4 - Controversy No Stranger to Fine Art

I'm getting excited for the William Ronald exhibition coming up. Since I started at the gallery I've developed a little fascination with him. I happened to stumble upon this you tube video the other day of "Drumbeat", potentially  his most famous work (well, that's what I was told today) being auctioned in 2008:

The work is included in the exhibition I'm talking about in this post so that's a pretty interesting coincidence. I didn't know you could watch art auctions online and now I'm a bit obsessed! It's like my favourite board game Masterpiece come to life!

Have you ever played? I've been into it for a long time, though not since childhood like you might think. I actually received it and my first piece of original artwork for my 18th birthday. The game comes standard with selections from the Chicago Art Institute, which was a happy coincidence, since I went there on a trip the previous spring. Since that time I've added to my edition with post cards from various galleries and now my version is stocked with an amazing art collection to bid on. It's a very easy game to play. I have found the most challenging aspect of the game (besides speaking in "Millions",) is the temptation to curate your purchases to your taste, when the goal of the game is to succeed financially. Unfortunately many players begin thinking about how their purchases would look together in a gallery and make bad purchasing decisions.

I'd like to get a tournament together, I have two copies of the game. I've been saying that for years but something tells me it might happen soon!

Here's my article from this week's Express.

Controversy is no stranger to fine art

Various opinions and concepts about what art is, and what art should be, have evolved and changed over time. In particular the question of the artistic and fiscal value of abstract art is alive and well. Though some of the first abstracted paintings were done as early as the late 19th century, abstract art in many ways has still not reached mainstream acceptance. As recently as 1990, the notorious 1.8 million dollar purchase of Barnett Newman’s “Voice of Fire” by the National Gallery of Canada stoked much public outcry and questioning. The works of the Group of Seven, painted during the 1920’s, were widely disliked at the time they were created. It was not until the nineteen fifties that their landscape paintings became popular.

Though the acceptance of those works had been achieved, during the fifties, tastes of the day were still so conservative that it was nearly impossible to have an art exhibition of works that were in abstracted styles. The first exhibition of abstract art in Toronto came as a result of a young artist by the name of William Ronald. He worked at Simpson’s Department Store and convinced the owners to show some abstract works in their windows alongside furniture and home accessories. Two of the artists shown were William Ronald and Alexandra Luke, an artist from Oshawa.

It was shortly following this that Ronald, Luke and nine other artists met in Luke’s Oshawa studio. The result from that 1953 meeting was a collective called Painters Eleven. They were Ontario’s first abstract art collective, and as a result of their collaboration, were able to show their work in a gallery setting in Toronto and shortly after that, in New York. All 11 members went on to have various artistic impacts across Ontario and the rest of Canada.

However it was William Ronald who went on to became one of Canada’s most important artist exports. In 1955 Ronald took some winnings from a Canadian Amateur Hockey Association award and went to New York City to study and practice his art. He eventually gained a contract with a commercial gallery that required him to produce 18 works per year. Those works were purchased by numerous public galleries throughout the United States and in New York City by the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim. It was during this era of his career that Ronald set himself apart from the New York scene by using what would become his signature Central Image icon.

Because of the important historical connection between Painters Eleven and Oshawa, the Robert McLaughlin Gallery has set out to collect and show the works of these 11 artists. A collection of Ronald’s Central Image works are being presented in an upcoming exhibition, opening Saturday November 20 at 1 p.m.

These works are in part selected from the permanent collection of the RMG, but have also been loaned to the exhibition by various private collectors, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery, and the Royal Bank, among others. The exhibition presents a rare opportunity to see works by an artist who is well known on the international stage, but is also relevant to our local history. In addition, the exhibition presents an opportunity for those who continue to question the importance of abstract art, to see some of Canada’s finest examples brought together in Oshawa. Viewed in person, a visitor can contemplate their own impressions of a style of art that just over 50 years ago was considered by most to be controversial, and to many, still is.

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