David Askevold: Once Upon a Time in the East

Ottawa, Ontario - October 5, 2011

At the National Gallery of Canada
October 7, 2011 – January 8, 2012

Born and educated in the United States, David Askevold (1940-2008) spent much of his career in Nova Scotia. Recognized as a pioneer in the development of conceptual video and photo-based art, he broke into the international art scene in 1970 when his work was included in the seminal exhibition Information at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Until January 8, 2012, the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) presents David Askevold: Once Upon a Time in the East, a full-career retrospective exhibition, organized by the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, comprised of 39 works which considers the four strains of Askevold’s exploratory journey: sculpture/installation, film and video, photo-text works, and digital images. It includes key pieces from each stage of his career. 

“He was a pioneering figure in the development of conceptual art in the 1970s, and continued to be an influential conceptualist throughout his career,” noted NGC director Marc Mayer. “For me, what’s compelling about Askevold is that he worked hard to maintain an independent artistic perspective in the exploration of new media. He believed in the role of the artist as unique in our contemporary set of professions.”

“Experimentation, ambiguity, subjectivity”
Askevold collapsed formal narrative structures in favour of free-flowing image constructions unfolding in a synergy of visual motifs. He was a prolific creator throughout his career, continuing to produce work for four decades. His work has been included in many of the genre’s seminal exhibitions and texts.

In 1968 Askevold moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, from California to lecture at what has since become NSCAD University. As an instructor there into the early 1970s, Askevold developed and led the legendary Projects Class that is still widely regarded as a radical innovation in contemporary art pedagogy. He continued to teach for much of his career, and was highly influential in Canada and the United States.

As Jonathan Newman, curatorial assistant in the photography department at the National Gallery of Canada writes in the fall issue of Vernissage, “Regardless of media, Askevold’s approach to art-making embraced experimentation, ambiguity, subjectivity, and the unexpected. His playfully complex works often defy easy explanation and offer the possibility of finding meaning in art in unanticipated ways.”

About the exhibition
The exhibition fills three rooms at the Gallery. The first begins with Askevold’s early, ground-breaking, video works from the early 1970s. Some of the videos on display are considered the first conceptual video art ever made in Canada.

The next room features the large scale work from the mid-90s known as The Nova Scotia Project. It is a multi-disciplinary work of art in which Askevold documented all the harbours of Nova Scotia from various perpspectives, by starting at the north end of the island and travelling around it. The project comprises four elements: Once Upon a Time in the East – a series of aerial photographs of small craft harbours taken by the provincial department of fisheries and oceans; The Road Journal – photographs taken at road level on the way into the harbours; the End of the Road Matrix – photographs of structures such as fishing sheds from each harbour; and, Don’t Eat Crow – a garden shed housing a video installation.

The third space offers a mix of later pieces, primarily photo-based and a video installation which was his last work. Askevold was collaborating on Two Beasts with his former student and New York artist Tony Oursler when he died in 2008; Oursler completed the project in 2010.

Once Upon a Time in the East is organized by the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia with the support of the Museums Assistance Program (MAP) of the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture, and Heritage.

About curator David Diviney
David Diviney is curator of exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. His career as an independent curator, art writer, practicing artist, and instructor has taken him across North America and Europe. He was previously director of the Eye Level Gallery in Halifax and assistant curator at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge. He has taught courses in drawing, sculpture, and gallery studies at the Alberta College of Art and Design, University of Lethbridge, Thompson Rivers University, and Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning. Diviney obtained a BFA with honours from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, Philadelphia, and an MFA from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax.

Meet the curator
Join exhibition curator David Diviney as he talks about the show: Saturday, October 8, 2pm. Included with gallery admission.

The exhibition is accompanied by a 160-page colour catalogue, David Askevold: Once Upon a Time in the East. It features essays by celebrated writer-curators Ray Cronin, Peggy Gale, Richard Hertz (author of The Beat and the Buzz), and Irene Tsatsos as well as several of Askevold’s contemporaries including Aaron Brewer, Tony Oursler, and Mario Garcia Torres. It is published by Goose Lane Editions and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, and edited by David Diviney, curator of exhibitions AGNS. It is available in English and French editions, in hardcover for $50 (plus taxes) at the NGC Bookstore or online at: www.shopngc.ca

Admission and opening hours
Tickets are $9 for adults, $7 for seniors and full-time students, $4 for youths aged 12 to 19 years, and $18 for families (two adults and three children). Admission is free of charge for children under 12 and for Members of the Gallery, and on Thursdays from 5 pm to 8 pm. This includes admission to the NGC Collection. Open daily from 10 am to 5 pm and until 8 pm on Thursdays.

About the National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is home to the most important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian art, including the extensive collection of the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. The Gallery also maintains Canada's premier collection of European Art from the 14th to the 21st century, as well as important works of American, Asian and Indigenous Art and renowned international collections of prints, drawings and photographs. Created in 1880, the National Gallery of Canada has played a key role in Canadian culture for well over a century. Among its principal missions is to increase access to excellent works of art for all Canadians. To do so, it maintains the largest touring art exhibition programme in the world. For more information: www.gallery.ca

Source: Jonathan Newman, curatorial assistant, National Gallery of Canada. Embracing the Ambiguous, Vernissage, fall 2011, National Gallery of Canada, p. 33.

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National Gallery of Canada

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National Gallery of Canada