TRAFFIC | Conceptual Art in Canada 1965-1980
N.E. Thing Co. Ltd.
Influenced by business studies and the theories of Marshall McLuhan, N.E. Thing Co. Ltd., and its treatment of art as "Sensitivity Information, " has left a lasting impression on Conceptualism in Canada and abroad. Founded by Iain and Ingrid Baxter in 1966 and dissolved in 1978, N.E. Thing Co. began in a blur of short-lived corporate monikers. As an adjunct to Iain Baxter's teaching and active solo career, in 1966 the name IT was used for two exhibitions that included work made collaborativelyand for a period anonymouslyby the Baxters and John Friel. As the Baxters later explained,
IT was an attempt at anonymity as artists. We, Iain, Ingrid Baxter and John Friel
(1939-72) set up two exhibitions as IT. We worked jointly on the works and showed only
as IT. One show at Albert White Gallery, Toronto. The other was at Rolf Nelson Gallery,
Los Angeles. We did not let the press know who was behind IT. IT dissolved and N. E.
Thing Co. Ltd. was formed, but not before going through a transition: N. E. Baxter
Thing Co. John Freil phased into continuing his own works.1
Looking to retain something of the anonymity provided by IT, the Baxters first used the alias N.E. Thing Co. in 1967. Following the company's formal incorporation in 1969, they named themselves co-presidents in 1970. In this way, it was equally through the form of their practiceas co-presidents of a corporate structurethat made NETCO an instructive example in collaborative artmaking. However, as Marie Fleming suggested in her survey of the Baxters' early work in 1982, it is difficult "to assess clearly the nature and development of the collaboration and to distinguish the individual contributions of Iain and Ingrid Baxter to work produced under the various rubrics. The issue has become sensitive since their separation in 1978."2
By making use of technologies previously reserved for businesses - such as the telex and telecopierthe Baxters capitalized on their relatively peripheral situation. The early Portfolio of Piles (1968) speaks to their working from a very specific locale. A set of 59 black-and-white photographs, it catalogues natural and fabricated materials found in Vancouver.
In 1969, N.E. Thing Co. mounted a major exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, transforming the ground floor of the gallery's Lorne Building (initially built as an office tower) into a suite of offices, departments, and showrooms. Conceived of as a parodic extension of the corporate activities of N.E. Thing Co. rather than as a conventional exhibition of works, it obscured the distinction between corporate and aesthetic production, leaving many viewers wondering whether they had inadvertently entered a corporate office rather than the National Gallery. Following the success of this project, N.E. Thing Co. was subsequently included in more than two dozen international exhibitions, many focusing on emergent Conceptual art.
N.E. Thing Co. contributed to Place & Process, an exhibition at the Edmonton Art Gallery, and the Projects Class at NSCADboth in 1969marking the beginning of an active period of exhibition and artmaking. Included in the seminal Museum of Modern Art exhibition Information (1970), NETCO also made work for NSCAD's Lithography Workshop and participated in the Halifax Conference that same year. Exhibitions followed, including at York University, Toronto (1973); the Peter Whyte Gallery, Banff (1974); and the Vancouver Art Gallery (1977).
By 1977, N.E. Thing Co. had branched out once more, this time with the restaurant Eye Scream on West 4th Avenue in Vancouver. The following year, with the Baxters' personal relationship fraught and the restaurant taking a heavy financial toll, the partnership and the marriage dissolved.
Retrospective exhibitions of N.E. Thing Co. have been held at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (1982); the Carmen Lamanna Gallery, Toronto (1990); Art Metropole, Toronto,(1992); UBC Fine Arts Gallery, Vancouver (1993); Oakville Galleries, Ontario (1995); and the Art Gallery of Windsor (2004).
1N.E. Thing Co. (Vancouver: self-published, 1978), not paged.
2N.E. Thing Co. (Vancouver: self-published, 1978), not paged.
Askevold, David. Trans VSI Connection NSCAD-NETCO: Sept. 15-Oct. 5, 1969. The Nova Scotia series: Source materials of the contemporary arts. Halifax: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1970.
N.E. Thing Co. Ltd. Edmonton: University of Alberta, 1971.
N.E. Thing Company Limited. A Portfolio of Piles. Vancouver: UBC Fine Arts Gallery, 1968.
Nisbet, James. Coast to Coast: Land Work Between the N.E. Thing Co. and Lucy Lippard. Washington, DC: Archives of American Art, 2008.
Report on the Activities of the N.E. Thing Co. of North Vancouver, British Columbia, at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, and other locations, June 4-July 6 1969. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1969.
Shaw, Nancy, Scott Watson, and William Wood, eds. You are Now in the Middle of a N.E. Thing Co. Landscape. Vancouver: UBC Fine Arts Gallery, 1993.
Townsend, Charlotte. "N.E. Thing Co. and Les Levine." Studio International 179 (April 1970): 173-176.
Fleming, Marie L. Baxter2: Any Choice Works 1965-70. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1982.
Knight, Derek. N.E. Thing Co.: the Ubiquitous Concept. Oakville, ON: Oakville Galleries, 1995.
Raymonde, April, et al. 13 Essays on Photography. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, 1990.
Douglas, Stan, ed. Vancouver Anthology: the institutional politics of art. Vancouver Talonbooks, 1991.
You Are Now in the Middle of a N.E. Thing Co. Landscape. Vancouver: UBC Fine Arts Gallery, 1993.