The Canadian Art Database

TRAFFIC | Conceptual Art in Canada 1965-1980

[Exhibition]   [International Conference]   [Research Database]         [TRAFFIC Main Page]

installation view        installation view        installation view


Introduction                                                  [version française]

The most transformative art movement of the late twentieth century, conceptual art became a global phenomenon decades before it was popularized by a new generation of artists in the early twenty-first century and long before it was sensationalized in the media by such spectacles as Britain's Turner Prize.

Over the past ten years or so the global impact of conceptual art has been the subject of numerous historical studies and exhibitions–with a particular focus on its developments in Latin America, Asia and Europe. Its various manifestations in Canada, however, have remained a limited concern–a 'whispered' art history circulated among artists and writers in alternative publications and artist-run centres, with studies of particular institutions and artists, but no major exhibitions or publications to document its pan-Canadian effect.

Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada 1965-1980 is the first major exhibition in Canada to track the influence and diversity of conceptual art in works produced across the country, bearing witness to the significance of the intensely artist-driven involvement in the emergence of this global phenomenon. As demonstrated by the works in this exhibition, conceptual art was taken up across the country in complex, rigorous and diverse manifestations with its premises enacted, hybridized and inflected by the particular local and geographic needs and interests of individual artists, collectives and art communities. Presenting works by over seventy Canadian and international artists, the exhibition also offers a glimpse of some of the movement's most energetic institutions in the form of the artist-run centres and networks.

Both in Canada and globally, conceptual art is indelibly marked by the 1960s post-war political unrest that gave birth to anti-war protests and the student, women's, civil rights and gay liberation movements. It was also informed by the emergence of new information technologies such as the television, the fax machine and the computer. In what has come to be known as its 'linguistic turn' the conceptual movement, rebelling against the idea that art is merely a matter of individual expression, special skill, or visual and formal concerns, emphasized art as idea.

Artists no longer wanted to simply add objects (paintings, sculptures, monuments) to a world already too full of 'things,' particularly when new information systems, technologies and recording devices, such as video cameras, offered far more interesting and challenging possibilities. Asserting that a work no longer even needed to actually be produced in order to exist, conceptual art became a kind of meta-art both in taking the form of statements and writings about art itself and by virtue of its critical engagement with the new systems of meaning-making in the age of mass media through the deployment of print media and formats now identified as precursors of digital networks.

Concerned with language, body, place and geography–all constitutive elements and primary interests of conceptual art internationally–Traffic is organized around urban and regional centres in Canada but seeks to capture the effervescent, and often contentious, lines of traffic between them.

The Exhibition
  Vancouver Section
    Curated by Grant Arnold, Vancouver Art Gallery
  Edmonton / The Arctic / Calgary / Winnipeg Section
    Curated by Catherine Crowston, Art Gallery of Alberta
  Toronto / London / Guelph Section
    Curated by Barbara Fischer, Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, University of Toronto
  Montréal Section
    Curated by Michèle Thériault and Vincent Bonin, Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery,
    Concordia University
  Halifax Section
    Curated by Jayne Wark, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design

Artists in the Exhibition
  List of Artists / Individual Artist Pages

Itinerary / Events
  Toronto [September 10 to November 28, 2010]
  Halifax [March 17 to May 8, 2011]
  Edmonton [June 25 to September 25, 2011]
  Montreal [January 13 to April 28, 2012]
  Vancouver [September 9, 2010 to January 6, 2013]

The exhibition and research was organized by the Art Gallery of Alberta, Justina M. Barnicke Gallery (Hart House, University of Toronto) and the Vancouver Art Gallery, in partnership with the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery (Concordia University) and Halifax INK.

The exhibition received the support of the Museums Assistance Program of the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Canada Council for the Arts.

The Online Project Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada 1965 - 1980 was coordinated by the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery at Hart House, University of Toronto in partnership with the Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art. Funding for the research phase of the project was provided by the Museums Assistance Program of the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Canada Council for the Arts. Its online presentation was made possible by a special grant from the Museums and Technology Fund, Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Ontario, and the Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts.

Comments and feedback are welcome.
Contact: Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, Hart House, University of Toronto

research database