The Canadian Art Database

TRAFFIC | Conceptual Art in Canada 1965-1980

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Vanguard and Criteria

The first issue of the Vancouver Art Gallery's Vanguard was a twelve-page newsprint broadsheet published in January 1972. Gallery director Tony Emery wrote that the "newspaper" would be dedicated "to cover all the arts and give space to events of cultural interest in British Columbia," even though the largest portion of this and almost every following issue of Vanguard until 1979 was given over to descriptions of upcoming VAG programs. Through the mid-1970s, those programs were extensive: from concerts and dance performances held during lunch hours and in the evenings, to workshops and lectures, film screenings (the VAG sponsored Pacific Cinematheque, the still-extant repertory cinema and non-profit film society), and, of course, exhibitions of visual art and video. While most of these programs took place at the West Georgia Street gallery, others took the form of outreach programs, including workshops in community centres and schools, as well as a Racetrack Gallery on the Pacific National Exhibition grounds in Vancouver's East End. As further evidence of outreach, Vanguard was sent out to gallery members but was also distributed free through bookstores and cafes along with other publications of the "alternative" press.

Vanguard's basic function was as a gallery newsletter and this became clear in June 1974 when the "newspaper" was accompanied by Criteria, a bleached cardstock broadsheet edited by film and video artist Ardele Lister and curator Willard Holmes. Criteria was funded by the VAG but was independent of the gallery, maintaining that it was "a response to a very real need for sincere, critical coverage of the arts"—arguably reiterating Emery's initial aim for Vanguard. Although designed to be a quarterly, Criteria was irregularly published— usually twice a year—until 1978. Even so, its coverage included interviews with Robert Frank, Hermann Nitsch, Michael Snow, Dennis Wheeler, Joyce Wieland, as well as discussions of work by Jack Chambers and Judy Chicago, articles by Henry Lehman and Tom Sherman, and artist projects by Ian Wallace and Lawrence Weiner. Criteria also published pieces on funding arts and culture—including a special issue on "The Politics of Film in Canada," in February 1976—as well as on Canadian art criticism and feminist critiques of representation.

After Luke Rombout replaced Emery as director in 1975, the VAG's programing changed, as did Vanguard's role. Focusing much more on visual art exhibitions and traditional education programs, Vanguard became less a calendar of events than an exposition of gallery policy, and began to introduce essays on issues such as arts funding. (Cultural mandarins Mavor Moore and Bernard Ostry, for example, contributed on the latter subject.)

Contents expanded but the newspaper format remained until January 1979, when a major shift occurred and Vanguard emerged as a glossy, 56-page art magazine with colour covers and gallery advertisements. Russell Keziere, who had contributed an analytic survey of Canadian art periodicals to Criteria in November 1977, was the newly-named editor of the venture, which would become one of the most important critical journals of the 1980s.

Further Reading
Russell Keziere, "Cdn Art Mags: Implications and Consequences of the Proliferation of Art Periodicals in Canada", Criteria III:3 (November 1977), 9-13.
William Wood, "Some are Weather-wise, Some Otherwise: Criticism and Vancouver," Vancouver Anthology. Vancouver: Or Gallery and Talonbooks, 1991, 133-170.

Issues of Criteria: