Beyond Wilderness: The Group of Seven, Canadian Identity, and Contemporary Art (Arts Insights Series)
The great purpose of landscape art is to make us at home in our own country was the nationalist maxim motivating the Group of Seven's artistic project. The empty landscape paintings of the Group played a significant role in the nationalization of nature in Canada, particularly in the development of ideas about northernness, wilderness, and identity. left off. They demonstrate that since the 1960s a growing body of both art and critical writing has looked beyond wilderness to re-imagine landscape in a world of vastly altered political, technological, and environmental circumstances. By emphasizing social relationships, changing identity politics, and issues of colonial power and dispossession contemporary artists have produced landscape art that explores what was absent in the work of their predecessors. Beyond Wilderness expands the public understanding of Canadian landscape representation, tracing debates about the place of landscape in Canadian art and the national imagination through the twentieth century to the present. curators, historians, feminists, media theorists, and cultural critics and exactingly reproduced artworks by contemporary and historical artists are brought together in productive dialogue. Beyond Wilderness explains why landscape art in Canada had to be reinvented, and what forms the reinvention took.
painted these industrial landscapes with a modern visual vocabulary they thought appropriate to the emergent modern nation. If some, like A.Y. Jackson, were flummoxed by the challenge, others produced some of their most aesthetically powerful works, not least because in these paintings they chose to confront rather than elide the dystopian complexity of the new economic realities. If that is the case, however, the question must then be asked why these works lack currency in the Group of Seven
modernity found expression in the formation of artists’ groupings, public art galleries, local arts clubs, the Little Theatre movement, graphic arts societies, emerging Canadian magazines, and, most importantly cbc radio. Politically, the basic democratic demand for the vote motivated women into creating feminist organizations, while there was a proliferation of social and political organizations, co-operative movements, and unionization, which through the 1930s and 1940s fought to obtain a
of the Arts in Canada, remarked on the “excellent reproductions in colour of well-known Canadian paintings, especially the Tom Thompson [sic] northern landscapes, which are available at a very low price to the public. These prints are to be seen nowadays on the walls of a great many public schools in Canada. The National Gallery, or any gallery, can be a source of educational enlightenment to thousands, old and young, who never get a chance to enter its doors.”12 Hansard records a 1930 discussion
well, not least of which is the way the selfcongratulatory credit given the National Gallery for its staunch support of the artists runs counter to the central idea of the Group as a beleaguered avant-garde. In other words, it is difficult to sustain the central argument that the Group struggled in the face of real opposition, when the National Gallery’s current desire to celebrate itself as champion of the Group reveals once more that the opposition was a paper tiger. In any case, it seems to
oriented artists such as Wieland, “objective” systems for measuring and quantifying the territory are objects of fascination, but they are not taken at face value, perhaps because, as Sol Lewitt once remarked: “conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists.” 18 By bringing together such different modes and moods, Wieland produced landscape art that was a complex form of visual knowledge. She showed that the meaning and value of the natural environment is linked to politics and the