Jon Sasaki’s “Homage” is a photo series of petri dishes and bloomed bacterial cultures swabbed from Group of Seven palettes, such as this one used by F.H. Varley. Clint Roenisch Gallery
Milroy arrived at the museum between milestones; Canada’s sesquicentennial year had just concluded and the Group’s centenary was then on the horizon. The art-critic-turned-curatorial-head knew the museum’s provincial reputation. As the Globe and Mail’s chief art critic, she had taken aim at it before for unadventurous programming that pandered to popular tastes. But the McMichael also excited her because, historically, it has been an arena for big, impassioned debates about what Canadian art is.
Her mission, she says, is to make it a museum that represents “all parts of Canada.” She began by identifying gaps in the McMichael’s permanent collection. There were many. Denyse Thomasos, for instance, was the first Black artist to enter the collection; the museum acquired a painting by the late Trinidadian Canadian artist just last year.
“It’s a shocking reflection of where this institution was,” Milroy says. The holdings also sorely lacked representation of Indigenous contemporary art from the last 30 years, which she points out has been “a period of gale force growth.” In the years since Milroy and Ian Dejardin, the museum’s executive director, landed at the McMichael, the gallery has been collecting with renewed focus and there’s been a bump in acquisitions.
Another way to fit a wider Canada into Kleinburg is to take Kleinburg out to Canada. Call it the portable McMichael. The museum has significantly ramped up its publications program and, today, you can find its catalogues in gift shops and bookstores across the nation. At the same time, every exhibition is now designed to travel, Dejardin explains.
The show “Uninvited,” for example, on tour in Vancouver, gathers a cross-country snapshot of talented women modernists from the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, none of whom were welcomed into the ranks of the all-male Seven. It’s one of 10 travelling exhibitions being presented by the McMichael in the next year and a half, the director says.