Does Vikky Alexander, a Canadian, Have to Make Canadian Art?

THE DAILY PIC: At Downs & Ross, Alexander makes nature and nurture colide, eh?

THE DAILY PIC (#1733): Here’s a problem I’m facing: I can’t stand the kind of lazy criticism that pretends to find a national “essence” in a work of art – the way works by Winslow Homer or Frederick Church or even maybe Jackson Pollock are said to channel a fundamental Americanness. And this is a problem for me right now because when I checked out a show by Vikky Alexander, the Pictures Generation artist whose early works went on view a few days ago at Downs & Ross gallery in New York, I was struck by … how much some of them seemed to be about her native Canada.

In a series of images that include today’s Daily Pic, which is a 1982 piece called Portage Glacier,  Alexander collides urban reality and natural fantasy in a way that directly addresses the central realities and fantasies of Canadian life and culture. I guess I’d have to say that, rather than channeling Canadianness because her Canuck roots tell her to, she takes Canadianness as a peculiar – but not inevitable – cultural fact, and paints its portrait. (Which, in this case, involves Alexander using an American glacier as her art supply.)  The important thing is that, whatever her national origins, she always might have chosen to do something very different – and mostly did.

Critics – of any nationality – shouldn’t find Canadianness lurking behind everything a Canadian artist does, or wish they could.

But then, have I just committed that sin? (Images courtesy the artist and Downs&Ross, New York)


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