The Curator’s View: Douglas Coupland @ RMG

When I drive into work, it’s hard not to smile when I look up at the building and see Douglas Coupland’s sculpture Group Portrait, 1957. It was installed less than a week ago with an “unveiling” (without the veil – the work was too large and too high to drape!) event that included Doug Coupland speaking about his public sculpture commissions.

For many of you, there have been hints about the sculpture for some months through RMG Manager of Communications & Social Media, Jacquie Severs, including glimpses of single transponders and artist sketches found in our newsletter, on twitter and through Facebook. These glimpses brought over 250 people to the Gallery on Saturday to celebrate art in Oshawa. It was particularly satisfying to hear Mayor John Henry tell Doug that the view of Group Portrait from his office window at City Hall was the best and that the artist was welcome to view it from that angle any time!


(Curator Linda Jansma, Douglas Coupland and CEO Gabrielle Peacock)

For our CEO, Gabrielle Peacock, and me, this has been a longer process. We first met with Doug Coupland in the summer of 2010 to gage his interest in working with the RMG to produce a third public art commission. In 2002, the Gallery commissioned Reinhard Reitzenstein to create River Bench, and in 2007, Mary Anne Barkhouse was commissioned to produce grace, our much loved beavers at the front of the building. Fortunately for us, Doug was not only interested, but let us know of his friendship with Arthur Erickson, the building’s renowned architect, as well as his interest in mid-century modernist painting. In the months that followed, we supplied Doug with background information on the building and its first mandate that included collecting and exhibiting work by Ontario’s first abstract painting group, Painters Eleven (1953-1960), and sent him images of work by each of the group from our collection. We not only worked with Doug, but with lawyers, engineers, the manufacturer of the sculpture, the City of Oshawa, the Canada Council granting agency, and our own staff.

Our vision with Group Portrait, and the other public sculpture that the RMG has commissioned, is to bring art into the public realm; to engage and challenge more people more often. There’s the engagement that I witness when I see people sitting on the edge of River Bench to read a book or eat their lunch close to the creek, or place their children, like I saw last week, on top of grace, for a photo opportunity. It was wonderful to see that little girl stroking the bronze “fur” of the beavers and waving goodbye to them when her mother picked her up and headed to their car. We can’t touch Doug Coupland’s newest work, but I like the idea of Mayor Henry looking up from his desk and having the “best view” in town.

None of this would be possible without the forethought of people like Isabel McLaughlin. It was her 1987 gift to the RMG, an endowment whose interest can only be used for the purchase of works for the collection, that has so richly enhanced our city.

So, thank you Miss McLaughlin and thank you Doug Coupland for helping us bring art into our community in a meaningful way! 

– Linda Jansma


The Skinny: Heavy Industries Blog Post about the Installation

Oshawa Express Column: Public Art Encourages Culture 

Downtown Oshawa In Transition (DOIT) Column: Outsiders are Insiders and Insiders are looking Outside in Oshawa

Robert McLaughlin Gallery sports new outdoor piece

Profile on Canadian


Social Media & Museums

This month our CEO Gabrielle Peacock had an article published in the newsletter of the Canadian Federation of Friends of Museums. The article is below. As we seek to expand where the visitor experience begins and ends with projects such as Community Curates, our CEO took a moment to reflect on the benefits of these projects. Learn more about the CFFM here.

A series of articles that appeared in the New York Times earlier this year lauded some new celebrities in the museum world. They aren’t artists or curators or museum directors; they are the marketing and technology staff that run the social media campaigns of some of the

United State’s most progressive public art galleries. Behind the scenes, it is their creative voice and clever delivery of content that is making a huge impact on raising the profile and engagement opportunities for museums and galleries across North America. 

As museums continue to recognize the value and importance of the “visitor experience” it may be time to broaden the scope of defining when that experience begins and ends. 

Social media has the potential to represent for museums the most transformational tool in audience development and strategic brand building of the 21st century. The consumer habits of today’s potential museum-goer requires organizations to be digitally agile and content-persuasive in order to remain competitive and relevant. The benefit to the institutions ability to share, teach and learn is immeasurable. It has opened the floodgates of possibility to thousands of content-rich but budget-strapped galleries to represent their collections and promote exhibitions to the world. It provides the opportunity for like-minded people to intersect and interact with each other, creating a sense of community, regardless of where they live. It is being used to help institutions de-mystify and humanize themselves with blogs from curatorial departments and behind the scenes access. The pedagogical possibilities seem boundless and the fundraising opportunities ever evolving.

The Robert McLaughlin Gallery’s foray into social media has been a revelation. The ability to engage with our virtual visitors and their ability to share feedback, opinions and debate ideas hopefully provides them with a real sense of ownership in the process. The comments and data we gather fuels our creativity and influences how and what we program going forward.

Our current project “Community Curates” is a 5 week crowd sourcing project that invites people to vote on a selection of works that are being considered for an exhibition this coming fall. It is a forum for us to talk about our collection of works on paper and the conservation issues galleries must contend with, and also allows participants to follow results in real-time, add comments and have a say in curating an exhibition.

 While nothing will ever replace the sensory experience of standing in front of a work of art, the use of social media to maintain an ongoing, interactive relationship will hopefully nurture a feeling of familiarity, accessibility and curiosity that will also inspire a visit in person. 

Community Curates

23 September 2011 – 11 March 2012 

Opening celebration: First Fridays 7 October 7pm

In most cases, art is a visual experience that is meant to be experienced in person. However, the far reaching impact of the internet has undoubtedly done wonders for the art world—bringing otherwise inaccessible art into homes around the world. Despite this wider access, can one truly appreciate an artwork by viewing it online? Details that greatly affect the impact an artwork has can be lost when viewing on screen: size, texture, presentation and location. 

For example, every art history student studied The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault in art history text books, but it cannot be fully appreciated without seeing the jaw dropping size of it (491 x 716 cm) in the Louvre. On the other hand, arguably one of the most iconic artworks in the world is the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci; however many people comment on the underwhelming experience of seeing it in person, mostly due to its size (77 x 53 cm) and the fact that it is presented behind bullet proof glass. 

This past summer we invited the general public to participate in the exhibition process. Each week, for ten weeks, five artworks were posted to the RMG’s blog and the community was asked to vote for the ones they’d like included in the exhibition, Community Curates. Selections were chosen from our works on paper collection, which rarely get shown due to conservation concerns. 

This project brought the RMG’s collection into the homes of this community, it also raised questions into how we perceive artworks online versus in person. We trust that viewing the results of this project online will encourage the community to come in to the RMG to experience the selected artworks first hand. 

Now that the exhibition is launching and you will soon be able to see the works in person, what are your impressions? Are the works you liked online the same ones you like on the wall? Do you think this was a successful project? How should we approach a similar idea in the future? Share your feedback with us in the comment section of this post. 

Thank you for your participation! 


The Curator’s View: September 11th.

The RMG is pleased to introduce a new feature to our blog, The Curator’s View. Our first post is from Linda Jansma, Curator at the RMG discussing her memory of working on September 11th, 2001.

The Curator’s View: September 11th

While I’m not old enough to recall where I was when JFK was shot—arguably one of the most haunting events of the 20th century, I do recall where I was during one of the greatest tragedies of the beginning of the 21st century: 9/11.

I was at the RMG and heard about the first plane’s strike from a gallery colleague who had received an urgent call from his brother, whose building was close to the World Trade Centre in Manhattan and who had fortunately escaped injury. From there, we listened to the CBC as the events began to unfold in the surreal fashion that they did. On that morning, our Preparator, Garfield Ferguson and I were re-installing the permanent collection in the Isabel McLaughlin Gallery surrounded by paintings that were to be hung in the coming days. Instead we sat in silence on the gallery bench listening to events that would come to define our world in such a myriad of ways. 

Choosing the works for the reinstalling of the permanent collection takes many hours of walking through the vault, looking, making notes, trying to come up with a theme both accessible and challenging. 2001’s reinstallation was to include a painting by Joyce Wieland entitled Double Crash, one of her series of works involving tragedies, in this case, two planes falling out of the sky. It didn’t take much thought to know that this work had to be returned to the vault. We waited three or four years before hanging this particular painting, and during the time it was up, numerous people commented that it must be a painting about 9/11, until they noticed its date—1966.

We will be opening two exhibitions on the 10th anniversary of September 11: Douglas Walker: Other Worlds and Sympathetic Hunting Magic: Niall Donaghy and Shelly Rahme. Niall’s work, Spitfire, occupies the gallery’s front foyer.


(Preparator Jason Dankel, who is 6’3″ tall, putting the finishing touches on the installation of Spitfire)

It looks, for all intents and purposes, like an enormous balsa wood model plane. At 4.9 meters, the plane has nose-dived directly into its base, a crash that has yet to crumble the delicate fuselage and wings.

This work, this symbol, instantly conjures the events of a decade ago (or even more recently the September 7th plane crash in Russia that killed 43 including a team of elite hockey players). Yet the artist hasn’t depicted a commercial carrier, but a World War II Spitfire, a plane that summon yet another global conflict.

We bring our individual experiences to works of art and what we see depicted—a 1966 painting or 2011 sculpture—become signs for what is closest to our individual lives and understanding. All this without words but rather through the power of visual cues in paint and wood.


Please join us at the joint opening reception for Douglas Walker: Hidden Worlds and Sympathetic Hunting Magic: Niall Donaghy and Shelly Rahme. Click here for the event details.


Community Curates Week 10

Our last week has arrived! Now that we are wrapping up this project, our first crowd sourced art exhibition, we are starting to review the successes and drawbacks. Please be sure to leave a comment on this post with your ideas for how we could improve this process. We’d like to try it again and shake it up, make it even more fun and interactive. We have enjoyed interacting with you and we encourage you to come to the gallery and see the results of your decision making.

The Community Curates exhibition will be hung from 23 September, 2011 to 11 March, 2012. We’ll celebrate the exhibition and show you how to leave comments on it using your smartphone at our First Fridays event on Friday 7 October 2011.

Thank you for your help and we hope you’ve enjoyed the process!

Community Curates Week 10



1. Paul B. Keele (Canadian, 1948 – 1973)

Buffalo prints won’t you come out tonight  c. 1973

lithograph on paper

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Tony Urquhart, 1978



2. Isabel McLaughlin (Canadian, 1903-2002)

Drawing from Life, Provincetown  c. 1948-1950

charcoal on paper

Gift of the estate of Isabel McLaughlin, 2003


3. Ray Mead (Canadian, b. England, 1921 – 1998)

Lattice  1954

watercolour, gouache and pastel on paper

Donated by the Ontario Heritage Foundation, 1988; gift of M. F. Feheley


4. Gordon Smith (Canadian, b. England, 1919-2001)

Winter Sea  1973

lithograph on paper

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest and Rivette Herzig, 1993


5. Horatio Walker (Canadian, 1858 – 1938)

Lady Beside Lilypond  n.d.

oil on paper, laid down

Gift of Rita M. Pretty in memory of husband Harry A. Pretty, 1984