Last year the RMG took time to discuss the many days and months of significance that are marked in Canada, and identify which ones were important to us as a team, to the communities we serve, and to partners and artists we have relationships with. That recognition will look different for each one – it may be a blog post like this, events or exhibitions, showcasing partnerships, or sharing community happenings. These days are important, and we also believe that this work is ongoing and happens throughout the year.
In recognition of Black Histories and Futures Month
In Canada, traditionally Black History is a month of events and festivities that honour the legacy of Black people in Canada and their communities. More recently, celebrations for Black Futures Month have emerged as a month long observance devoted to celebrating, envisioning, and working toward positive futures for Black people. Last year the RMG was fortunate to host the Region of Durham’s Black History Month event that focused on arts and creativity.
This year, we wanted to share what we’ve been doing to shift our collecting intentions to have greater representation of Black artists. While it’s easier to find out about programs and partners we work with, the behind the scenes work of collection management doesn’t get shared as frequently.
In 2020 we started a collection audit to understand its composition and the diversity of artists included. We needed to know where we were starting to be able to measure our progress. Collection diversification is a slow process unless a public art gallery receives a windfall through donations or increased funds for acquisitions. The RMG has an annual budget of approximately $20,000 and prioritizes using this budget for the purchase of works by equity-deserving artists since we revised our collections intention in 2021. Today, there are only seven Black artists included, roughly 1% of our permanent collection, and that number has nearly doubled since 2020.
We have a long way to go and we’re committed to building a collection that more accurately reflects the diversity of Oshawa and Durham Region. One of the artists that was new to the RMG in the last four years is Russell T. Gordon, an incredible abstract artist you can read about below.
We are committed to continuing to program the work of Black artists, build relationships and provide space for Black-led organizations, and ensure diverse representation on our Board of Directors and in our staff team to work towards positive futures.
Russell T. Gordon
In 2020, the RMG was offered a selection of artwork by Russell T. Gordon. When the offer first came in, curators Leila Timmins and Sonya Jones, were beyond excited to learn about this incredible abstract artist. Given his artistic achievements in abstraction, Gordon should be a more recognized name. The fact that he wasn’t known to curators at an art gallery who has an extensive collection of abstract expressionism, sheds light on the larger issue of inequity within Canadian art history – in particular the ongoing story of abstraction in Canada. The RMG was thrilled to add three amazing works by Gordon to the collection.
Born in Philadelphia, Russell T. Gordon moved to Canada in 1973 to teach painting and drawing at Concordia University in the Department of Studio Arts, where he was a faculty member until 1997. Over the course of his prolific career Gordon has shown in more than 100 solo and group exhibitions. His work can be found in many public collection including the Guggenheim Museum, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Curator Maurice Forget wrote about the depth in Gordon’s body of work as well as his journey as an artist:
“Despite its rich layering, the Russell Gordon work product of the last 40 years is relatively simple to read, because it reflects his own social, intellectual and moral development as a man over that time, with all of his characteristics — most notably being an American black man — he searches for those universal truths which best express his own perspective on humanity… Gordon has sought and achieved in his art a freedom originating with redemption from the clichés of race and social standing, working towards a luminous vision of human life. There is a celebratory current in Gordon’s art.” (2010)