Arts and culture

Art as a record of dialogue: Masterpiece Art Fair, the perfect fit for RBC’s Art Collection


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corrie jackson-senior curator discussing artwork with attendee at masterpiece

In support of Masterpiece Online, Corrie Jackson, RBC's senior curator, provides a historical look at the RBC Corporate Art Collection, contextualizing the critical role art plays in our communities and why Royal Bank of Canada continues it's support as Principal Partner of Masterpiece for the seventh year. This year, Masterpiece Online will encourage viewers not just to view and buy works of art, but to join the conversation by engaging with 138 multi-disciplinary exhibitors.

Jackson has been working with the RBC Art Collection for over five years, and is actively focused on ensuring the collection be a space that furthers inclusive dialogues and supports the work of new and innovative voices.

The RBC Art Collection is not merely a compilation of work, but rather a record of the dialogues spanning time and geographical space. Established in 1929, and comprising of more than 5,000 pieces, each work uniquely reflects the context of is making and the unique perspectives of its maker. With a commitment to collecting works by living artists and a defining focus on emerging talent, the collection is an evolving and shifting ecosystem. It is a reflection of a history of Canadian art, while also a lens through which to view the current moment, and proposals for new ways of looking at our world.

a-selection of paper mache works-by karen tam in rbc wm offices

A selection of paper-mache works by artist Karen Tam in the RBC Wealth Management offices in Vancouver.

The need for both reflection and innovation is essential. Art offers us both.

With a focus on supporting the work of emerging artists, the collection has become, in recent years, a distinctly contemporary conversation. It's one that looks to the established history of the collection, tracing the influences and voices that have defined Canadian art, and re-engaging them alongside the young artists of today. Through the collection, we bring together works, and the stories of their inception, to create platforms for reflection, consideration and shared experience. To stand in front of an artwork that challenges us is to stand truly open to new perspectives. Art can give us a space where being uncomfortable, unsure, and challenged can lead to moments of reflection and growth.

When I think about the collections role, I often think of works we acquired by the artist and scholar Karen Tam. Karen's works echo the designs and form of historical objects. Through appropriation and subversive strategies, Tam meticulously reproduces antiques while maintaining a subtle distinction between the original source of inspiration and her own interpretation from which emerges a clear critique that activates cultural and identity issues relating to globalization. The decorative nature of the objects, combined with their material articulation (a rough paper mache form as a stand in for a smooth porcelain surface) bring us into the works themselves and encourage us to consider their role.

The prominence of the RBC Art Collection continues to grow with dynamism; reflective of the changing spaces and innovative approaches to the work environment. Over the last few years I have had the pleasure of working on site-specific commissions, such as our installation of works by Vanessa Maltese at the WaterPark Place auditorium and developing our video art collection with works by artists such as Kevin Schmidt, Kelly Richardson and Kapwani Kiwanga, among others. As we continue to think about how our relationship to workplaces, collaboration and conversation continue to evolve- the collection will too continue to shift in how it's curated, ensuring it continues to provoke innovative conversations and moments of reflection.

As we look to the future, the collection will focus on the cross-generational dialogues inherent in Canadian art. The legacy of an artist's work can be seen not only in the traces of art-historical reference points, but also in the influence of an artist on their contemporaries, and on the upcoming generation of artists. The role of an artist's work in engaging community is an important aspect of how RBC collects and installs the artworks acquired.

video work by kelly richardson entitled the erudition and vaness maltese work

Video work by Kelly Richardson entitled The Erudition, 2010, installed alongside Vanessa Maltese's work in powder-coated aluminum entitled subject to change, which was commissioned by RBC in 2015.

This commitment to supporting emerging artists is at the core of our acquisitions, while ensuring diverse and inclusive voices are represented in all our installations continues to be essential. Reflecting the diversity of our clients and employees is essential to the collection being engaged with as a catalyst for both self-reflection and shared dialogues. The collection's focus on emerging artists also echoes RBC's commitment, through the RBC Emerging Artists Program, to support essential exhibitions, programs, residencies and mentorship opportunities that support the next generation of emerging artists. Partnering with museums and arts organizations that bring this programming to life allows for ongoing conversations on the essential role of these institutions in supporting the artists and our broader communities through access to new voices in artmaking. So many of these conversations have also lead me to new works by exceptional young artists, like Darcie Bernhardt- who I was introduced to through the Inuit Art Foundation, which is an exceptional partner of the RBC Emerging Artist Project.

darcie bernhardt daydreaming about ice fishing

By Darcie Bernhardt, Daydreaming About Ice Fishing, 2018

The inclusion of new voices and perspectives continues to be an invaluable way to create a dynamic collection that drives innovative ways of looking at the world. The opportunity art can afford- for us to reflect as individuals – but also find ourselves engaged in a broader conversation between the artists, artwork and other viewers- is truly an essential one.

I look forward to seeing the collection grow with a deep investment in cross-generational and inclusive dialogues that comment on our past, where we are right now, and where we are headed in the future.

Read an interview with Corrie Jackson here.