Capsule Collection: James Lahey’s Favourite Art

By: Dara Vandor

During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, we reached out to friends, colleagues, artists, thinkers and members of our community with a question:

“If you could pick only five artworks to live with–that have existed, do exist, or will exist, and regardless of space, money and availability–what would you choose and why?”

The question functions as a sort of artistically-inclined roadtrip game, part time-killer and part Rorschach-test. COVID has forced all of us to spend a lot more time in our homes, looking at walls both blank and decorated. We asked participants to choose images that have stood the test of time in their lives, the ones that have inspired a way of thinking or seeing. For some, that may be a recognized masterpiece like the Mona Lisa, for others, a watercolour painted by their child. The only other rule was that these pieces would become “unsaleable” once chosen–in this exercise, the world’s most expensive painting cannot then be sold for the greater good. Just five art pieces, for life.

First to tackle this tricky subject is James Lahey, one of Canada’s preeminent painters. Lahey’s work has been shown extensively across North America as well as in Europe, and is represented in numerous private and public collections. His latest exhibition, “A Memoir (some cents of my life)” was scheduled to be held at Galerie de Bellefeuille this spring, but was postponed due to the pandemic. A preview of his new work can be seen here.

Lot 63 – Barbara Steinman, Canadian, L’ÉCOUTE (DIPTYCH), 1992

In a serendipitous turn, one of the pieces Lahey selected, Barbara Steinman’s L’Écoute, is offered in our Prints & Photography auction as lot 63. The auction is offered online from November 14-19, 2020.

We would like to extend our thanks to James Lahey for sharing his selections. Below is his text:

I was asked by Waddingtons to choose five works of art and create a list of all-time favourites. After multiple attempts it seems I am unable to limit my choices to that number. I tried, over and over again, finally deciding on a list of works that share a few characteristics, or qualities — to hell with the count.

In every instance I have experienced these works in person. Beyond seeing each, I have felt their presence — felt each cross over to senses of temperature, smell, taste and touch (almost). The effect, in every instance was so profound that even in memory these works still feel like sun on my back in winter — some smell like the wet in autumn or the morning in spring, others like a winters night, some sound like music, some feel like a hand of a loved one in my own, a forgotten memory or a conversation with a trusted friend. I could go on, for simplicity’s sake let’s accept that each work has its unique effects, yet there is one characteristic they all share:

As a final note on my list, let me add the following:

There are hundreds of works by other artists whose effect on me has been profound. Works of Art that have changed me forever and simply knowing they exist is a comfort. I have limited myself to paintings, sometimes showing an installation view if I could find one. There are pieces of music I couldn’t live without, books that I return to frequently, works of poetry read over and over again, not to mention Motorcycles I have loved and some that I love still.


Giotto di Bondone, Lamentation, 1304 – 1306. Fresco, 231.14 x 236.22 cm / 7’7” x 7’9”. The Scrovegni Arena Chapel, Padua.


Théodore Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa, 1818 – 1819. Oil on canvas, 491 x 716 cm / 16’1” x 23’6”. Louvre, Paris


Guido Molinari, Mutation sérielle verte-rouge, 1966. Acrylic on canvas, 205.7 x 248.9 cm. Courtesy Molinari Foundation


Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, 1963. Oil on Canvas, 152.4 x 152.4 cm / 60” x 60”. MOMA, New York


James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket. Oil on Canvas, 60.3 × 46.6 cm / 23.7” × 18.3” Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit


Anselm Kiefer, Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night), Installation view, Copenhagen Contemporary, 2017.


Anselm Kiefer, Unfolding the Sefirot, 1985–88. Oil, acrylic, emulsion, resin, lead, semen, mixed media on canvas Fisher Collection, SFMOMA.


Anselm Kiefer, Sprache der Vögel (Language of the Birds),1989. Lead, steel, wood, oil, plaster, resin, and acrylic
114 3/16 × 194 1/8 × 66 15/16 inches
Fisher Collection, SFMOMA.


Anselm Kiefer, Nigredo-Morgenthau, 2012. Emulsion and acrylic on photograph on canvas 190.5 × 380.4 cm / 75 × 149 3/4 inches Fisher Collection, SFMOMA


Nancy Spero, Male Bomb, 1966. Gouache and ink on paper, 34 x 27 inches. Galerie Lelong, The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts.


Patti Smith, My Fathers Cup, 2004. Polaroid Private Collection, Toronto


Geneviève Cadieux, La Voie lactée (The Milky Way), 1992. Installation View at Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Light box, aluminum casing, inkjet print on translucent canvas, 183 × 457 cm


Barbara Steinman, L’Écoute, 1992. 2 Cibachrome prints, 5/5, 171.5 × 94 cm (work, and installation view, respectively) Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal
*One of the five prints from this edition will be offered in our Prints & Photography auction. Please see lot 63.


Susanna Heller, Space Invaders, 2015. Oil on canvas, 96” x 72” Courtesy Olga Korper Gallery


Susanna Heller, Balzac’s Tunnel, 2000. Oil on linen, 106” x 72” Courtesy Olga Korper Gallery


Shelley Adler, Party Girl, 2008. Oil on Canvas, 96” x 72” Collection Bank of Montreal


Shelley Adler, Brothers, 2004. Oil on Canvas, 14” x 14” Private Collection


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