Highlights from Our Contemporary Art Auction

By: Waddington's Staff

For the Love of Contemporary Canadian Art

While Waddington’s always takes great pride in offering a diverse range of items that span both place and time, we always get an extra thrill from offering works by contemporary Canadian artists.

Our first Contemporary Art auction of the fall, offered online from September 26 to October 1, presents an excellent opportunity to collect work by some of the artists who have made their mark in the Canadian art history canon.

We have selected a few highlights from the auction to share with you, though we strongly suggest that you take a few moments to browse the full auction gallery and decide for yourself.

LOT 6 – LYNNE COHEN, CORRIDOR, c.1988

LYNNE COHEN, CORRIDOR, c.1988

One of two works by Cohen in this auction, Corridor, exemplifies the artist’s long fascination with photographing “found environments”—empty showrooms, classrooms, offices and passageways, bereft of human presence, yet purpose-built for human needs. Cohen leaves most all of the interpretation of these spaces to the viewer, asking them to project their own experiences of place. While early in her career Cohen would label images with more specific titles (e.g. ‘Corridor, Biology Department, State University of New York, Potsdam’) these were soon pared down in favour of terser, more vague titles. Cohen herself explained, “I prefer to allude to things and leave it to the viewer to fill in the details. Like Brecht and Godard, I want the audience to do some work.”

Cohen photographed spaces that are often both novel and familiar, a peculiar mix of banality and strangeness where function often triumphs over aesthetics. Indeed, where is this corridor in which the wallpaper has been applied to both trunk and walls?

Canadian writer and video artist, R.M. Vaughan, notes that “the bald fact that many of the spaces Cohen photographs are distinctly unlovely can be read as an unsubtle commentary on how interiors meant to meet the needs of groups of people usually fail to meet any generally understood ideas of good taste – people (“the public”) muck things up.”

Another print from this edition of ten is held in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Australia. Please also see a second work by Cohen on offer in this auction, Practice Range, lot 80.

LOT 36 – KENT MONKMAN, MODERN LOVE, 2012

KENT MONKMAN, MODERN LOVE, 2012

Monkman produced a series of images in the Modern Love series, each meant as a nod to a particular modern artist.

In the Modern Love suite, the image being painted by the “Modern Man” — a figure who seems to have descended that Duchampian staircase and directly taken up his position at the easel — changes, as do particular items tucked into the background and/or the sitter’s outfit, while the basic fundamentals, the “stage set” of the image, remains static.

For example, a variation dedicated to Picasso sees the iconic Bull’s Head bicycle seat sculpture hanging on the wall, while the sitter wears a Viking-esque horned helmet. The series acts both as a sort of artistic whodunnit as well as a game of eye-spy, as the viewer attempts to piece together Monkman’s carefully laid clues.

This work is a canvas transfer print mounted to board with acrylic overpaint.

LOT 86 – DIANA THORNEYCROFT, GROUP OF SEVEN AWKWARD MOMENTS (BEAVER AND WOO AT TANOO), 2008

DIANA THORNEYCROFT, GROUP OF SEVEN AWKWARD MOMENTS (BEAVER AND WOO AT TANOO), 2008

Winnipeg-based artist Diana Thorneycroft is known for her photographs of darkly witty dioramas, which are often constructed using children’s toys. In Group of Seven Awkward Moments, the artist used reproductions of paintings by the Group of Seven as backdrops to tableaux that question national identity, the ever-shifting interpretations of history, and the Canadian relationship to landscape.

In the artist’s own words, “it is through the use of the collective’s iconic northern landscapes, which have come to symbolize Canada as a nation, combined with scenes of accidents, disasters, and bad weather that gives the work its edge. By pairing the tranquility of traditional landscape painting with black humour, the work conjures up topical and universally familiar landscapes fraught with anxiety and contradictions.”

In the work, a chromogenic print, the iconic Canadian lumberjack, surrounded by beavers, is paused during the act of felling totem poles rather than timber. The backdrop is Emily Carr’s Tanoo, Q.C.I., which the artist painted in 1912 upon her return from France. 1912 marked the apex of First Nations’ protests against the encroachment of settlers on Native land, as well as a smallpox epidemic that decimated all but two Haida villages. Thorneycroft harnesses this pain and trauma, echoing it in both foreground and background.

LOT 96 – EDWARD BURTYNSKY, OIL FIELDS #1, BELRIDGE, CALIFORNIA, 2002

EDWARD BURTYNSKY, OIL FIELDS #1, BELRIDGE, CALIFORNIA, 2002

Edward Burtynsky’s photography is preoccupied with exploring the impact of human development on the planet, unveiling the frequently dramatic collisions arising from efforts to control or exploit the natural environment. His photographs are the result of meticulous planning and careful composition, frequently employing aerial perspective to both give a sense of planetary scale and to sidestep the bureaucracies on the ground that would seek to keep these landscapes uninterrogated.

Burtynsky’s “Oil” series focuses on the extraction, production, transport, and use of perhaps the most important – and damaging – resource of the contemporary era. “Oil Fields #1,” 2002, depicts a vast field of skeletal, rusted oil derricks marching away in the dust. The scene is almost entirely evacuated of human scale, providing a haunting forecast of a scarce future.

Importantly, Burtynsky grounded the “Oil” series in the automobile – the advent of the internal combustion engine, its need for fuel and rubber – as the basis of modern industrial society. Oil Fields #1 is set in California, the perennial destination of the American road trip and the freedom of the Western frontier. The vast, derrick-filled field becomes both origin and destination: the fountainhead of resource extraction and a surreal indictment of the unspoiled frontier at the end of the highway. The photograph is a sublime depiction of the precarious impact of humanity’s demands on the environment, and implicates the viewer in the consequences of consumption.

LOT 97 – RODNEY GRAHAM, UNTITLED (OAK TREES RED BLUFF), 1993-1994

RODNEY GRAHAM, UNTITLED (OAK TREES RED BLUFF), 1993-1994

A theme that would see many incarnations in Rodney Graham’s decades-long exploration into “what is” versus what appears to be is reflected in his series of inverted trees. He was inspired both by his interest in camera obscura, a historical photographic process in which projections of a subject are inverted and reversed and by Robert Smithson’s “Upside Down Trees” series. In 1969, Smithson photographed trees that he uprooted then buried upside down in order to explore the concepts of alteration and displacement. These early influences resulted in Graham’s iconic photographic series of oak trees taken in various locations around the world, including Belgium, Great Britain and North America. “Untitled (Oak Trees, Red Bluff),” 1993-94, are two of the most recognized images from this series.

In an interview with Grant Arnold in 2004, Graham said of his inverted trees, “…they reference something that’s commonplace, something that humans accomplish with our own eyes: all images arrive the wrong way up when light hits our retinas; our brains constantly correct our ‘warped’ perceptions.”

LOT 63 – KAYO O’YOUNG, CELADON GLAZE COVERED JAR, 1993

Contemporary Canadian ceramics from the collection of Paul Duval

The auction also features a carefully selected grouping of Canadian contemporary ceramics from the personal collection of influential art critic, art advisor, artist and collector, Paul Duval. Offerings include work by Harlan House, Kayo O’Young, Tim Alexander and Susan Wintrop.

Duval was admired for his sound eye for quality, his passion for discovering talent, and his determination to promote a broad understanding of Canadian art. Although fond of a wide range of artistic disciplines, Duval derived some of his greatest pleasure from his prized collection of ceramics. Once he began to collect, Duval was able to easily talk shop with the artists he would buy from and keep company with. He never produced his own ceramic works – he worked as a graphic designer and commercial painter before dedicating himself to criticism and collecting – but was a stout believer that some of the best art critics and collectors were trained in the arts themselves.

The personal connections Duval created with ceramics and their makers lasted throughout his lifetime, and are well represented in the works he collected. The Paul Duval collection is the ideal complement to the diverse range of contemporary works in this auction.

About the auction

This auction is offered online from September 26 through to October 1.

Previews are available by appointment only. All health and safety protocols are observed.

Our second fall 2020 auction, It’s Elemental: Line and Colour in Contemporary Art, will be offered October 24 – 29.

Contact us to find out more about Contemporary Art at Waddington’s.


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