The AGH’s fall 2021 exhibition, “Tom Thomson? The Art of Authentication”, explores the myriad questions related to authenticating works of art. Without offering a conclusive yes or no, the exhibition is envisioned as a laboratory through which all of the various avenues of inquiry related to authentication are investigated and presented. Using two possible Tom Thomson panels as the nucleus, the project brings together approximately forty known sketch panels and canvases by Thomson in order to present a visual overview of the artist’s practice.
The AGH produced a short original documentary, “Finding Authenticity” as a component piece to the exhibition. “Finding Authenticity” calls on significant Canadian artists to reflect on how ‘authenticity’ is changing within a contemporary understanding of art.
Organized and circulated by the Art Gallery of Hamilton and the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queens University, and in partnership with the Canadian Conservation Institute.
This project is proudly supported by the Museums Assistance Program funded by the Government of Canada, Cowley Abbott Fine Art, and the incite Foundation for the Arts.The AGH’s fall 2021 exhibition, “Tom Thomson? The Art of Authentication”, explores the myriad questions related to authenticating works of art. Without offering a conclusive yes or no, the exhibition is envisioned as a laboratory through which all of the various avenues of inquiry related to authentication are investigated and presented. Using tw …
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(slow gentle piano music) – [Tim Whiten] The raw experience of
going into nature
is an important thing.
Tom Thomson took a chance. Thomson understood the
need to actually engage
with the natural environment in order to understand who he was
and what he could contribute. And I believe firmly that, that is what is translated in the works.
(slow gentle piano music) – [Chaka Chikodzi] Tom Thomson’s landscape
paintings are also self-portraits.
You can feel his presence
on every painting. He imbues the landscape with the feelings.
So his painting is not
just a landscape painting,
it’s also a connection
between himself and the land.
– [Suzy Lake] Thomson’s sense of poetry
about Algonquin Park, it’s focused on his whole
relationship to the land
and how he is in that land and trying to let his audience know
what that experience is like. Not what it looks like, but it’s like being there.
And I think that that’s where the notion
of spiritual or poetic
is attributed to his work beyond just the fact that
they’re beautiful paintings.
– [Dorian FitzGerald] Like every other Canadian, never mind Canadian art student, like the Group of Seven is presented as something of significance.
And it was immediate to me that I like Tom Thomson’s paintings.
There’s a vitality to
them, that’s beautiful. So as much as the Group of Seven
and the idea of the
Canadian landscape tradition and all these things, I mean, I understand it’s theirs, nothing I really engage with
but certainly if you
handed me a Tom Thomson, I would put it up on the wall. And I’m like, yeah.
– [Allyson Mitchell] The story
of the Group of Seven in some ways feeds into
the story of colonialism.
I do like the paintings, many of them. I don’t know that much about
them because I’ve resisted
that certified national history, about this jolly adventure of explorers,
having these heroic
And I feel like I could group Tom Thomson into that conversation of myths
of what Canada supposedly is
and has become because it’s
been constructed that way. – [Deirdre Logue] When I think about his subject
being the Canadian natural landscape, and I think about climate
change and climate justice surely you could find a way
to make that kind of revered art more productive in contemporary times,
than it is sitting in the dark
waiting for an exhibition. And maybe selling the Tom Thomson’s
and donating the money to climate justice or you’re like, isn’t there,
what would Tom Thomson– – [Allyson Mitchell] That would be amazing.
– [Deirdre Logue] What would Tom Thomson want to do if it was really about, this
is his love, his subject, the Canadian North?
– [Anong Migwans Beam] The Group of Seven, people have strong
opinions about their work. There are a lot of pushback
from the Indigenous point of view that they were painting terror in all this, an empty Canada.
That might’ve been what
they did but I don’t believe that they did it with
that intent to exclude.
Up until that point, Canadian
landscape was all painted
in a mimicry of European style
and European romanticism,
all of the European landscape. But in Europe, they
don’t have giant forests
of changing colored maple leaves. So for them to really celebrate
Jack pine and Northern pines
and these wild landscapes that we have, was really a radical thing in their time.
(peaceful music) – [Anong Migwans Beam] Authenticity is a really
unique topic to me.
Having experiences with handling an estate after an artist passes away.
I come from a family of artists. My father is Carl Beam
and my mother Ann Beam.
They were both visual artists. My dad was a real trailblazer and he was the first indigenous artist
to be purchased as a Contemporary Art by the National Gallery of Canada.
I live in M’Chigeeng First
Nation on Manitoulin island, and it’s the largest
freshwater island in the world.
I’m a painter and a paint maker. Water and things of that nature,
pervade my work, natural landscapes.
– [Nathan Eugene Carson] The predominant
subject matter in my work would be portraiture. I’m really fascinated in the human soul
and how I can put the human
soul into a piece of work.
When I let things just arrive
or show up or come to be, it’s always so much more beautiful
than intentionally trying
to paint something.
– [Suzy Lake] My formative years,
I was a political activist and it was really very important
to marry what was happening in the streets with what was happening in the studio.
So I started using the body to represent ideas
of what was happening culturally from a feminist perspective. The subject matter in the image
may be a constructed set
of an activity that I do. So there’s a difference between
subject and subject matter.
– [Shelley Niro] I’m originally
from the Six Nations, Mohawk on the Grand and my predominant subject
matter is mostly women.
My mother, my sisters, my
children and my nieces.
I like putting images to my work that can be translated in different ways.
And sometimes people on
first viewing won’t see it, they won’t recognize it but maybe on the third or
fourth viewing they’ll say,
“Oh, I never saw that before.” So that makes it more
interesting for myself as the artist who created it
that other people can see
different layers in the work. – [Dorian FitzGerald] The subject matter,
initially, was of a completely
self-indulgent process. I would come across images
in particular the one I can think of. It was like Oprah Winfrey’s birthday party that she threw for Sidney Poitier
and then like these insane
assemblage of 1000 roses that were the centerpieces on this table
and it was on a magazine rack. And it was like this
electric thing of like, oh, that is a perfect summary of the kind
of egregiously wasteful display of wealth.
I’m not sure that the painting
actually says that,(laughs) but that was the motivation. But yeah, so that kind of
random encounter was sufficient
at the beginning for the practice. But then as soon as it became something
I could make a living out of, a random encounter was
by its nature. And so then it became
much more research-based. So the subject matter
started out as excess.
The technique is excessive. The amount of material is excessive. Like the effect is one of excess.
(birds chirping) – [Anong Migwans Beam] My dad went to residential school. He went there only speaking Ojibwa
and having an Ojibwa name and then coming out
not speaking his own language and having had it like
removed from him through abuse.
All of his work really was about examining colonial viewpoints.
We live inside a colonial framework that even without judging it, it’s just to say that
there are so many things
that we do in an unthinking way that are totally normal to us that are part of a conditioned,
just because that’s just
how things are done. He wanted to be free to be
an artist, to be a painter.
He never really was allowed to be that. He always had to be
Carl, the political artist who is an Indigenous person
and he explicitly states
that in some of his work. – [Allyson Mitchell] The artworks that we’ve made
come from a feminist
and a queer perspective.
That perspective has to be critical, and not necessarily in a negative way.
But that if you are identifying
as a feminist artist and your work is grappling with the ideas
that are troubled through feminism, it has to be critical of the institutions
because the institutions are based in patriarchal, capitalist, colonial,
classist, racist, sexist foundations. Let’s throw in homophobic as well.
So there’s no way that your
work would not be critical.
(gentle music) – [Anong Migwans Beam] A lot changed
in my art practice
when I started making paint. I think the first time
that it really struck me was that I was out in a
boat in the North Channel
and I was finding rocks and
I’m collecting rocks and I take them back and
I make paint out of them.
And then I’m doing a painting
in my studio of that place
and of those rocks. And then I had this realization that I’m painting these rocks
with paint made of these rocks. And it was this really neat, circulus moment.
Most people feel that, oh, paint red is red and paint is paint. As a paint maker now,
I’m really aware of how
there’s many different ways to get to red.
Every component that goes into that is so identifiable at a molecular level.
They’re very different ways and they come from different places, they’re made by different companies,
they’re very traceable. Now, we live in a different
time where anyone has access
to anything from all over. But even up to just 20 or 30 years ago,
most artists are working with supplies from their local supplier. (hammer pounding)
– [Chaka Chikodzi] I haven’t
lived in Zimbabwe for about 23 years. So the longer I was away from home,
the more connected I was with the stone. The material I work with
is a type of volcanic rock,
unique to Zimbabwe. So Zimbabwe means house of stone.
It is one of the largest
volcanic ridges in the world that did not erupt.
I work exclusively with
this rock with my practice. It helps me mediate
my place here in Canada as an African.
I let the stone guide the process. I’m interested in my
relationship with the stone.
I look at the forces
that created the stone is like a co-creator.
Think of some of the big rocks that even if I was to go up the mountain to get it by myself, I can’t do that.
So I have to work with a team. My whole process is like a collaboration.
– [Nathan Eugene Carson] I would
say the material that I mostly work in
that’s been consistent throughout my whole
artist practice is paper.
I really enjoy the tactileness. I also prefer paper that’s been recycled
or found on the street or something that has a little bit of, I always call it life to it.
I work on the floor and I always bring an
image up from the paper.
– [Tim Whiten] Within the last
maybe 15 years, I’ve actually started to
invest my time in use of glass.
Glass is a constant mirror of
what we are as human beings. People carry cell phones in their pocket.
We have computers that actually allow us to communicate from distance. It’s all based upon the nature of glass.
It’s an old material. And yet we’re finding
that it has the capacity to extend our consciousness.
We live in a world now which
functions on the basis of glass and it’s major use for communications.
We can look at things that are very small through the use of glass
as a magnifying condition.
We can look at things from a far distance through the use of glass as well. It’s the same material but it affords us
to extend our human consciousness. (gentle music)
– [Chaka Chikodzi] I don’t really
think about style. I look for beauty.
When I first traveled, that’s when I first started questioning
what the viewer wanted from me as an African artist.
In the end I didn’t
want to give the viewer what they wanted from me.
Once you have arrived to a style, I think it’s because you
have gained an audience
or maybe because you are selling. Once you are selling,
it means it’s working,
but then if it’s working,
you probably don’t want to try something new
because trying something
new can be pretty costly. – [Anong Migwans Beam] I think a lot of
artists are always looking
to find their style. My own early work looks an awful lot like my mum and dad’s
because I was learning from
them how they make painting. And you’re trying to find your own style.
I think artists want to have a style that people know when
they look at that work, oh, that’s and your name comes to mind.
But there’s an awful lot of
experimentation in between.
– [Nathan Eugene Carson] I try to
break style as much as possible. And when I kind of get known
for a particular style,
I switch it up quite quickly. I find it’s like repeating yourself. There’s not a challenge there.
And also too, it’s quite boring. My style has evolved and
changed over the years.
If I’m known in one decade
for drawing and painting, then I try to do the
complete opposite the next,
which would be maybe black
and white photography or go into making sculpture
or music or just another creative path.
– [Shelley Niro] I like to
characterize my own technique and my own style as
being imagination first.
In my practice, I don’t
really think about style because I go from bead work,
painting, photography, sculpture and it’s like, what’s my idea and how am I gonna get that idea done?
Sometimes I finish something and I go, “Well, it’s the weirdest
thing I’ve ever done.”(laughs) (birds chirping)
– [Allyson Mitchell] When you think
about style and how an artist develops a voice or becomes known for a
way of making things,
I think that a dilemma of
commercially successful artists would be when something that
they produce sells well,
that they are asked to reproduce that and it can be a bit of a trap to continue
to reproduce the same
sort of looking thing. – [Deirdre Logue] But also on the
subject of style,
you have a style with your
work as an individual. I also have a style.
But when we do other projects like the feminist art gallery
of “Killjoy’s Kastle,” I mean, we’re talking about
other ways of depicting style.
– [Allyson Mitchell] Yeah. – [Deirdre Logue] Like I would say
chaos would be a style that we have or derangement.
It’s so multi-dimensional
that there is a style to it but it’s not described as
you would describe style.
– [Allyson Mitchell] Like a particular
kind of brushstroke. – [Deirdre Logue] It’s described as, it’s described in the language
of large-scale performance.
It doesn’t mean we don’t have style. I mean, come on.
– [Allyson Mitchell] Look at us. – [Male Interviewer]
(laughs) Totally, yeah.
(gentle music) (gentle music)
– [Tim Whiten] I don’t think
that I have ever signed a three-dimensional work in my life ever. – [Nathan Eugene Carson] I think
about signature a lot.
And I always sign all my work on the back.
– [Suzy Lake] I deal with notions
of signature and dating from tradition
because of my painter printmaker training. So paintings are signed
on the front lower right.
And as a printmaker if
there’s an edition, you put the edition on the
left, the title in the center
and the name and the date on the right. – [Dorian FitzGerald] The idea of
signing a work
especially on the face of the work, I mean, it just hasn’t
seemed like something to do.
Sign on the back.(laughs) – [Shelley Niro] I sign my work
hesitantly. I think it ruins the work sometimes,
it’s like I’ve ruined
my work by signing it. Sometimes I make the signature too big
and then sometimes I make it too small and I was like, oh, I
have to start rub it out, start all over.
– [Allyson Mitchell] It’s not like oil
painting with a signature at the bottom.
We made this project called “KillJoy’s Kastle: A Lesbian
Feminist Haunted House” and for that project over the years
that we’ve done it, there’s
been hundreds and hundreds. Hundreds of artists
have contributed to that
and nobody signs the work. – [Nathan Eugene Carson] It’s something when I
go into an art gallery
is I see a big signature on a painting. That really agitates me.
Like I just like staring at
what it is that I’m supposed to and then maybe I’ll think
about who created it after.
– [Shelley Niro] I guess it’s necessary
for you to have ownership over what you’ve done.
But I just find that kind
of ruins it for me really as the last thing you do on your painting.
It kind of finishes the
piece once you’ve signed it. I don’t know, it feels like
you’re abandoning your work
by signing it. Okay, I’m done with you,
now leave me alone. (laughs)
Whereas if you don’t sign it ever, it’s like you could still kind of float in and out of your work.
(water burbling) – [Anong Migwans Beam] Well, my dad,
he always signed his name on the bottom right, Carl Beam,
but not every work gets signed. Most of them do but I think there’s a lot
that you’re doing them and you think you’re gonna come back to
it, but then you don’t.
And so I’ve gone through
his work and found those.
And it’s funny to
describe that to somebody. They’re valueless for
missing the signature.
If the artist was habitually
signing everything, missing a signature it
just makes it practically,
well, it’s not valued. – [Interviewer] So like significant. – [Anong Migwans Beam] Significantly. We have this interesting
thing in our family
that Beam is not actually
our genetic name, we’re not really related
to any Beams directly.
And his real last name was Migwans. And just through the
tussle of the last century,
he came to have that name. And when I was in my 20s, he said,
“I’ve come too far as Carl Beam, you could change it though.” But I really had that name
as part of belonging to me.
So we ended up really redefining a name that didn’t really belong to us
and then inhabiting this name and now I’ve named my business
Beam Paints after that name.
So it’s definitely ours now. – [Tim Whiten] To sign the work
has a lot to do with ego.
There is no need to sign it to affirm the condition
that exists within.
It is in itself a signature. The nature of the work
which issues from me is a very very specific understanding
about who it is that I am, who it is that I aspire to be and the conditions surrounding
that can’t be faked.
(gentle music) (gentle music) – [Nathan Eugene Carson] There was
this one gallerist and he was like,
“I wanna sell this work,
I wanna sell this work.” And I was like, you’re
not breaking up my series, like this is one series
and one day it will be
shown as a full series or if somebody wants to collect it,
they can collect the whole series. And he said to me, “Oh, that’s so hard, that’s not the way things are done.”
But I was trusting that that right person, place will come.
One of the laws of the universe
is the law of attraction and like attracts like, so I often just think like
most of the time those systems
that aren’t for me, just
aren’t attracted to me and I’m not attracted to them. Like I’ve never had a
commercial gallery ask me
to be part of their system. – [Suzy Lake] The kind of work that
I make isn’t the kind of work
that’s gonna easily hang
in someone’s dining room. And yeah, I mean, my family has works
of mine that they don’t hang. So I do think that my
quote end quote client
would be institutions. And so that’s really quite an honor because institutions have
to be very selective.
But when a private
collector purchases my work, the work form or content
wise really touches them
and you get to meet them
and they’re the people that you want to have it.
It’s important to them. I mean, that’s an ultimate compliment. – [Shelley Niro] I’ve been fortunate
to have my work purchased
by the National Gallery. I think it’s really kind of
an honorable thing to happen.
And I’m always surprised and
excited when it does happen. It becomes pretty serious at that point.
‘Cause if I was to keep it
for much longer, who knows? Like, “Oh, we don’t need
this painting anymore,
I’m gonna paint over it.” So it helps me look at my work
in a much more serious way.
– [Tim Whiten] For me, the works
have to be found in a place or repository which has the
capacity to retain those works
so they can be accessible to people. I’m not interested in my work going to someone in their home
where they’re hidden from view
other than for a few people, but not available to a larger population. It limits the import of the work.
If people have dollars and
cents dancing in their mind, it most often prevents
them from getting the sense
of the real value of a work. And so it’s a commodity, it’s a thing. And they don’t care about the nature
of what its real purpose was. We’ve lost sight of the real
purpose of cultural objects in the first place.
– [Dorian FitzGerald] In 2011, I painted
a vase that was interesting because of questions about its provenance
and how it was valued. It had come up for auction at Bonhams
and was presented as a beautiful example
of Chinese porcelain,
and had a high estimate
of millions of dollars. And then at the last minute,
they were unsure about attribution. And so suddenly minimum bid
was $15,000 or something.
So this vase ended up going for, I think it was $7.89 million. In reading about it,
this idea of provenance
being paramount in the West, if it’s a fake then it’s of no worth
or very little worth, maybe a curiosity, but that the craftsmanship required
to make a credible fake is of course comparable to
the craftsmanship required
to create the object in the first place. I appreciate the idea of
enjoying an object for what it is
as opposed to only enjoying an
object based on who owned it or that it came from the original source.
The fact that one could
appreciate one object as being as valid as the other one. I think is far more appealing to me
than dismissing it out of hand ’cause it’s a fake. So I find it compelling.
– [Deirdre Logue] The institution
enables collectors in ways that are problematic for artists.
So when institutions choose to restrict and collectors choose
to restrict an artwork
to a certain level of provenance that it has to be signed all these things,
they actually set themselves
up for failure first because there’s the
vast majority of artists that made that way.
We tend to want to help the museum, move it a little bit more into more contemporary thinking about
what it is that they’re doing. – [Allyson Mitchell] And the people
inside of them can see themselves as dismantlers rather than
protectors of status quo.
But unfortunately I think
the whole collection of art and how it’s set up is
only about the status quo,
because I think that they
desire to have things quote end quote change but they don’t wanna give up the power
that they already hold. So you kind of can’t have
both of those things. It’s like how can we
appear to be or like…
– [Deirdre Logue] Progressive. – [Allyson Mitchell] Progressive and
all those kinds of things but we’re still gonna keep
our board of directors,
we’re still gonna keep our CEOs, we’re still gonna keep
our directors who are like
from a long line of white settler cis men.
– [Deirdre Logue] The perfect
collector or the perfect curator or the perfect institution
would take all of the same risks
that the most adventurous
art of their times take. And that collectors actually
would be chosen by the artists,
not vice versa. There’s a real inversion
of something fundamental
that I think it forms the
nature of art entirely. (gentle music)
(gentle music) – [Shelley Niro] The Group of Seven
were a group of gentlemanly painters
who would go out into the
wild during the summer, collect all their sketches
and their rough work
and then come back into their
own studio in the winter and paint these tableaus,
what they’ve experienced.
Sounds very nice. All these gentlemen just
painting away. (laughs)
– [Deirdre Logue] I think the question
of Tom Thomson and all of the ways in which his work and the Group of Seven’s work
is authenticated in many ways,
created impossibilities for other artists. That a work has to have a signature, that the work has to be part of a group
which is part of a movement. It fit really nicely into a European art historical framework.
And remember that’s where
settler colonialism comes from. So it’s these White European models
that really are very problematic. – [Dorian FitzGerald] Notions of
authenticity and things like looting
of historical sites
to provide what is an authentic object. Yeah, there’s all sorts
of problematic things
about what value is
placed on authenticity.
– [Suzy Lake] I was approached
not too long ago by an institution that was offered an
artwork supposedly by me.
And they sent me a photograph to confirm whether or not it was mine.
And I was mortified at
the quality of the work. I wasn’t pictured in the
image which I always am.
And definitely it was not my work. So I was really grateful
that they checked with me
before putting my name on it. – [Allyson Mitchell] If somebody were
trying to authenticate an artwork of mine
or ours together, they
would have a tough time trying to prove that we had made it.
And partly that’s because it is unusual. It’s ephemeral, it’s performance,
or it’s collaboratively made
with a large group of people. – [Deirdre Logue] We kind of defy
authenticity, signature, style and all the other things that a museum or a collector would need
to create some sort of value. – [Allyson Mitchell] I like to dream
of a different world where institutions
and collectors actually value
and if that were valued, the more that went into
something as a culture,
as a collaboration, we would be living in a
different kind of world.
– [Anong Migwans Beam] Authentication
puts a lot of authority to experts. And then really you have to ask yourself
how credible is that authority. Early on in managing my father’s estate,
I had an instance where an individual who was very well thought of
in the artistic community,
made a comment on Facebook that they had seen some
work of my father’s
and because they didn’t recognize it, they stated, “Look at these fakes”
because they were signed Carl Beam but visually they didn’t
match his expectation.
And I had to track him down immediately and tell him really clearly
that he was mistaken
and that it was irresponsible of him to make statements like
that without first checking
with the estate. And part of that is
because I think artists
are by nature really
adventurous curious people. And especially over
the span of a lifetime,
artists are experimenting even ones that have a very defined visual style.
So it’s really difficult
to declare yourself enough of an expert in one artist
to be the arbiter of
this is or this isn’t.
– I’m not agreeing with the
whole idea of authentication. The basis of authentication has to do
with the monetary value. And monetary value, there’s
essentially a problem.
My own belief is the works that are much more significant to us have no real monetary value at all.
What they have is essentially
a spiritual value. I think that spiritual value outweighs the concerns
And yet people actually
misunderstand the nature of the real transaction of a work of art. The means by which we understand
ourselves as human beings,
what we are, who we are
and what we can aspire to.
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