George F. MacDonald (1938-2020): ‘Visionary’ director shaped Canadian Museum of History

Mon ami George est parti pour le pays des chasses éternelles, après une belle vie de chercheur, archéologue, directeur de musée, … Il a vécu passionnément son amour pour l’art Haïda et pour l’art de la côte Nord Ouest, entouré d’artistes contemporains qui lui doivent beaucoup. Je ne peux écrire tant j’aurai à dire, alors je transmets juste ce que disent les journalistes. 

Capture d’écran 2020-01-30 à 17.54.30Article de l’Ottawa Citizen par BLAIR CRAWFORD

Updated: January 30, 2020

If there is one place at the Canadian Museum of History to feel the presence of George F. MacDonald, it’s among the totems and longhouses of the museum’s Grand Hall.

Anchored by Haida sculptor Bill Reid’s plaster cast for his iconic Spirit of Haida Gwai, the Grand Hall highlights the art and craftsmanship of the West Coast First Nations MacDonald so admired. MacDonald, who spent 36 years at the museum and was its director from 1983-1998, died last Wednesday in Ottawa. He was 81.

“Those exhibits in the Grand Hall just add so much power to the place,” said architect Douglas Cardinal, who worked with MacDonald to build the capital’s showpiece museum, then known as the Museum of Civilization. “George was open to exploring all possibilities and he brought out creativity in everyone around him. It meant that you reached for the stars when you were solving problems. George would appreciate that and support you.”

Born in 1938 in Galt (now Cambridge), Ont., MacDonald studied anthropology at the University of Toronto and Yale University before being hired in 1964 at Ottawa’s Museum of Man in its castle-like building on McLeod Street. When the museum was split into two distinct collections — anthropological and natural history — MacDonald oversaw the construction and move to the newly named Museum of Civilization’s $180-million building in Gatineau.

The move was controversial, and not just because of its $11-million cost overrun. MacDonald unabashedly pushed what critics called a “Disneyfication” of the museum, using interactive displays and computers to immerse visitors in a new kind of museum experience. MacDonald insisted the museum have an IMAX theatre and in 1994 made it one of the first museums in the world to launch its own website.

”Disney is the epitome of popular culture and therefore thought to be anti-intellectual” MacDonald told former Citizen arts reporter Nancy Baele in 1987. “But people should realize the master plan for Disney includes circulating cultural treasures from European and American museums, like the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Louvre. The intention is that in the future, people will think of Disney as a cultural broker rather than Mickey Mouse’s father.”

Not everyone agreed with the man who some called “Dr. Disney.”

“It’s a total bust,” historian James Axtell told the Citizen in 1989. “You learn nothing. Museums are built on artifacts and there are no artifacts to speak of in it. It’s a flawed philosophy that would assume the past and the present are so alike that you don’t really need to explain it.”

“He took a lot of blowback over that,” Baele said in an interview. “At the time, most museum still kept their displays behind glass panes.”

MacDonald acknowledged the criticism in an interview with the Citizen when he retired in 1999.

”It was a bit lonely, with all the press criticism we had at the beginning. But no museum had a choice if they wanted to survive in this media-savvy world. People now demand good storytelling and good production values. Museums that can comply prosper, and we have prospered.”

Mark O’Neill, the current director the Museum of History, called MacDonald a “visionary” and said much of the criticism was unfair.

“Dr. MacDonald’s vision was for a  museum without walls. He was contemplating a virtual museum that anyone in the world can visit. In those days when it came to the ‘immersive museum experience’ it was cutting edge.”

With 1.2 million visitors a year, the Museum of History has become the most popular museum in Canada.

After leaving Ottawa, he took over as director of the Museum of Victoria, overseeing its construction in Melbourne Australia. Later he headed the Burke Museum in Seattle and was named director of the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art in Vancouver and the Bill Reid Centre for Northwest Coast Studies at Simon Fraser University.

He was a lifelong collector. He established his first museum in his bedroom when he was eight, said his daughter, Christine Doherty MacDonald. His personal library at the farm in Cantley, Que., where he had lived for half a century with his wife and childhood sweetheart, Joanne, runs to 30,000 volumes, she said.

MacDonald was also an accomplished scholar, publishing numerous works on Pacific Northwest Indigenous peoples.

“He was an extremely important advocate for Indigenous communities at a time when it was not something at the top of everyone’s agenda,” O’Neill said. “This is the 1980s — a generation before many other museums.”

The couple had two children, Christine and Grant Rice MacDonald, and one granddaughter. A noted scholar herself, Joanne died in 2018.

A memorial service will be held later this spring at the Museum of History, Doherty MacDonald said.

Rebecca Belmore

Rebecca Belmore pour présence autochtone

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Sister, soeur, 2010

(Hommage aux femmes autochtones disparues)

Pour la 29ème édition du festival Présence autochtone, le Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC)  présente la plus importante exposition du travail de l’artiste Rebecca Belmore, Braver le monumental.

 » L’exposition Braver le monumental, présentée au Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal jusqu’au 6 octobre, est un survol des trente dernières années de l’œuvre de Rebecca Belmore. Cette exposition est organisée par le Musée des beaux-arts de l’Ontario et coordonnée par la conservatrice de l’art autochtone, Wanda Nanibush. Toujours en présentant à l’aide de médiums diversifiés, Belmore aborde des enjeux tels que les changements climatiques, l’accès à l’eau, les problèmes d’itinérance, entre autres. Les questions abordées dans ces œuvres cherchent à démontrer la nature pressante de la situation actuelle, et l’urgence d’un changement radical qui doit s’opérer. Belmore et ses collaborateur·rice·s tentent de représenter une vision autochtone de ces enjeux, qui marquent comme un fer rouge le vécu des Premiers Peuples. »


 » Les sculptures Wave Sound de Rebecca Belmore invitaient les gens à s’arrêter et à écouter les sons produits par l’eau et le vent. Écoutez ces paysages sonores enregistrés sur les sites suivants : le rivage du lac Minnewanka au Parc national Banff (Alberta); la rive du lac Supérieur au Parc national Pukaskwa (Ontario, près de la collectivité de la Première Nation de la rivière Pic); et les falaises côtières de Green Point au Parc national du Gros-Morne (Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador).
Artiste engagée, gestes poétiques
Trois sculptures moulées à partir des formations rocheuses caractéristiques de ces territoires sont exposées dans les salles de l’exposition Rebecca Belmore : Braver le monumental au MAC. « 

Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal

Récompense à la biennale de Venise pour Jimmie Durham

L’artiste d’origine cherokee, Jimmie Durham, sculpteur, essayiste, poète, reçoit son adoubement dans la cité des Doges, à l’occasion de la 58 ème biennale d’art contemporain.

Son parcours de guerrier postmoderne est ponctué d’expériences de déconstruction des archétypes et stéréotypes de toute nature.

Activiste au sein de l’American Indian Movement ( qu’il rejoint en 1973), son appartenance aux Premières Nations est toutefois contestée, certains y voient une ruse de trickster.

Le mystère Durham reste à ce jour entier.

Jimmie Durham – Lion d’or à Venise

Lion d’or 2019

Polemics : truth or not truth ?Capture d’écran 2019-08-22 à 15.41.13

Art of Native America: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Fifth Avenue, New York, NY/USA

October 4, 2018–October 6, 2019

Art of Native America ; the Dicker collection

 » This landmark exhibition in the Museum’s American Wing showcases 116 masterworks representing the achievements of artists from more than fifty cultures across North America. Ranging in date from the second to the early twentieth century, the diverse works are promised gifts, donations, and loans to The Met from the pioneering collectors Charles and Valerie Diker. Long considered to be the most significant holdings of historical Native American art in private hands, the Diker Collection has particular strengths in sculpture from British Columbia and Alaska, California baskets, pottery from southwestern pueblos, Plains drawings and regalia, and rare accessories from the eastern Woodlands. « 

Opening The Story Box: Reflections on George Hunt and Franz Boas

New York célèbre la rencontre entre l’anthropologie et l’art des Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw 

The Story Box: Franz Boas, George Hunt and the Making of Anthropology

Bard Graduate Center Gallery, New York, NY/USA

February 14 – July 7, 2019

 » The Story Box: Franz Boas, George Hunt and the Making of Anthropology explores the hidden histories and complex legacies of one of the most influential books in the field of anthropology, Franz Boas’s The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians (1897). Groundbreaking in its holistic detail, this portrait of a Native North American society was the result of Boas’s fieldwork among the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw of British Columbia and a collaboration with his Indigenous research partner, George Hunt. Drawing on a Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw metaphor, Boas imagined his book as a storage box for “laws and stories,” preserving them for science in case the culture vanished under colonial impact.

In fact, the book fails to address three important aspects of its making: Canada’s assimilation policy, which outlawed potlatch ceremonies; the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where Boas and Hunt conducted much of their fieldwork; and Hunt’s status as a full co-author. In the early 1920s, Hunt took it upon himself to correct and expand the book, in part by reconnecting hereditary treasures to the families to whom they belong. Hundreds of pages of unpublished revisions were consigned to archives after Boas’s death, examples of which have been reunited with the book for the first time.

The exhibition—with designs by artist Corrine Hunt, a great-granddaughter of George Hunt—features ceremonial objects as well as rare archival photographs, manuscripts, and drawings that shed new light on the book and advance understanding of the ongoing cultural traditions it documents. « 

The Story Box

Le retour de Raven


icone-totemisiaSous le titre « Les fils de Grand Corbeau » cette exposition rassemble différents artefacts en provenance de la côte Nord ouest du Canada, du nord de la Californie au sud de l’Alaska. Les peuples du Totem, ou encore les peuples du Saumon, sont des Amérindiens semi nomades, pratiquant la cueillette, la chasse et la pêche dans des régions riches où la nature généreuse pouvait autoriser la sédentarité. Cette sédentarité a permis l’élaboration d’une culture matérielle sophistiquée au vocabulaire stylistique remarquable avec ces ovoïdes et ces perspectives aplanies dont les fleurons sont – sans conteste – les fabuleux masques articulés et les mâts totémiques.

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