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Clarence Epstein is seen here with Bina Ellen at a reception held in the Gallery Sept. 12.

Advisory board includes distinguished art lovers

The external advisory board of the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery was established in 1992, and is now more active than ever. It includes some of Montreal’s most knowledgeable and dedicated art patrons.

Helaine Kliger (Chair)
Sam Abramovitch
Olivier Asselin
David Elliott
Clarence Epstein
Mary Anne Ferguson
Roy Heenan
Christopher Jackson
Stephen Jarislowsky
Mary Kay Lowy
Robert McCoy
Garry Milton
Sean Murphy
Sandra Paikowsky
Chantal Pontbriand
Carolyn Renaud
Lillian Vineberg
Karen Antaki (Director/Curator)


by Barbara Black

The Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery has done a great job of collecting, preserving and showing the art of the 20th century, but how will they handle the art to come?

Art no longer means simply paintings on the wall. A contemporary art gallery must keep abreast of developments in the art world, and that means being prepared to show installations that may be virtual, interactive, huge, wet, moving, light-dependent, noisy, ephemeral — there’s no limit to the artistic imagination. Exhibiting such works can be expensive.

That’s just one of the challenges facing Clarence Epstein, who has been working in the Office of the Rector since April. His association with the university goes back to 1998, when he started helping Concordia with several estates involving cultural property.

A specialist in the management of large private and corporate art collections, he has degrees in art history, architecture and architectural history. He attended McGill, the Courtauld Institute in London, and the University of Edinburgh, where he did his PhD thesis on Montreal’s ecclesiastical architecture, 1760-1860. He also worked at Christie’s, the famous London auction house.

The Ellen Gallery, he says, is “a hidden gem,” and his mandate is to give it a stronger financial base. When operating grants to the university declined in the 1990s, the Gallery’s already modest budget was painfully squeezed.

Running day to day

As Director/Curator Karen Antaki has pointed out, the Gallery continued to advance, securing $550,000 since 1992 in project-specific grants and sponsorships and acquiring artworks valued at more than $2.3 million during the same period, but the money required to keep the Gallery running day to day was drying up.

The answer was to take the Gallery from the hard-pressed Faculty of Fine Arts, and make it the responsibility of the Rector’s Office. The Gallery’s roots go back to 1962, when businessman Dr. Samuel Schecter broached the idea of a permanent university art collection to the Fine Arts Department of Sir George Williams University. Space was allocated in the Henry F. Hall Building, a fund was established, and the collection was launched with seven works.

Over the years, the diligence and discrimination of curators and directors, including Edwy Cooke, Donald Andrus, Sandra Paikowsky and the present director, have made that small collection grow into something quite impressive, a record of Canadian, and particularly Montreal’s, artistic life through the past century.

Epstein points out that these works — from James Wilson Morrice and Emily Carr to Jean-Paul Riopelle and Guido Molinari — are like old friends now, but they were cutting-edge when they were first shown. If the Gallery is to continue to show and buy the latest and best, it must be adequately equipped, funded and staffed.

The Gallery has an educational program, including lectures and tours, and the hiring of students as research assistants and gallery attendants, but since Concordia houses one of the best art history departments in the country, this could be greatly expanded with sufficient funds.

And while the current location on the main floor of the library complex is an elegant one, open to the big, sunny atrium, the Gallery’s outside face on Bishop St., the white-wedding-cake façade of the old Royal George Apartments, is closed. The Gallery’s many friends would like to see a welcoming doorway in this heritage building, to say to Montrealers-at-large, “Come in, and see what we have to show you.”








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