Epstein is seen here with Bina Ellen at a reception held in the Gallery
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 Montreals most
knowledgeable and dedicated art patrons.
Helaine Kliger (Chair)
Mary Anne Ferguson
Mary Kay Lowy
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 theres no
limit to the artistic imagination. Exhibiting such works can be expensive.
Thats 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 Montreals ecclesiastical
architecture, 1760-1860. He also worked at Christies, 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 Gallerys 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 Rectors Office. The
Gallerys 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 Montreals, 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 Gallerys outside
face on Bishop St., the white-wedding-cake façade of the old Royal
George Apartments, is closed. The Gallerys 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.