It’s easy to dissect the past.
It is with hindsight that we are able to step back and explore what came before us, drawing conclusions, identifying trends, and honing in on pivotal moments. It is a whole lot harder to find those crucial people and pieces within present day because, simply, we’re still in the middle of living it.
When the curators of the Vancouver Art Gallery set out to not only create their biggest exhibition ever, but to have said exhibition showcase and explain the foundations of present-day culture, they had no small feat ahead of them. And as they now tour through the finished exhibition, which takes up the entire four floors of the gallery, their relief at having done it, and pleasure with the result, is wholly evident, and deserved.
“MashUp: The Birth of Modern Culture”, on now until June 12, 2016, seeks to present an A-to-Z look at the origins of what we know today as the concept of mashup: the collaged, the amalgamated, the appropriated, the copied, the masked, the remixed. Addressing a small group of media, gallery director Kathleen Bartels rattles off an impressive list of numbers: 371 works of art; 156 artists; 75 collections; eight countries; 30 curators. “MashUp” was something of a mashup itself, requiring the gallery to extend its arms to the far reaches of public and private collections, and local and international artists. “It’s amazing that we did it,” Bartels says.
Immediately striking upon entering the space is Barbara Kruger’s black-and-white installation, which covers the entire rotunda and acts as a gateway to (and perhaps a warning for) the intense sensory experience to come. “It’s impossible to tell the story of mashup culture without showing its broad origins,” says senior curator Bruce Grenville. As such, the exhibition presents not only fine and modern art in the traditional sense of sculpture, print, and painting, but also in its broader definitions including film, music, literature, and fashion. Comprising the incredibly long list of featured artists include some fabulous icons, including Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jean-Luc Goddard, Pablo Picasso, Joseph Cornell, and Martin Margiela.
“To bring this together was a real triumph,” says Grenville. His hope? That “MashUp” encourages people to come back again and again. And in all fairness, just one visit is really not enough to take in the entire selection of work on display. Like a collage or a remixed song, “MashUp” must be experienced up close and on repeat in order to appreciate the many complicated parts that make up the storied whole.
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