I arrived as Curator of Modern Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, in the same mood as I had arrived at Athene ten years before: to make changes and improve standards. So when I was informed by the director that a new group of art enthusiasts (the Patrons of Canadian Art) had just received their charter as a non profit corporation (the P.C.A), I rejoiced. I had just returned from a visit to “Expo 67,” the World’s Fair in Montreal that celebrated the Canadian centennial, and had in mind to exploit the attention it had drawn to the visual arts by staging the largest ever exhibition of contemporary Canadian art—an idea that the director, William Withrow, instantly agreed upon, except that the gallery was already fully programmed for 1968.

So I dredged through the AGO calendar—where I discovered that the Ontario Society of Artists (OSA), that had enjoyed annual exhibitions in the gallery for the previous 48 years, had not yet received confirmation from us of their date for 1968. And since the Society, like the Canadian Royal Academy, was already on my list of events to let go, I met with the director and suggested that the OSA should be invited to participate in the creation of a nation-wide show that would mark its last appearance with us. How the society was persuaded to accept this without a fuss I do not know, except that the Board of Directors of the AGO at that time was forward looking, its president-elect, Edmund Bovey, a man of enormous persuasiveness, and the director of the AGO, Bill Withrow, a person of commendable courage in face of the Toronto art community.

So a “National Art Exhibition Committee” was formed, with Edmund Bovey in the chair and representatives from the OSA and the PCA along with Bill Withrow and myself, the Province of Ontario Council for the Arts, Toronto art dealers, art collectors and academics – its function being to raise the necessary funds and to leave the rest to me. We needed assembly points in civic galleries across Canada, jurors from outside the country (I chose the British celebrities, Richard Hamilton and Bill Turnbull, that I had known years earlier at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, and Jonas Mekas from New York, because I wanted film to be part of the show); then there were insurances to be negotiated, transportation for the selected works and schedules for two teams (one for painting and one for sculpture) to cross the country with the jurors—along with a secretary for each. The entire gallery would have to be stripped of its permanent collection and the installation would, as always, be in the hands of the AGO’s staff, under my direction as curator. Public relations were in the hands of our PR department and the opening was scheduled for November 29th 1968.

How the president of the OSA announced this fait accompli to the members I have no idea, though it must have required considerable diplomacy. Whatever the case, the members seem to have figured that I had been at the root of their demise. Not that they were discourteous: indeed, everything seemed to go well throughout. They had even asked for, and received, my approval for one of their members to design the catalogue, (though it turned out not to have been designed by the member they named—who was listed in the credits as in charge of “Art direction” and whose sole contribution seems to have been to direct the cost to more than $8,000 ($80,000 in today’s equivalent!) while nothing about the constipated product, the cover of which I include here, was approved by me.

Canadian Artists 68 catalog cover
Canadian Artists 68 catalogue cover




NOW: fast forward forty years—to 2008, when I accidentally came across the annual report of the OSA for 1968 (extract below), and discovered that, unknown to me, the president had produced a magnificent snub—for, as far as the Ontario Society of Artists was concerned, I did not exist!



1968 will surely go down in the annals of the OSA as being the year of radical change. For the first time in its long and productive life, the Society relinquished its plans to hold the accustomed Annual Open Exhibition. This was agreed upon in order to assist in a joint effort of unprecedented magnitude. The experience of 96 years was devoted to the aesthetic administration of “Canadian Artists/68”, an Exhibition open to professional artists across Canada, to be displayed in November at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Delegates from the OSA played an influential part in the newly formed National Art Exhibition Committee (previously known as the “Inter-disciplinary Committee”) by joining with representatives from the Art Gallery of Ontario; the Province of Ontario Council for the Arts; the Patrons of Canadian Art; independent Gallery Directors and Collectors, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Edmund C. Bovey.

The NAEC met frequently from early March until the opening of the Exhibition, to explore the possibilities of an imported jury of selection; the raising of equitable funds and the establishment of collection points wherein to judge the works across the Country. The summation of this research resulted in the selection of Richard Hamilton, Painter, London, England, as Juror for Painting; William Turnbull, Sculptor, also from London, as Juror for Sculpture; Jonas Mekas, Lithuanian film-maker and critic now living in New York, as Judge of the newly added category, Films. Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Turnbull arrived in Toronto on September 15th, and following a reception at the home of Mr. Ray Cattell, they proceeded on their cross-country itinerary to the collection points; Vancouver, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Montreal and Toronto; preceded by a public relations representative who had been assigned to herald their arrival through the varied media of publicity.

Jonas Mekas arrived in Toronto on October 6th to judge the film entries. The award-winning films were subsequently viewed by the public on four Film Festival Nights at the AGO during the Exhibition. The Prize awards total, of $21,000.00, was the most impressive ever offered in a Canadian Exhibition of Visual Art. The winners in all three categories were:

For Painting:
lain Baxter................... $2,000.00 N.A.E.C. Award
John Chambers ........... $2,000,00 Remaco Ltd. Award
Greg Curnoe ............... $2,000.00 N.A.E.C. Award

For Sculpture:
François Déry............... $3,000.00 “Canadian Artists/68” Award
Peter Kolisnyk.............. $3,000.00 P.O.C.A. Award
Les Levine.................... $3.000.00 N.A.E.C. Award

For Films:
John Chambers.............. $l,500.00 Labatt’s Brewery Award
Keewatin Dewdney....... $l,500.00 Bell & Howell Award
Larry Kardish................ $l,500.00 Sovereign Films Award
Michael Snow................ $l,500.00 Labatts Brewery Award

The POCA subscribed $40,000.00 toward the operational expenses of this Exhibition. A balance of $28,000.00 was raised through the combined canvassing efforts of the NAEC, by donations from Corporations and Industry.

The energy expended by the OSA towards the fulfillment of this project left little time for the planning of other activities this year. Our customary Small Picture Exhibition was therefore removed from the calendar of a year that was consumed by only two programmes.

“Canadian Artists/68” was held at the Art Gallery of Ontario from November 30th to December 29th.

The Honourable John Robarts officiated at the opening on the evening of November 29th, before an attendance of 1,746.

Prior to the opening, a dinner was held in the University Club for the guest of honour and the members of the NAEC, their wives, and the A.G.O’s President-elect Edmund C. Bovey and his wife; the retiring President and his wife and Members of the Art Gallery Staff.

In Summation: Total cost of the Exhibition including awards: over $68,000.00 Attendance opening night: 1,746. Total Exhibition attendance: 19,898. (14,053 adults; 5,845 children.) From a total of more than 1,000 entries in the nation-wide competition 53 paintings by 44 artists and 25 works of sculpture by 24 sculptors were selected. From an entry total of 110 films, 16 were chosen.

Two members of the OSA had their works accepted; Alan C. Collier painter, and award-winner Peter Kolisnyk, sculptor.

THE CATALOGUE: 2,500 catalogues were printed at a total cost of $8,457.00 1,127 copies were mailed to catalogue subscribers. 365 were sold by the Art Gallery of Ontario at $2.00 each, totaling $730.00 14 copies sold to Gallery Tours at a 50% discount; total $14.00.

No one could have gained from such a report that it was I who had conceived the show, chosen the jurors, negotiated their travels and crossed the country with them, nor that it was my installation and my catalogue introduction. In short, the spin put on the most ambitious and the most expensive of all exhibits of Canadian contemporary art, down to the present day, had turned the event into a victory for the OSA after all, at least within their own community—something of which I had been oblivious for forty years (though, come to think of it, they have never held another exhibition at the AGO).

The Jurors, Bill Turnbull and Richard Hamilton, in the Vancouver studio of Ingrid and Iain Baxter with other selected artists and friends and members of the AGO team: Left to right, (front row): Carol Itter, Dennis Young (AGO), Ingrid Baxter, Michael Morris, Glenn Lewis, Mrs. Breeze, Claude Breeze; (second row): Susan O'Brien (AGO), unknown (AGO), Charlotte Townsend, William Turnbull, Iain Baxter, Richard Hamilton, Brian Fischer. [photographer unknown]

What I remember most clearly about the show was that on opening night one of the artist participants, his mind loaded with some kind of noxious substance, announced that he intended to set fire to his huge colour-field canvas and had to be escorted out (his canvas, the largest in the show, following, next morning).

The exhibition, however, mostly served its purpose. It spread news to England and to America of the high quality of contemporary Canadian art—helped no doubt by its size, by the big prizes and by the glowing praise that came from all three jurors as well as from the well known New York movie critic, Manny Farber, and Lucy Lippard, the New York art critic who reviewed it for ArtsCanada.




Twenty three years after the above report, its author, Doris McCarthy, by then in her 80s, published her autobiography THE GOOD WINE: An Artist Comes of Age. It was reviewed in November 1991 by Susan Crean, an art critic and supporter of the women’s movement, in The Toronto Globe and Mail (Canada’s national newspaper), who saw it, in part, as:

“ insider’s tale about the peculiar challenge of being an artist in Canada, offering an unflattering view of institutions such as the Art Gallery of Ontario which “jockeyed” artist’s groups like the Ontario Society of Artists out of the gallery and with them their annual juried exhibitions. McCarthy was president of the OCA at the time of the putch in the sixties ... This is a little known and rarely acknowledged chapter in our cultural history, the downside to the professionalization of public art galleries... that perforce excludes the sharing of power with anyone, especially artists...”

This book and Ms. Crean’s review of it are the only public publications I have ever come across reporting the AGO’s termination of the annual show of the OSA.