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Courtesy Christine Guest

Beaver Hall exhibition brings 1920s Montreal to the Glenbow museum

By Gurman Sahota, October 25 2016—

Straying away from tradition and rebelling with bold colours, the Beaver Hall Group will show at the Glenbow Museum in the 1920’s Modernism in Montreal: The Beaver Hall Group exhibit.

With Montreal life as the focus of the series, artists of the Beaver Hall Group exemplify the culture created by a lack of prohibition in the 1920s. University of Calgary English professor Susan Bennett’s ENGL 519 course, Studies in a Literary Period: Women, Canada and Modernism, studies the Beaver Hall Group in detail.

Bennett says the Beaver Hall group provides unique opportunities for study and student engagement.

“You get a very vibrant cultural life in Montreal. At the same time, Montreal is also a very prosperous place. The artists are responding to that,” Bennett says.

The exhibit explores the theme of lived experience, something that was not represented by works of the Group of Seven — a group that was prolific in Toronto in the same era whose focus was more landscape-based.

“[The exhibit is] unusual in depicting urban scenes in the sense of both the industrial side of Montreal but also representing neighbourhoods the artists lived in and lots of portraits and other figurative art,” Bennett says.

The group is not only renowned for their use of colour and depictions of everyday life but also for their roughly gender-balanced membership.

“The history of art by women becomes more familiar — women represent the significant majority of cultural consumers,” Bennett says. “There is something quite exhilarating in seeing these modern women in these paintings.”

The centrepiece of the exhibition is a work by Prudence Heward titled “Girl Under a Tree.” The piece showcases a different kind of female body that was not normally presented. Depicted realistically, the women across the exhibit show how women can exist in art without a sexualized perspective. Traditionally being depicted as subjects for the male gaze, Bennett says women in the pieces produced by the Beaver Hall Group exemplify the simplicity of just existing.

“This is very much a different way of showing a nude woman, or a scantily clad woman that is not eroticized for the male gaze,” Bennett says. “It is there to be looked at in a much more non-sexualized, non-idealized kind of way. They are not directed for a man’s pleasure — and these were considered really outrageous.”

The exhibition hosts ideas that resonate with the current era, with topics such as immigration, growth in population, the expansion of evolving culture and distinct nods to how human relationships are maintained through change.

Bennett’s course features an emphasis on a collaborative project between the U of C and the Glenbow based around the Beaver Hall Group. Students will host a curated tour including three vignettes that illustrate the backstory of the exhibition. The vignettes will cover three themes of the exhibit — the rediscovery of women’s art, the role of the male critic and the idea of female friendship.

“The Beaver Hall Group seems to be rediscovered in Canada about every 30 years — it also is because the Glenbow owned one or two pieces. So they had the beginnings of realizing this is great work and people ought to see it,” Bennett says.

The exhibit runs from Oct. 22–Jan. 29. Entry is $11 with a valid student ID.

For more information, visit glenbow.org

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