Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada 1965 - 1980 Divided by venues geographically, the Blackwood Gallery presented the Halifax portion of the exhibition

September 11 - November 28, 2010

Curated by Grant Arnold, Catherine Crowston, Barbara Fischer, Michèle Thériault with Vincent Bonin, and Jayne Wark.


Works by: Vito Acconci, Bas Jan Ader, Eleanor Antin, David Askevold, John Baldessari, Bruce Barber, Wallace Brannen, Daniel Buren, James Lee Byars, Eric Cameron, Ian Carr-Harris, Sylvain Cousineau and Francis Coutellier, Greg Curnoe, Jan Dibbets, Graham Dube, Gerald Ferguson, Michael Fernandes, Dan Graham, John Greer, Hans Haacke, Douglas Huebler, Richards Jarden, Donald Judd, Pat Kelly, Garry Neill Kennedy, Joseph Kosuth, Les Levine, Sol LeWitt, Lee Lozano, Allan H. MacKay and Lionel Simons, Brian MacNevin, Barry MacPherson, Albert McNamara, Ian Murray, N.E. Thing Co., Dennis Oppenheim, Bruce Parsons, Harold Pearse, Yvonne Rainer, Ellison Robertson, Martha Rosler, Michael Snow, Theodore Wan, Douglas Waterman, Lawrence Weiner, Joyce Wieland, Martha Wilson, Jon Young & Tim Zuck.

Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada 1965–1980 maps the diverse, centripetal and eccentric manifestations of Conceptualism as its premises were enacted, hybridized and inflected by the particular local and geographic needs and interests of urban arts communities. Presenting works in a diversity of media by over seventy Canadian artists, many of them internationally renowned, this is the first major exhibition documenting the many manifestations of Conceptual Art in Canada.
The exhibition continues at the other University of Toronto Galleries: Justina M. Barnicke Gallery (St. George), University of Toronto Art Centre (St. George), and Doris McCarthy Gallery (Scarborough).

Traffic is organized and circulated by the Art Gallery of Alberta, Justina M. Barnicke Gallery and Vancouver Art Gallery, in partnership with the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery (Concordia University) and Halifax, Ink.

Produced with the assistance of the Museums Assistance Program of the Department of Heritage.

Special Events

Opening Receptions
Friday, September 10: 6:30 - 7:30 pm, JMB Gallery & UTAC, 7:30 to 9:30 pm
Sunday, September 12: 1 - 4 pm, Blackwood Gallery & 2 - 5 pm, DMG
Free shuttle bus departs Hart House at 1 pm.

The Blackwood Talks
Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada 1965-1980 - The East Coast Story
Join us for a talk by Dr. Jayne Wark, Professor of Historical and Critical Studies at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and the curator of the Atlantic portion of Traffic
Wednesday, October 13th at 7pm
MiST Theatre, UTM
Free tickets for the Hart House to UTM Shuttle Bus will be available for pick up at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery.
Please take the 5:35pm shuttle bus.
With support from the Department of Visual Studies, University of Toronto Mississauga.

The Blackwood Breaks:
15 minute lunch-time talks on the current exhibition
Wednesdays at 1:15pm in the Blackwood, Kaneff 140
October 6* - Christof Migone, Curator/Director, Blackwood Gallery
October 20 - Louis Kaplan, Chair, Department of Visual Studies
November 3 - TBA
November 17 - Robert Fones, Instructor, Studio Art, Sheridan Institute
*October 6 Blackwood Break will begin at the e|gallery in CCT Building
Coffee and tea to follow

FREE Contemporary Art Bus Tour
Sunday, October 17th, 11:30am - 5:30pm
Tour starts at 11:30 at Balisi at 711 Queen Street West (Koffler Gallery off-site space) and then departs for Blackwood Gallery, Art Gallery of York University and Doris McCarthy Gallery, returning downtown for tours of the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery and the University of Toronto Art Centre. To make a reservation, contact the Blackwood Gallery at or 905-828-3789 by Friday October 15.

Exhibition Statement

The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) in Halifax became a centre of international conceptual art activity from 1969 to 1980. While there were also instances of conceptual art in other Atlantic Canada areas, particularly in Sackville and Moncton, New Brunswick, the concentration at NSCAD resulted from administrative and pedagogical initiatives intended to bring students into contact with the most advanced contemporary art of the day. The main outcome of these initiatives was the establishment of such programs as The Mezzanine Gallery (1970-73), the Lithography Workshop (1969-76), The Press (1972-87; relaunched in 2002) and the Visitors Program (1969-present), which provided opportunities for international artists to visit, show and/or produce work at NSCAD. Such activities fostered a deep and enduring conceptual orientation at NSCAD, but there were also of great importance for the people who participated in them. For example, it was at NSCAD that Lawrence Weiner had his first solo show of conceptual art in 1969, Dan Graham made some of his earliest video works in 1975, Lucy Lippard delivered the lecture in 1969 that would become the basis for her touchstone book on conceptual art, Six Years (1973), and Joyce Wieland produced her iconic lithograph, O Canada, in 1970. These are among the many conceptual art works and events that will be included from Altantic Canada in Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada 1965-1980.

- Jayne Wark, Guest Curator

Historical Context

Traffic: Conceptual Art in Atlantic Canada

The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) in Halifax became a centre of international conceptual art activity from c. 1969 to 1980. While there were also instances of conceptual art elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, particularly in Sackville and Moncton, New Brunswick, the concentration at NSCAD resulted from administrative and pedagogical initiatives intended to bring students into contact with the most advanced contemporary art of the day, which was conceptual art. The main outcome of these initiatives was the establishment of courses and programs such as David Askevold’s innovative Projects Class, Charlotte Townsend-Gault’s equally groundbreaking Mezzanine Gallery, the Anna Leonowens Gallery, the Lithography Workshop, The Press and the Visitors Program. Although these were all distinct entities, they often overlapped and fed into one another so as to provide a variety of opportunities for international artists to visit, show and/or produce work at NSCAD. For example, an artist might visit the college to participate in the Projects Class, make a print with the Lithography Workshop and have an exhibition at The Mezzanine or Anna Leonowens Gallery.

The presence of these artists and their activities fostered a deep and enduring conceptual orientation at NSCAD, from which the college as a whole and the students in particular benefited enormously. These visits to the college and the activities carried out there were also of great importance for the people who participated in them, especially since there were not many venues elsewhere supportive of conceptual art in those days. Lawrence Weiner, for example, had his first solo show of conceptual art in 1969 at NSCAD, as did Dan Graham in 1970. During Graham’s numerous visits, he also took advantage of the college’s multi-media equipment to produce his earliest films and video performance works such as From Sunset to Sunrise and Two Correlated Positions (both 1969). In 1969 New York art critic Lucy Lippard participated in the Projects Class and delivered the lecture that would become the basis for her touchstone book on conceptual art, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Object from 1966 to 1972, while the following year Joyce Wieland produced her lithograph, O Canada, which has subsequently become one of her best known works.

This profusion of activity at NSCAD, which continued throughout and beyond the period covered by this exhibition, is mainly attributable to the outlooks and ideals shared by Garry Neill Kennedy, who became President in 1967, and key faculty members Gerald Ferguson and David Askevold. They not only envisioned the school as a place where art could be produced with complete disregard of all categories and distinctions, but also a place where students were treated as peers and fully integrated into all aspects of college activities.

NSCAD was a conceptual art hothouse remote from the art world’s main centres. Yet it turned that remoteness to its advantage by providing an institutional context where the dematerialized and ephemeral practices of conceptual art could be carried out relatively unburdened by the art world’s usual market constraints. Ultimately, the confluence of its courses, programs, faculty, students and visitors made NSCAD a site of intensive research and development. This enabled it to make a major contribution to the international discourse of conceptual art as a mode of inquiry. As Charlotte Townsend-Gault put it, when this mode of art as inquiry was good, it “could stand comparison with other established modes of inquiry, and could even make them think again” (Conceptual Art: The NSCAD Connection, 1967-1973, p. 42)

The Projects Class at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design

The young American artist David Askevold conceived of the idea of the Projects Class when he was hired to teach Foundation at NSCAD in 1968. His original intention was to have contemporary artists visit the school to interact directly with students. The first three visitors, James Lee Byars, Rex Lau and Lawrence Weiner, came in April 1969. Some of the ephemera from their projects and exhibitions are displayed in Traffic along with other materials from the Anna Leonowens Gallery.

The first Projects Class ran during the 1969-70 academic year with twelve international participants: Robert Barry, Mel Bochner, James Lee Byars, Jan Dibbets, Dan Graham, Douglas Huebler, Sol LeWitt, Lucy Lippard, Joseph Kosuth, N.E. Thing Co., Robert Smithson and Lawrence Weiner. Since it turned out to be financially unfeasible to bring them all in as visitors, Askevold adopted the strategy of having many of them submit their proposals by mail or telephone. The students in the class then carried out these projects, while working concurrently on their individual projects, with Askevold acting as coordinator and monitor. Askevold subsequently published these twelve initial projects as a series of cards, which are shown in Traffic as a framed group.

The Projects Class ran for three years. During its last year (1971-72), Askevold took a sabbatical and invited Vito Acconci to coordinate the class, with five-week sessions conducted by Acconci, James Lee Byars, Dan Graham, Dennis Oppenheim and, upon his return, Askevold.

The Projects Class implemented a highly innovative approach to pedagogy by having the students deal directly with or execute the work of contemporary artists, all of whom were then achieving prominence as conceptual artists. The strategy of having many of the projects sent by mail or telephone was a practical solution to the fiscal realities of NSCAD’s geographic isolation from the art world’s centres, but also an inspired one since it perfectly demonstrated the dematerialized, mobile and idea-based nature of conceptual art. The Projects Class has become legendary in the history of conceptual art and a subject of considerable allure for some young contemporary artists today. One well-known example is Mexican artist Mario Garcia Torres, who attempted to recreate Robert Barry’s proposal for a class secret in his own extensive project, What Happens in Halifax Stays in Halifax (2004-06).

The Lithography Workshop at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design

The Lithography Workshop was the first among the roster of new programs Garrry Neill Kennedy implemented when he became President of NSCAD in 1967. As with the other new programs, one of its key aims was to establish contacts with contemporary art by having artists come to the college to work with the master printer, interact with students and perhaps do an exhibition or give a presentation. The usual practice was to produce a limited edition of fifty prints, split between the artist and NSCAD so as to make revenue for both parties. Between its startup in January 1969 and its closure in August 1976, the Lithography Workshop produced 289 prints by seventy-seven Canadian and international artists, including several by NSCAD faculty.

The NSCAD Lithography Workshop initially followed the model of the Tamarind Lithography Workshop, founded in Los Angeles in 1960 to revive the art of lithography. A good example of the spectacular technical achievements of this period is represented in Traffic by Canadian artist Greg Curnoe’s innovative suite of ten prints imitating a notebook documenting his visit to Halifax in spring 1970. Later that year, however, the program turned decisively away from Tamarind’s ideals under the new direction of faculty member Gerald Ferguson. Ferguson’s goal was to increase the Workshop’s marketability by producing prints by artists who were then establishing reputations as innovators of contemporary conceptual art. This objective accorded with his lack of commitment to the aesthetics of lithography per se, since he considered it “one of the most boring art circumstances” (letter to John Baldessari, Lithography Workshop Fonds, NSCAD).

The Lithography Workshop prints in Traffic represent a small selection of the key works that were produced during the period under Ferguson’s direction. Following his criterion that the artists must have no prior experience with printmaking, they demonstrate the unexpected ways in which such a traditional medium could be reinvented under the principles of conceptual art, which Sol LeWitt famously defined in “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” (1967) as a practice where “the idea or concept is the most important part of the work . . . and the execution is a perfunctory affair.” These include examples of prints where the execution was deferred to students and/or the master printer (Sol LeWitt and John Baldessari), where self-reflexive reference was made to the process of printmaking (N.E. Thing Co. and Pat Kelly), where there was an indexing of systems, locations or memories (Jan Dibbets, Gerald Ferguson, Dan Graham, Douglas Huebler, Garry Neill Kennedy, Les Levine) and where the body could be used as a performative medium (Vito Acconci, Dennis Oppenheim and Joyce Wieland).

Although the NSCAD Lithography Workshop struggled to offset its costs with the sale of its prints, it garnered major exposure through the exhibition of its production at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in a touring show by the National Gallery of Canada (both 1971) and in a 1982 exhibition organized by the Land Grant Universities of New England. As a consequence, all of its vintage prints from this period are long sold out and currently available only on the auction/dealer market at prices astronomically higher than the original $50 for each.

The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design

The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design started up in 1972. It was the suggestion of New York artist Dan Graham, who had a close affiliation with the college since 1969, that it would be timely, viable and suitable for NSCAD to initiate a press. Graham also suggested the appointment of German curator and contemporary art book dealer Kaspar Koenig as editor/director.

On the advice of NSCAD art history faculty member Dennis Young, the mandate of The Press was to publish “Source Materials of the Contemporary Arts” under the larger rubric, the Nova Scotia Series. The focus was to be on original writings, documentation and projects by artists rather than on historical or critical texts by secondary authors or on photo-based books about artists. This was a field traditionally neglected by the larger art book publishers, and created a niche for The Press’ publications.

This mandate of The Press was suitable both to the college’s commitment to advancing research and knowledge in the contemporary visual arts and to its constant and uppermost objective that its programs and initiatives should be of primary benefit to students. For this reason, The Press operated on a model similar to that of the Lithography Workshop, whereby the artists were invited to spend time at the college and interact with students, often by teaching courses, while working on their books with the editor.

Apart from the somewhat anomalous first publication under Koenig’s editorship (Bernhard Leitner’s The Architecture of Ludwig Wittgenstein 1973), the other eight closely followed The Press’ mandate. As was characteristic of the interdisciplinary crossovers of this period, these included three books by leading dancers and musicians of the New York performance scene. This group is represented in Traffic with Yvonne Rainer: Work, 1961-73. The other books produced during Koenig’s editorship were by visual artists, including the three examples seen in Traffic by Donald Judd, Michael Snow, and Hans Haacke.

Despite the establishment of a co-publishing and distribution arrangement with New York University Press after the first publication by The Press, it was closed in 1976 for financial reasons. Two years later, however, The Press resumed activity and recruited Benjamin Buchloh from Dusseldorf to serve both as editor and part-time faculty member in art history. In addition to completing two books to which previous commitments were made (Paul-Émile Borduas, Écrits = Writings, 1942-1958 and Michael Asher, Writings 1973-1983 on Works 1969-1979), Buchloh initiated five new books, including Dan Graham’s Video – Architecture – Television, seen here in Traffic. Buchloh also began a second series, the Nova Scotia Pamphlets, to run parallel to the Nova Scotia Series. These were intended to offer a publishing venue for artists working outside traditional media. The first three in the Pamphlet series, one of which is represented in Traffic with Martha Rosler’s 3 Works, were completed before Buchloh departed to take a teaching position in New York, although he also edited the final three in the series.

After The Press was closed in 1983, it co-published, with MIT Press, one more book, The Definitively Unfinished Marcel Duchamp (1991). This contained the proceedings of a colloquium organized by Dennis Young and Thierry de Duve and held at NSCAD in 1987. The Press was re-launched in 2002, however, and since that time has published six new books and four reprints or second editions. Despite its ongoing economic challenges, The Press continues to serve its objective of producing and disseminating research and knowledge in the field of contemporary art to both a broad and specialist audience.

The Mezzanine at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design

The Mezzanine at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) was a small space adjoining the larger Anna Leonownens Gallery. Initially, it was used mainly by students and faculty for projects related to the curriculum. During fall 1969, this included the display of ephemera from two works contributed to David Askevold’s Projects Class by Vancouver-based N.E. Thing Co. and New York artist Joseph Kosuth. N.E. Thing Co. installed Teletype and Telecopier units to which they sent instructions for projects to be carried out by Askevold’s students, while Kosuth posted documentation from the installation of his Art as Idea as Idea word pieces in various locations around the city.

With the appointment of Charlotte Townsend-Gault as Director in September 1970, the space was officially constituted as The Mezzanine. Townsend-Gault conceived of it as a facility rather than a gallery, with the objective of accessing and disseminating the kind of ephemeral, transient and conceptual art work then being produced in North America, Europe and elsewhere. The Mezzanine ran on a shoestring budget, so it relied largely on shows or projects amenable to the postal and other communication systems, and like the Anna Leonowens Gallery, its exhibitions turned over every one or two weeks.

The Mezzanine programming began in October 1970 with an exhibition by Scottish artist Bruce McLean that set the tone for the open-ended way it would treat the concept and practice of art. Called “King for a Day” Plus 999 Other Pieces – Works – Stuff etc., it consisted of copies of a booklet listing 1,000 things that could be considered art just by calling them “pieces” or “works.” The artist invited anyone to respond to these in any way they wanted, and to display the results in The Mezzanine. The last show held at The Mezzanine was former NSCAD student Ian Murray’s Keeping on Top of the Top Song (June 25–July 2, 1973), which promoted the LP record version of this work displayed in Traffic.

Although The Mezzanine was a short-lived program, it was at the forefront of the creation and dissemination of conceptual art at NSCAD. This was due not only to the inclusion of important exhibitions by Canadian and international artists such as Bill Vazan, N.E. Thing Co., Bas Jan Ader, John Baldessari, Dan Graham, Lee Lozano, Eleanor Antin, Daniel Buren and others, but also because it provided an accessible venue for NSCAD faculty and students to test ideas and show recent work to the community as a whole. Moreover, The Mezzanine’s innovative approach to and mixture of programming was unique in Canada at the time and in a sense it served as the prototype for the artist-run centres that would develop elsewhere in Canada in the early 1970s.

The Anna Leonowens Gallery at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design

The Anna Leonowens Gallery was established at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) in 1968 during the overhaul of the college that Garry Neill Kennedy initiated when he became President in 1967. Named after Anna Leonowens, who was the college’s principle founder in 1887 (and famously immortalized in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, The King and I), the gallery was part of a six-story addition to the college’s cramped Coburg Road building.

From the time of its inaugural exhibition (5 Canadians) in December 1968, the Anna Leonowens Gallery has served a pivotal role at NSCAD and in the region. Although one other public art gallery existed in Halifax at Dalhousie University, having the Anna Leonowens Gallery at NSCAD was crucial to its central goal of bringing students into contact with international contemporary art. It was not just a gallery where students could see work by professional artists, however, but rather one where students could exhibit their own work and be treated as professionals themselves. To serve this combination of student and professional artists, the Anna Leonowens Gallery has always operated on the principle of a rapid one- or two-week turnover of exhibitions as well as sponsoring a wide variety of projects and events.

The Anna Leonowens Gallery has retained much of the ephemera of its exhibitions over the years and its archive holdings provide important records of the history of conceptual art at NSCAD. Among the selection included in Traffic are those for the first two exhibitions of conceptual art at NSCAD, Events Week at Anna Leonowens Art Gallery by James Lee Byars and Rex Lau, and 5 Works by Lawrence Weiner, both in April 1969. Although the mailers and publicity posters were often perfunctory in nature, many artists saw these as extensions of the exhibition and designed them with great care, such as those by John Greer (May 25–June 8, 1972), Les Levine (July 4–30, 1973), Douglas Waterman (July 22–26, 1974) and Jenny Holzer and Dara Birnbaum (March 24–28, 1980).

The Anna Leonowens Gallery continues to operate as it has for forty-two years, and its integration of student and professional exhibitions remains unique in Canada. It now holds an annual average of one hundred and thirty exhibitions, for a grand total of 3,637 as of August 9, 2010.


Generously supported by the Canada Council for the Arts.