120119 - "Letters" Opening Reception
Letters: Michael Morris and Concrete Poetry
January 13 - April 8, 2012
Reception at the Belkin: Thursday, January 19, 8 - 10 pm

Photographs by Michael R. Barrick, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery

Works of art in "Letters" are also presented at:
Walter C. Koerner Library
1958 Main Mall, UBC
January 18 - April 30, 2012
Satellite Gallery
560 Seymour Street, 2nd Floor, Vancouver
January 25 - March 3, 2012
Satellite Reception: Saturday, February 4, 6 - 9 pm

In his roles as a curator and primarily as an artist, Michael Morris has been a key figure of the west coast art scene since the 1960s and his contribution to the development of Vancouver as a contemporary art city has been immense. Morris was engaged with Concrete Poetry in the 1960s. The Concrete Poetry movement was perhaps the first global art movement, springing up in South and North America, Japan and Europe in the mid to late 1950s.

Recognizing the potential of Concrete Poetry as an area that included design, poetry, architecture, art, and communications, Morris co-curated an important exhibition of Concrete Poetry at the University of British Columbia Fine Arts Gallery in 1969. It presented a selection of Morris’ large “Letter” paintings and a selection of international concrete poetry from the period.

During this time, Morris was also working on his most ambitious series of paintings, Letters (produced from 1967 to 1969) —for the first time all seven are presented in this exhibition. Composed of vertical bands of gradated colour and divided into triptychs by Plexiglas and concave mirror insets, the Letter Paintings were named after the “Letter” column in Art International magazine. (Morris’ work had been discussed in “Los Angeles Letter” in the December 1967 issue.) Paris, London, New York, Peking, Rome, Los Angeles, Madrid; there are seven large paintings plus a study for the largest, New York Letter. The study has never been exhibited in Vancouver.

The titles give a sense of Morris’ growing interest in the mail art network and in the possibilities of networks of peripheries and centres. They positioned the genre of painting against the metaphor of communication, which at the time were agitated by Marshall McLuhan’s declarations of the paradigm shift coming with the digital era.

Letters: Michael Morris and Concrete Poetry also presents over 60 works by Morris and his mirror installation, Atlantis/Jericho (1970/2011). Approximately 100 items from the Belkin Art Gallery’s collection of over 2,000 Concrete Poetry materials (correspondence, ephemera, prints, posters, broadsheets, objects, books and catalogues) by Vancouver / Canadian artists such as bill bissett, bpNichol, and Carole Itter will be exhibited.

In addition, works from the collection by Ugo Carrega, Henri Chopin, Lily Greenham, Jiri Kolar, Ferdinand Kriwet, Arrigo Lora-Totino, Steve McCaffery, and Gerhard Rühm will be included in Letters. Some of these artists were part of the original 1969 Concrete Poetry exhibition and their works situate Morris and Vancouver’s links to the international movement.

Michael Morris is one of the most important architects of Vancouver’s contemporary scene and he received Canada’s prestigious Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts in the spring of 2011. Vancouver is fortunate in that there is much interest in the contemporary art history of the city in Vancouver and internationally.

Letters: Michael Morris and Concrete Poetry is co-curated by Scott Watson and Michael Turner. An exhibition catalogue with contributions by Scott Watson, Michael Turner, Jamie Hilder, and William Wood will accompany the exhibition.

We thank Walter C. Koerner Library at the University of British Columbia and the Satellite Gallery for participating in this exhibition.

Works of art have been loaned by the Art Bank at the Canada Council for the Arts in Ottawa, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, National Gallery of Canada, University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, Vancouver Art Gallery, and private collections.

This project was made possible with the generous support of the Audain Foundation, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Vancouver Foundation, and the British Columbia Arts Council. We gratefully acknowledge the support of our Belkin Curator’s Forum members.
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