The 1989 purchase of Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire (1967) by the National Gallery in Ottawa for $1.76 million is the most public art controversy to have happened in Canada. Newman himself was political; he wrote of anarchists and created protest art, and ran for mayor of New York. Yet in his final interview he spoke of the intangible: “My work in terms of its social impact does denote the possibility of an open society, of an open world, not of a closed institutional world.” Feminist artists such as the Guerilla Girls would later question his position of power.
It’s with this two-toned interest in pragmatism and idealism that Sally Buck exhibits photographs of Vancouver women in protest. The Vancouver Art Gallery’s 1995 display of Andres Serrano’s Piss Pope I and II (1987–88) saw demonstrations by Catholics. In 2010, Indigenous and civil liberties groups opposed the Winter Olympics. Occupy Vancouver rallied against global inequalities in 2011. When Bill C-51 granted government agencies access to individuals’ information in 2015, citizens protested. There are annual Red Umbrella marches for sex workers’ rights and Red Dress Day to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women. The 2017 and 2018 Women’s Marches saw pussy hats worn worldwide, in opposition to the US president’s stand on gender as well as racial inequities and sexual violence.
While protesting, women take possession of public space. Our bodies are sites of pragmatism and idealism, our decisions the constant measuring of perceived and varying safety levels and norms of acceptability. In mass numbers with shared missions, the signals we receive and transmit can be emboldened, or subsumed. There are risks, but there is a drive to be heard. Historical images share protesters’ varied resistances and their hopes about the possibility of an open society and an open world.
In a city of unhinged property values and taxes, emerging and unrepresented artists have a difficult task of finding galleries to show their work. In conjunction with an exhibition by Kent Lins, Sally Buck is showing in one of two rental vans.