Installation view from Survey ‘69, exhibition at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in May-June 1969. Michael Morris, New York Letter, c. 1968, gelatin silver print, mirror, Plexiglas. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Purchase, Saidye and Samuel Bronfman Collection of Canadian Art. Photo: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Henry Koro.
Michael Morris, Los Angeles Letter, 1968
acrylic on canvas, mirror, plexiglas; 184 x 327 cm Collection of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, The University of British Columbia Purchased with support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance program and the Morris and Helen Belkin Foundation, 2011.
At Koerner Library: Ferdinand Kriwet, Rundscheiben (Newsletter), 1960/63, offset print on paper. Collection of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery. Purchased with support from the Morris and Helen Belkin Foundation and the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery Acquisition Fund, 2010.
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.
Artist, educator, curator Michael Morris was born in 1942 in Saltdean, England and immigrated to Canada at age four. After he graduated with honors from the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art + Design) in 1964, Morris attended two years of postgraduate studies at the Slade School of Fine Art at the University College London. There he absorbed the work of Fluxus and the European avant-garde, artistic developments that had a profound influence on Vancouver’s experimental art scene. When he returned to Vancouver, Morris became acting curator of the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Centre for Communications and the Arts at Simon Fraser University.
In 1973, Morris and seven fellow artists (Martin Bartlett, Mo Van Nostrand, Kate Craig, Henry Greenhow, Glenn Lewis, Eric Metcalfe, and Vincent Trasov) co-founded the Western Front—one of Canada’s first artist-run centers—and he served as its co-director for seven years.
Michael Morris has participated in artist-in-residence programs both in Canada at the Banff Centre (1990) and at Open Studio (2003) and internationally at Berlin Kustlerprogramm (1981-1998). He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities in 2005 by Emily Carr University of Art + Design. In 2011, he received the Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts. Morris currently lives and works in Victoria.
Jamie Hilder is a Vancouver-based artist who recently completed a PhD in the English Department at the University of British Columbia, titled, “Designed Words for a Designed World: The International Concrete Poetry Movement, 1955-1971.”
Michael Turner is an award-winning author. He recently curated to show, to give, to make it be there: Expanded Literary Practices in Vancouver, 1954-1969 at the Simon Fraser University Gallery. In 2009-2010 he was the Ellen and Warren Tallman Simon Fraser University Writer-in-Residence.
Scott Watson has written extensively about contemporary art. He is the Director/Curator of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, Acting Head of the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory, and Chair of the graduate Critical and Curatorial Studies Program at the University of British Columbia.
William Wood is an art historian. His interests include the history of conceptual and minimal art of the 1960s and 70s, and cultural criticism. Recent essays have been about the work of Billy Apple, Glenn Lewis, Robert Morris and Robert Smithson, and Ian Wallace. He is writing a book about contemporary art in Vancouver in the 21st century.
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