McLuhan-Inspired Iain Baxter& honoured with exhibition at AGO

23Feb12
Artist Iain Baxter& at his lakefront home in Windsor, Ont., Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012.
Artist Iain Baxter& at his lakefront home in Windsor, Ontario, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2012 Photograph by Nick Brancaccio, The Windsor Star

WINDSOR, Ont. — A major retrospective of the work of Windsor artist Iain Baxter& at Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario next month could change the way people think about art.

“The show is actually an experiment to create an interface with the general public,” said the 75-year-old Baxter&, whose career has been marked by challenging the conventional wisdom about art.

The exhibit titled Iain Baxter&: Works, 1958-2011, opens March 3 and runs through Aug. 12. Consisting of more than 100 pieces and 200 photographs, it is the AGO’s first comprehensive survey of the influential artist in almost three decades.

Adam Lauder, a York University expert in digital research, said a retrospective of Baxter&’s career is long overdue.

“It’s great to see Iain Baxter& recognized for the tremendous contribution he has made to Canadian culture,” said Lauder, who has prepared a 200-page online monograph ( archives.library.yorku.ca/iain_baxterand_raisonne ) in conjunction with the exhibit.

Baxter&, who is professor emeritus of the University of Windsor’s school of visual arts, was born in England and emigrated as a child to Canada in 1937.

His undergraduate studies in zoology later influenced his thinking about art as a way of understanding the links between the natural and the man-made worlds. Armed with a master’s degree in education from the University of Idaho, Baxter& studied art and esthetics in Japan, then later completed a second masters in fine arts at Washington State University.

While living in Western Canada, Baxter& and his first wife, Ingrid, developed a keen interest in conceptual art which employed photography, site-specific installations and performance art. They founded the highly influential movement N.E. Thing Co., in 1966 which combined art with consumer culture.

Much of his thinking about art grew out of his relationship with media guru, and fellow Canadian, Marshall McLuhan. Baxter&, in fact, has sometimes been called “the McLuhan of visual art.”

“Back in the 1960s,” he said, “McLuhanism is what I got turned onto, and (it affected) my whole attitude about looking at information and the arts.”

Named to the Order of Canada in 2003, Baxter& won the Governor General’s Award for visual and media arts in 2004, and the Canada Council for the Arts’ prestigious Molson Prize in 2005, joining the likes of Glenn Gould and Margaret Atwood.

Also in 2005, he began adding the ampersand — & — to his last name as an indication that his art and the public’s perception of it are in a constant state of flux. Recently, Baxter& trademarked the ampersand in Canada. Read more at http://tinyurl.com/73hz7cs

Monograph on Iain Baxter available here: http://archives.library.yorku.ca/iain_baxterand_raisonne/

Exterior view from the northeast of the redesigned Art Gallery of Ontario
 Art Gallery of Ontario
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