A Symposium: Harley Parker & the Challenge to Curatorial Authority, Oshawa, ON


Harley Parker and Marshall McLuhan with “Flying Children”

Single day symposium organized by Gary Genosko (UOIT) and Adam Lauder (York) with the cooperation of the Parker Estate

 Saturday, February 9, 2013, Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 72 Queen St., Oshawa Ontario, 10am-6pm

“The curator is, of necessity, oriented towards his specialist field while the designer must be oriented toward the audience. This last means that he must be aware of the changing sensory orientation of the public as this can be deduced from advertising, clothing, transportation, even Go Go girls and the psychedelic event”.  —Harley Parker, “New Hall of Fossil Invertebrates,” 295-96. 

In the early 1960s, a radical new vision of the museum as a participatory space for ephemeral ‘happenings’ began to emerge—in, of all places, (then) conservative Toronto. Improbably, this early forecast of imminent dematerialization in the wake of new media of information movement was not the brainchild of a vanguard curator or even a forward-thinking museum director but, rather, the now largely forgotten exhibition designer Harley Parker (1915-1992). Parker, who served as the Royal Ontario Museum’s (ROM) Head of Design and Installations from 1957 to 1967, proclaimed that the ‘involving’ praxis of the designer would soon replace the authority traditionally vested in the curator. He put his sensory theories—which reworked the claims of Marshall McLuhan, with whom he developed an unlikely friendship that blossomed into a series of important collaborations—to the test in synaesthetic plans for the ROM’s new Hall of Fossil Invertebrates. Parker’s designs anticipate several major museum trends of the 1970s—more often associated with the MoMA’s 1970 exhibition INFORMATION and resonate with developments in minimal and conceptual art then only recently underway.

Harley Parker and the Challenge to Curatorial Authority is a single day symposium that invites a diverse roster of art historians, communications scholars, curators and contemporary artists to reflect on the pivotal contributions and legacies of this neglected figure within histories of contemporary art and art theory, design, and exhibition making.

Gary.Genosko[at]uoit.ca   –   Dr. Gary Genosko, Professor of Communication, UOIT, Oshawa, ON


 Harley Parker (1915-1992) was first and foremost an artist—he was also a designer, curator, professor and scholar and a frequent collaborator with communications theorist, Marshall McLuhan. Parker was born in Fort William, Ontario in 1915. He graduated from Toronto’s Ontario College of Art in 1939 and from there proceeded to work professionally as an artist. Later in his career, in 1946, he pursued further studies with Josef Albers at Black Mountain College in Virginia. From 1947 through 1957 he taught colour theory, design and watercolour painting at the Ontario College of Art.

In 1957, he assumed the position of Head of Design and Installations at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, a post which he retained for a decade. During a year-long sabbatical from his teaching position, he became an Associate Professor at Fordham University sharing the Albert Schweitzer Chair of Communications with Professor Marshall McLuhan. From 1967 until 1975, Parker became involved with McLuhan at the Centre for Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto as a Research Associate. His work there revolved around investigating the relationships between the arts and sciences in the 20th century. It was during these years that he collaborated most closely with Marshall McLuhan, co-authoring two titles, Through the Vanishing Point: Space in Poetry and Painting, and Counterblast. In 1973, Parker was selected to be the first Institute Professor of Communications at the Rochester Institute of Technology, in New York State. He returned to Canada the following year to continue his work with McLuhan at the Centre for Culture and Technology. Read more at http://harleyparker.ca/ .


Through the Vanishing Point: Space in Poetry and Painting





       Marshall McLuhan & Harley Parker: COUNTERBLAST

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