The Greater Victoria Art Gallery exhibit has taken a long and difficult journey to get there

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AT THE GALLERY
What: Denyse Thomasos: Odyssey
Where: Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 1040 Moss St.
When: from December 11 to March 13
Admission: $ 13 (adults), $ 11 (students and seniors)

An art exhibit with the size and scope of Denys Thomasos: Odyssey, which contains over 50 pieces, some nearly 20 feet long, was never going to go unnoticed. But the showcase of the works of the famous Trinidadian Canadian painter made it to the Art Gallery of Victoria with much more drama than expected.

“There is always something different with every exhibition,” said Stephen Topfer, Collections and Exhibitions Manager at AGGV. “I’ve been in the business for 30 years, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, something new is going to happen.”

The original start date for Denyse Thomasos: Odyssey was November 27, but that was pushed back at the last minute (more on that later) to December 4. Further delays (more on that later too) have preceded this opening until December 11. The first traveling show to arrive at AGGV during the pandemic finally opens today, and will remain in place until March 13, 2022.

The forces working against the organizers made several stressful weeks of preparation. From a staff shortage at the Victoria Gallery and layers of strict COVID-19 protocols delaying the process, to a broken freight elevator inside the main building on Moss Street, nothing in the installation of this exhibit is happening. ‘went as planned. Add to that list several episodes of extreme weather in November, which crippled many parts of the province, resulting in a perfect storm of trouble for the AGGV.

“It would otherwise have been a normal traveling exhibit,” Topfer said. “But at some point you start to think it was meant to be a challenge from the start.”

Denyse Thomasos: Odyssey is on loan from the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, which co-organized the exhibition with the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto. The work of Thomasos, who died suddenly in 2012 at the age of 47 following a routine medical examination, is rarely presented on this scale, which necessitated special transport via trucks equipped with safety measures, including air conditioning, to protect multi-million dollar content. inside.

Heavy rains and their aftermath blocked the path of the cargo truck carrying the art to Victoria last month, leaving the driver stranded with the truck in Golden, B.C. for several days. The truck was eventually returned to Calgary, where the driver reassessed his situation. He eventually mapped out a route across the United States to avoid fallout from flooding in the province. Upon arriving in Vancouver, he was faced with ferry cancellations.

AGGV chief preparer Ali Khan, who was said to have been a key part of the installation, was on leave with a newly arrived baby when the paintings arrived. An additional problem: the gallery’s freight elevator was out of service, so the art could not be unloaded using the loading dock. It went through the main public entrance, that is, until the biggest crate of the cargo got stuck as it passed through the gallery entrance doors. “We had four or five staff trying to dislodge it,” Topfer said.

“There are a number of very large and spectacular pieces in the show, and they required equally large and spectacular cases.”

The 600-pound crate was wedged through the doors on a specially cut piece of coroplast, until it could be placed on a cart and rolled into the gallery space. The removal of a few key staff in the COVID-19 era hasn’t helped matters. “We were using our administrative assistant and our building manager, all kinds of people to help us,” Topfer said with a laugh.

The larger room in the exhibit was easier to maneuver, but more laborious. The canvas, nine feet wide and over 17 feet long, had been taken out of its frame and rolled up for transport; it came with a “stretcher” which allowed Topfer to crop it and hang it once the painting was inside the building. The process took two days, Topfer said. “This is the largest painting I have ever hung in this building. He could only come rolled up.

Denyse Thomasos: Odyssey is certainly worth all of that effort. The artist’s work – sociopolitical in nature, as it explores the racism, slavery and industrial influence of both – is gaining new momentum across the country, and has been appreciated both critically and at auction. since his death (the catalog accompanying the exhibition features a 1,300-word Essay on Thomasos by two-time Giller Prize-winning writer Victoria Esi Edugyan.) The Legacy of Thomasos, who studied at the University of Toronto and at the Yale School of Art, then taught at Rutgers University in New Jersey, is continuing conversations about race and reconciliation long after his death.

Now that it’s open to the public, Topfer can rest until March, when the exhibit rolls out of the gallery walls and returns in transport trucks to Toronto. Hopefully there is less stress associated with leaving than when arriving, he said.

“All this activity has changed our finely tuned schedule. But we are nothing if not resilient in this business.

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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