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Connecting the past to the future through art

Two abstract paintings, both featuring abstract renderings of organic materials.

Image: Pines at Sunset (n.d.) is pictured on the left by Mary Augusta Hiester Reid, the first woman to have a solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario. On the right is Pines at Sunset Abstracted (2022) by Drawing and Painting graduate Rachael Grad, created in response to Reid's original. 

Exhibition sheds light on OCAD U’s founding and future

In 1873, following the creation of the Ontario Society of Artists (OSA), a group of 28 painters exhibited their work on Toronto’s King St. West. Celebrated for possessing "sustained merit" these emerging artists went on to establish the Ontario School of Art in 1876. They were the predecessors of the current students of OCAD University and began what is today Canada’s largest and oldest art and design postsecondary institution. 

Since then, the Government of Ontario has purchased works by OSA artists. The Society has also donated artworks. Together these contributions have built a legacy for future generations of artists and students.

In recognition of the OSA’s 150-year history, 25 students have drawn inspiration from the historical artworks held in the Archives of Ontario made by members of the Society. The resulting exhibition, The Archive of Merit: From the OSA to OCAD, showcases paintings from the 19th century in conversation with those created by undergraduates enrolled in the Drawing and Painting, Printmaking and Publications, and Criticism and Curatorial Practice programs at OCAD U. 

“This exhibition has been a wonderful opportunity for students to connect with local art history and the fascinating and complex origin story of the art and design school where they study,” notes Assistant Professor Ilene Sova, Ada Slaight Chair of Drawing and Painting, who mentored the students throughout the project. 

"Through the exhibition theme of decolonization, the students were able to place a critical lens on 'who is missing from this origin story?',” Professor Sova continues. 

The students also received mentorship from Assistant Professor Emma Nishimura, Chair of Photography, Printmaking and Publications and Strategic Foresight and Innovation graduate Nafeha Khan.  

Connecting the past to the present, this will be the first time that works from the Archives of Ontario will be displayed alongside contemporary OCAD U students in one space. 

“Certainly, the emerging artists in the exhibition have different perspectives from their predecessors but juxtaposing their works in the same gallery allows us to acknowledge the path that led us here and celebrate our newfound merits,” note the exhibition curators, Anqi Li and Lex Barrie, who are both students of OCAD U’s Criticism and Curatorial Practice undergraduate program.

Works of varying mediums will be on view from June 2 to 17, 2022 at the Ada Slaight Gallery at 100 McCaul St., each responding to the collection with decolonial themes. The public reception for the exhibition will occur on June 9, 2022 at 6:30 p.m. In addition to the physical exhibition, the works can be viewed online

The exhibition features works by students, Olivia Aguiar, Raha Alipourfard, Brandon Baghaee, Isadara Bulaklak, Ievgeniia Cherednikova, Tiffany Duong, Ariana Fraser, Adam Gourlay, Rachael Grad, Nandy Heule, Parisa Heydari Gheshlaghi, Dilshad Kanji, Shinae Kim, Erika Klee, Katrina Langstroth, Anita Lasek, Cherie Leung, Judith Librach, Ethan Platt, Emerald Repard-Denniston, Connor Rothe, Firouzeh Saremifar, Alex Tremblay, Agnes Wong and Seo Young Yoon.  

The Ontario School of Art opened on October 30, 1876 at 14 King St. West with a government grant of $1,000. In 1912, the institution became the Ontario College of Art (OCA) and was renamed Ontario College of Art and Design in 1996. In 2010, it was finally named OCAD University.  

Gallery hours are as follows: 
June 2 to 13, 2022
Monday to Thursday, 9 am to 10:30 pm  
Friday, 9 am to 7:30 pm  
Closed on weekends. 

The exhibition is free to attend and the venue is wheelchair accessible. Visitors are required to download the OCAD U Safe APP to enter the building on either iOS or Android.