25 September 2017

Friends Send Me ... camel things (7)

Who is a woman called Nancy Graves and why did she create camels in art installations? More than once?

Shown at the National Art Gallery of Canada in June 2017, it's an exhibit I missed! Photographs from an ever-alert friend tell me only that the subjects were created 1968-1969 and are composed of "burlap, polyurethane, animal skin, wax and oil paint."[1] Steel and wood armatures support the creations.

Well! Unbeknownst to me, Nancy in her relatively short lifetime (1939-1995) was a very busy artist sculpting, painting, printmaking, with related activities. She was and is arguably best known for her work with camels, her first display (photo above) being in the Whitney Museum of Modern Art. Allan Bronfman of Montreal bought and donated this and several others to our National Gallery in 1969.

Further digging revealed that in 1969, Nancy was "an art world sensation."[2] She continually experimented with camels and other natural forms, venturing into film-making, glassblowing, poly-optics, and aerial landscapes. Two of her films are motion-studies of camels, both held now by the National Gallery. Her film Goulimine led me to a sub-Saharan town in Morocco known for its weekly camel market and as a historic caravan centre. My recent visit to Morocco did not include this town but a couple of others on the edge of the great desert were very similar. I can find no reference to why she chose to depict Bactrian (two-hump) camels when her models were clearly Arabian camels of North Africa.

Her response to why camels? "Because camels shouldn't exist. They have flesh on their hoofs, four stomachs, a dislocated jaw. Yet with all of the illogical form the camel still functions. And though they may be amusing, they are wonderful to watch."[3]

Ultimately she went far beyond camels; now Nancy Graves' works are featured in galleries around the world, a truly creative and versatile force. For example, some of her pointillism accompanied the National Art Gallery exhibit.

Fascinating! Nancy, I wish I'd known you!

Thanks to my colleague Ruth Blair for the peek!

[1] "Nancy Graves: From Camels to Moonscapes," 20 March 2017, National Gallery of Canada (https://www.gallery.ca/nancy-graves-from-camels-to-moonscapes).

[2] Mark Guiducci, "It's Time to Re-discover Nancy Graves: Post-Minimalist, Anti-Pop Lover of Camels," 28 February 2015, Vogue (http://www.vogue.com/article/nancy-graves-mitchell-innes-nash).

[3] "Nancy Graves: From Camels to Moonscapes," 20 March 2017, National Gallery of Canada (https://www.gallery.ca/nancy-graves-from-camels-to-moonscapes).

© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman

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