Staging Abstraction features quintessential examples of Canadian abstract painting from the 1960s to the 1980s. Many of the works were brought into the collection in their time as the artists were emerging, and through subsequent donations as the Gallery became recognized as a key institutional collector of late modern and postmodern Canadian abstraction.

The Gallery now holds nearly six hundred abstract paintings from this period, comprising over a quarter of the museum’s contemporary holdings—yet very few of the works on view here have been exhibited in the last twenty-five years.

Abstract painting faced a crisis beginning in the late 1960s, as new categories of art such as video, installation and performance challenged the compelling narrative of modernist painting, which prioritized pure painting as its own subject. Just a short decade later the art market surged around neo-expressionism, but abstraction as a whole faced renewed criticism. Artists began to adapt the medium, responding with hybridized paintings, often containing several styles and media within a single work. Conceptual and reflexive approaches flourished, and artists often considered social and political content through abstraction.

Over twenty works were selected for this exhibition, to illuminate these radical decades, extending the term “abstraction” to accommodate the divergent practices that have helped set the stage for the complex, pluralistic practices of contemporary art today. Featuring works by Gershon Iskowitz, Joseph Drapell, Barbara Astman, Jack Bush, Yves Gaucher, K.M. Graham, Joyce Wieland, Tim Zuck and more.