Contemplating the sacred and profane

Leading-edge contemporary art that exercises your perception, enriches your experience and offers a window on the future of contemporary art in Canada is on display at The Red Head Gallery in downtown Toronto. Titled Sacred/Profane, this exhibition features the works of York University visual arts and art history graduate students.

Left: Untitled, 2004 stone lithography print on xuan paper by Sara Vipond

A double-bill exhibition, part one opened on July 21 and remains on view until August 7, while part two opens on August 11 and continues until August 28. The public is invited to meet and talk with the artists involved in part two at the opening reception on August 12 at 8pm.

As visitors wind their way through the gallery, they will have an opportunity to savour the diverse works including those created in traditional media, such as paintings and photography, to a video installation and sculpture.

Right: Existential Seductiveness, 2004 silkscreen on Japanese paper by Amber Andersen

Co-ordinating an exhibition of work from a disparate group of artists is often challenging, given the range of interests, subjects and media explored by contemporary artists. Therefore it seemed appropriate to unify these exhibitions of work produced by the master of fine arts (MFA) students at York within the broad theme suggested by the title Sacred/Profane. Organized into two consecutive shows, the participating artists were free to respond to the theme (or not) as they chose, however, as all careful observers are aware, the application of a title carries significant weight.

The weight of art history hovers over the exhibition through the connection to the Renaissance painting Sacred and Profane Love (1514) by Titian. However, considered both separately and together, the words “sacred” and “profane” invoke a number of other associations as well. “Sacred” suggests a clear connection to religious observances and implies a degree of reverence. Sacred objects are venerated, unique and holy, while “profane” is commonly associated with vulgarity.

Several of the artists included in this exhibition have focused on a celebration of common, everyday phenomenon, suggesting an interchange between the two terms.

Left: The Killer Elite, 2004 acrylic, oil and wallpaper on plywood by Scott Waters

What may seem prosaic and ordinary to some observers has been recast into an object or event to be venerated, particularly when faced with potential loss. Others have worked broadly to challenge the sacred ideals of art, of modernism and/or the strictures of governmental, educational or religious institutions.

An additional layer of analysis has been provided by masters students who have taken the task of writing about the individual artists and the work created for the exhibition. In some cases challenging the direction or focus of a particular artist, in others expanding and enriching the potential meaning, the accompanying essays provide valuable insights into each of the artist’s current practice.

The York MFA visual art students represented in Sacred/Profane include:

Amber Andersen
Adrian Fish
Day Milman
Clemente Bothello
Justina Gardiner
Craig Rodmore
Laura Calvi
Farheen Haq
Doris Sung
Lori Clermont
Francis Henne
Tamara Toledo
Niall Donaghy
Maria Hupfield
Sara Vipond
Denniston Ewan
Peter Kingstone
Scott Waters

The art history graduate students represented in Sacred/Profane include:

Debra Antoncic
Sarah Hollensberg
Sarah Parrish
Marcie Bronson
Gloria Kim
Roslyn Pivarnyik
Martha Crombie
Nadia Kurd
Rosalynd Ronson
Lisa Daniels
Anne Merrill
Siobhan Smith
Claire Eckert
Laura Milligan

Art history graduate student Marcie Bronson said, “This is the second collaboration between the visual art and art history graduate programs in the presentation of two group shows with an accompanying catalogue, involving past and present MFA and MA students.

Right: My Favorite Things, 2004 video by Peter Kingstone

Reflecting the collaborative nature of the exhibition and that of greater curatorial practices in general, the catalogue includes images and discussions by the MA students of the MFA students and their work included in the exhibition.

The Red Head Gallery is located at 401 Richmond Street West, Ground Floor, Suite 115, Toronto. For more information: call 416-504-5654, e-mail or visit The Red Head Gallery Web site.

For information about the Sacred/Profane, e-mail Marcie Bronson at

The above article includes material authored by Debra Antoncic. It was submitted to YFile by the Faculty of Fine Arts, communications department.