Mann Art Gallery summer student steps up to curate Pamela Burrill exhibit

Pamela Burrill: Motion & Gesture ties into themes of movement in main gallery show

Summer Collections Assistant Nicholas Markowski curated the current project space exhibit featuring seven artworks by Pamela Burrill. (Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald)

The Mann Art Gallery is giving a young, up-and-coming art historian the unique opportunity to curate a permanent collection show.

This is Nicholas Markowski’s second year there as a summer student. He’s currently working towards a double major in history and art history at the University of Toronto.

The gallery had originally slated to display work from Pamela Burrill in November. However, because of its temporary closure for a few months because of COVID-19, staff decided to bump the show up to correspond with the exhibit currently in the main gallery.

“It’s very exciting. It was sort of an unexpected opportunity,” said Markowski.

“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to develop my skills in this sort of job position.”

The curatorial process consisted of looking at images of Burrill’s work before pulling out the physical pieces to see how they mesh together. Markowski decided to display seven of her artworks alternating between sizes, keeping a subtle gradient of colour in mind. He also wrote a curator’s statement.

Registrar Tia Furstenberg hung and lit the pieces.

Pamela Burrill was born in Britain, but lived in Saskatchewan in the late 20th century. She immigrated to Canada following her studies in geography in London, and then travelled to various countries including North Africa, Ireland and Australia.

Burrill completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts at the University of Saskatchewan, holding an exhibit at the Mann Art Gallery in 1996. She passed away in 2001.

Part of Markowski’s responsibilities in curating the show is researching Burrill to share with the wider community.

Pamela Burrill: Motion & Gesture is currently on display in the gallery’s project space. In the main gallery is Migration and Transformation, a show by a trioof artistsexploring movement of diseases, animals and humans.

“Basically, we wanted a show to go in here that kind of corresponded to the themes of the main exhibition gallery, but also demonstrated the breadth of Pamela’s work,” explained Markowski.

“So I went through our pieces by her and chose the ones that I thought were thematically coherent with the theme in there, and also just best represented her work.”

Burrill primarily painted landscapes, he said, but in a very abstract way. The paintings of water and clouds, for example, work well with the theme of inevitable movement in the main gallery exhibit.

According to Acting Director/Curator Lana Wilson, the idea of handing a curatorial role to a summer student originated with the Mac Hone exhibit in the John V. Hicks Gallery in January.

That show was curated by a longtime volunteer, Russ Mode. The exhibit originally slated for that time wasn’t feasible because of the large sizes of the artworks, so Mode—who knew Hone—stepped up with a new idea.

“There was an opportunity for a community member to curate, and so I would say that that experience, as well as Nicholas’ knowledge, made me feel confident in giving him the opportunity,” said Wilson.

Normally, the process of curating a show takes months. Markowski, however, pulled it off in a matter of days.

“It was very gratifying for me as a director/curator to be able to give the staff such leeway and really see them rise to the challenge as I knew that they could. It makes me really proud,” emphasized Wilson.

Markowski is also in the process of putting images of Burrill’s pieces online. That’s something that Furstenberg said they’re hoping to do more of, not just because of the pandemic, but to make art that much more accessible.

“This is exhibit is going to be sort of the first one to make an appearance and we’re in the process of putting more artists and their artworks on the website,” she said.

Furstenerg, a recent bachelor of fine arts graduate, was also happy to see Markowski taking on a new role.

“We’ve been trying to give him projects that help him grow to new experiences, and so I think this really helps and ties that all in.”

Pamela Burrill: Motion & Gesture is on display until August 22.