Long-time curator shares his favourites
By Sonam Kaloti, Arts Editor
“Looking at other people’s art and thinking about other people’s art and putting it in exhibitions gave me pleasure and hopefully gave some other people pleasure,” said Ian Thom, former Senior Curator-Historical of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Thom spoke with the Other Press in an interview about the new Art Gallery exhibition “A Curator’s View: Ian Thom Selects,” which is filled with about 90 works that are selected favourites of Thom. He retired after 30 years of working at the gallery since 1988 and the pieces he chose span over two centuries.
“The rooms are very different,” Thom said. “They include, in each one, a variety of objects, both sculptural and things hanging on the wall. They include both historical and contemporary objects.”
Initially walking into the gallery, I was immediately overtaken by the distinct smell of wet paint. The Art Gallery is ever-changing, expanding, and clearly always preparing for the next big thing. Thom’s gallery, however, is located on the fourth floor. Starting in the final room, I took in my surroundings. Marilyn Monroe pop art, human-shaped sculptures laying dead and hanging from the walls, and paintings of torture devices all caught my eye.
The piece that stood out to me the most was The Heretic’s Fork by Leon Golub. The painting is completely unique and eye-catching because the message, colours, and everything about it is uniquely dark in comparison to the other works in that room.
Thom recounted his journey of acquiring both the print as well as the acrylic on canvas painting of The Heretic’s Fork. He found himself in New York, speaking with Golub regarding the meaning of the painting. “This painting was started in 1985 and didn’t get finished until 1994,” said Thom. “Now, he was not working every day on it between 1985 and 1994, but he was thinking about how to complete the composition.”
The heretic’s fork is a medieval torture instrument that was strapped to its victim in such a way that they would be pierced if they moved. It was intended to hurt only heretics and leave true believers unharmed—but unsurprisingly, said Thom, most who were tested against it were found guilty.
“Now, Leon thought this was an interesting idea for a painting, as well, and obviously he started working on it,” said Thom. “However, as he told, he got stuck and he didn’t know what to do with it. So he put it aside, but then he came up with the idea that people who do these kinds of things could also be compared to dogs, so he put a savage dog into the picture as well. He deliberately did not want his paintings to be shown as pristine objects, as you can see it’s kind of sagging off the wall, and that’s exactly how he wanted it.”
Thom’s dream as a teenager was to be an artist. When asked why he felt as though he could not follow this path, he said, “I think if you’re an artist, you don’t necessarily have to believe that you’re the best, but you absolutely have to believe that what you’re doing is worthwhile. And if you find yourself looking at what you’re doing and thinking, ‘Oh gosh, that’s not really very good,’ and ‘So and so can do it better,’ then you’re sunk. And when I was a young man trying to make art, that’s what I found myself doing, so I became an art historian instead.”
It is inspiring to see that even when someone may seem as though they’ve given up, they have simply opened a door to another exciting opportunity for themselves.
This exhibition displays wonderful pieces from artists such as Andy Warhol, Emily Carr, Henri Beau, and many others. Responding to the question of what he would like people to get from the gallery, Thom said, “What I’d like people to take out of this gallery is that this is the Vancouver Art Gallery; it belongs to and it’s here for the people of Vancouver. There’s something for everyone here and it’s worth coming to see it.”