40×40 OCA 1980’s Oct 11 – 22

Reception Oct. 14 /23 1-5pm

You are invited to attend the opening party of the exhibition “40×40”, a 40th year survey of notable artists from OCA during the 1980s.

The exhibition 40 x 40 takes place at Gallery 1313. Curated by Adrienne Trent.  Original concept by David Cheung and Karl Apple. Curatorial  essay by Carla Garnet.  Poster image: Stephen Mason, Poster design: Dr Bob Pritchard.

Artists:  Rirkrit Tiravanija, Joe McClean,Natalie Olanick, John Abrams. Denise Cooper, John Redekop, Beverly Deutsch, Carolyn White, Mike Meredith, Peter Jaeger, Adrienne Trent, David James Johnson, Ted Dudas, Frank Perna, Max Macdonald, Brian Verhoog, Bob Pritchard, Karl Apple, David Cheung, Cathy McNeil, Nancy Drews, Kim Breland, Mike Black, George Whiteside, Doug Stratford, North Clark, Donna Mehalko, Steev Morgan, Peter Cosco,Margot Fagan, Catherine Carmichael, Mitch Fenton, Carter Kostera, Douglas Walker. Sharon Cook,Kingi Carpenter, Petra Hanzlik, Christian Morrison, Dennis Day, Magdalen Celestino, Simon Muscat, Alfred Engerer, Nicola Wojewoda, Owen Ford, Jane Huggard, Jayanne English., John Yudelman & Janet Bellotto.

Gallery Hours Wed.- Sat. 1-5pm  Sun . 1-4pm

40 X 40 foreword

By Carla Garnet with excerpts by Natalie Olanick and Adrienne Trent

Conceived by Karl Apple and David Cheung, 40 X 40 is a large group exhibition that spotlights a remarkable era in Toronto art history by showcasing the artwork of over 40 artists who graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) approximately 40 years ago.

Adrienne Trent curates the multi-media project. 

It features her work alongside pieces by Alfred Engerer, Beverly Deutsch, Bob Pritchard, Brian Verhoog, Carolyn White, Carter Kustera, Catherine Carmichael, Cathy McNeil, Christian Morrison, David Cheung, David, James Johnson, Denise Cooper, Dennis Day, Donna Mehalko, Doug Stratford, Doug Walker, Frank Perna, George Whiteside, Jane Huggard, Janet Bellotto, Jayanne English, Joe McClean, John Abrams, John Redekop, John Yudelman, Karl Apple, Kim Breland, Kingi Carpenter, Magdalen Celestino, Margot Fagan, Max Macdonald, Mike Black, Mike Meredith, Mitch Fenton, Nancy Drews, Natalie Olanick, Nicola Wojewoda, North Clark, Owen Ford, Peter Cosco, Peter Jaeger, Petra Hanzlik, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Sharon Cook, Simon Muscat, Steve Morgan and Ted Dudas.


During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) served as a central hub for art students and their artists/professors. Friendships began and art careers launched. Art students streamed in from different parts of the city but also the province, the country, and, to some extent, the world to attend the school.

What we encountered was an art college in the heart of a city that was hollowed out, in part, by a mass move to suburban bedroom communities a decade or two earlier, leaving the core open to the possibility of Artist Run Art Centres like A Space, YYZ, ARC, Mercer Union, Toronto Photographers Workshop, Trinity Square Video, The Funnel, The Gap, CineCycle Art Metropole, Charles Street Video to flourish and for us to discover and imagine showing at.

At OCAD, students were introduced to media like drawing, sculpture, photography, and film as conceptual practices.

We were also introduced to the possibility of living in the world as artists. Our course instructors spoke frankly about options available for funding and exhibitions.

Professors made and taught studio art that reflected their conceptual positions.  Our classrooms were outfitted with more than tables and chairs; they held darkrooms, ceramic studios, design labs, and cutting rooms. We were scolded and encouraged as young artists to occupy two roles at once: on one hand, the role of the maker, one who sets up their studio and adjusts its instrumentation so that we might capture a thought/an aesthetic in some format, and on the other hand to perform as a new model.

Sometimes the proximity in age between professors and students resulted in a blurred line. This overlap also extended beyond the classroom into the realms of  community arts, artist-run centers, publications, activism, and public art. These interdisciplinary efforts frequently emerged from warm friendships and productive collaborations.

Adrienne Trent recounts: Approximately 40 years ago, I recall sitting on the cold cement 5th floor of the Stewart building during a new student orientation on my first day at OCA. The speaker, whom I cannot recall at this time, was welcoming us to the college. He mentioned that we were among a very select group, as the school, at that time, only accepted 1 out of 5 applicants. It had been my dream for a long time to study there, and I was elated to the point of feeling like I was floating several inches off the ground! The only other time I ever felt that sensation would be years later, hours after my first child was born!

Having been grouped into a foundation year class that included students whose surnames began with the letters R to Z, the people I would meet would shape each other’s attitudes for a lifetime. Carolyn White, Rirkrit Tiravanija (who went by Johnny back then), and many others. The profs (or instructors as they were referred to) were influential, to say the least. Especially Viktor Tinkl, Liz Magor, Ian Carr-Harris, John Massey, Noel Harding, Eldon Garnet, John Scott, Colette Whiten, Tom Dean, Lisa Steele, Gus Weisman, and Arturo Nagel. The guest artists who would come to speak or perform, Jorge Zontal of General Idea, Andy Patterson, Ron Martin, John Cage, Vito Acconci, and Brian Eno, were also massively inspiring!

It was a period in history during which grads of Ryerson and the Ontario College of Art enjoyed a respected associate status without having to conform to across-the-board standards to fulfill degree requirements, a mode that was unthinkable at the time in the contemporary art field. Marking art with a grade and essay writing seemed alien and not applicable. Quite often, an instructor would pass around a clipboard, requesting that students mark themselves, which they actually accomplished fairly. You were expected to perform as an independent and self-reliant artist and not someone who would be told that you were not up to a standard set by a second party who didn’t understand your process. Students were given the responsibility, independence, and space to explore their practices and apply them to their work. Critiques would take place at the end of the school year by a panel of highly esteemed, successful working artists. The career path followed by art students during the mid-1980s was not yet a large part of a credential-based society, the times were quickly on the way to becoming such a model.

During my years at OCAD my classmates included young artists like Shelia Alexander, David Clarkson, Nadine Chan, Ben Smit, John Abrams, Sasha Yung Ju Lee, Doug Walker, Carolyn White, Natalie Olanick, George Whiteside, Ester Shipmen, Rae Johnson, David Clarkson, Lynn Fernie, Gloria Berlin, Sandor Ajzenstat, and Richard Banks. 

I noticed that from within the halls of the school itself or on our trips to and from,  it was hard not to see the Art Collectives like ChromaZome,  Women’s Artists Resource Ceter, and FASTWÜRMS, who, among others, were creating exhibition opportunities for themselves and for those still making objects.

Like many, I totally enjoyed how the night came alive with Performance Art created by collectives, such as VideoCabaret, General Idea, the Hummer Sisters, and The Clichettes, as well as individual artists like Tanya Mars, Elizabeth Chitty, Margaret Dragu, Tom Dean, and David Buchan, who were producing interactive theatrical spectacles at the Cameron Public House, the Tarragon Theatre and the Brigantine Room Harbourfront Centre around the same time that City TV began to emulate and broadcast events from  them.

 Much of  the artistic activity taking place at ad hoc venues and at artist-run-centres and even the commercial galleries: Ydessa Hendeles, Av Isaacs, Olga Korper, Carmen Lamanna, and Walter Moos was covered in the critical art magazines like FUSE, Parallelogram, The Body Politic, Parachute, Canadian Art Magazine, Border Crossings, and Vanguard. It was also regularly covered in the local press by John Bently Mays for the Globe and Mail, Chris Hume for the Toronto Star and Donna Lypchuk for Eye Magazine.

Concurrently, Art Magazines (spearheaded by artists) were important hubs of intellectual and artistic exchange. They operated somewhere between art journalism and art objects. Notable examples include General Idea’s FILE Magazine, Eldon Garnet’s IMPULSE, and Isaac Applebaum and David Hylnsky’s Impressions and Image Nation zines, respectively.

Under John Massey’s instance I and others tried to read Dante’s Inferno, or more languidly, Tom Dean encouraged us to read Jacques Derrida. Either way, art students at OCAD tried to grapple with notions of deconstruction in relation to Kantian aesthetics. Collectively, we were asked to consider why the need for a transcendental guarantor to bridge the gap between sensory knowledge and essential meaning. We were told to address how this construction creates divisions between subject and object, inside and outside, mind and nature. Or, more importantly, why should artists take up these contradictions? Why might we use politically provocative content with a flippant tone, raising questions of whether images have the power to be social and political commentators or are merely a product of the economy of the sign? 

We learned the basics of design and drawing from models yet smoking cigarettes and drinking beer was just as much a part of the routine of becoming an artist as colour theory and moving from one media to another. Object making, taking photographs that documented the process and putting personal meaning on whatever the results would be.  We learned the basics of design and drawing from models yet something about what we made at OCADU

We talked about the split between articulations and the articulated at greasy spoons like Barney’s, The Stem, United Bakery, Peter Pan, Queen Mom, Baldwin Bakery, and Mars the morning after dancing the night away to music played by Diodes, Martha and Muffins, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Blue Rodeo, Boys Brigade, Handsome Ned, Parachute Club, Fifth Column, Cowboy Junkies, Carol Pope, Jane Siberry, Alta Moda. Musicians who frequently performed at The Cameron Public House, Spadina Hotel/Subway Room, The Beverley, The Rex, Horseshoe Tavern, The Pilot, Silver Dollar, Grossman’s Tavern, El McCombo, and the BamBoo.

We saw films directed by Lina Wertmüller, Ingmar Bergman, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Jacques Beineix, Jacques Demy and more at the Bloor Street Cinema, the Revue, AGO: Jackman Hall, and the Toronto Film Festival, that further teased out discussions around the temporal function of contemporary art.

We had many favorite haunts inside the 100 McCall building, with its inner courtyard, many staircase and the cafeteria that could turn itself into a lecture or concert hall, and the Stewart Building, home to experimental art. Outside the classroom, art students could be found throwing frisbees at Grange Park, lurking around Gallery ’76, shopping for bread and cheese in Kensington Market, eating pork buns at the Baldwin Bakery, looking for clothes at Courage My Love, biking to Harbourfront Centre or to the ferry to get to the Toronto Islands, setting up studios in one of the Hanna Street warehouses, falling in love on Palais Royale dance floor, swimming at the Sunnyside Outdoor Pool, holding hands at the Roxy Theatre, or painting the town at The Danforth Music Hall, Massy Hall, in Montreal or in New York City. Everywhere, OCAD students seemed to be carrying on the discussion around the rising culture industry and the effects it had on marginal artists and pictorial representation. 

Large group exhibitions from the early to mid-1980s amplified our vibrant and expanding arts community in Toronto. Shows like YYZ Monumenta, Chromaliving, and The New City of Sculpture were created to allow for a burgeoning visual language arising out of collective structures to emphasize bodily imagery and representation.

In our time, the Ontario College of Art and Design functioned as a site for production, interaction, and debate, with students/emerging artists serving as curators, reviewers, and audiences for their own work. This participatory model anticipated the relational aesthetics movement.

My lifelong friends and fellow OCAD students, Adrienne Trent and Natalie Olanick also claim that many art students ventured beyond studio practice to explore visual forms in film, television, and art galleries.  not sure-That their artistic contributions impacted the culture itself.

Conceptual art continues to captivate me for its potential to investigate pertinent ideas and concerns related to temporal aspects of artistic life. 

Adrienne Trent refrains: Upon graduation, we were a new generation of freshly minted artists, anxious to make our mark on the art world! Part of our education discussed art and its politics in a bar setting on weekends, with some of our mentors like John Scott, David Buchan, Eldon Garnet, and David Clarkson at the Cameron House on Queen West and various local speakeasies. A group of us new grads soon formed the artist’s collective “Republic,” in which we spent many long meetings trying to determine what form we would eventually embody. Initially, we had hoped to become an artist-run center and receive regular grants from Canada and Ontario Arts Council like our predecessors had done when they founded YYZ, A Space, and Mercer Union. There were enterprising grads such as Carla Garnet, who opened the successful and long-running Garnet Press, but that scenario was more the exception than the rule.

We were in for a shock as the granting bodies informed us that there was no more room for more of this type of government-funded institution in Toronto and that their resources were focused on keeping the existing galleries open, not supporting new ones. We settled upon a model which would see us utilizing temporary spaces for exhibitions. We would curate theme-based group shows and include half of our members and half of the artists from outside the group. One of the first spaces we used was an old sign shop on Sudbury Street. Dufflet had bought the building and needed to renovate it, but she was giving us a chance to get rid of garbage and signage equipment inside, use the space for our exhibition, and then hand it over to her so she could renovate it for her principal bakery. Eventually, we were able to take advantage of invitations from established artist-run-centres like Mercer Union and Open Studio for our exhibitions, as we were invited to be a guest collective. This model was also adopted around the same time in other collectives like Nethermind and Chromazone. Oddly enough, these resilient collectives seem to endure the coming decades with founding members largely intact!  

The independent and enterprising drive fostered in these artists, which propels them to move forward, is a unique trait of the era.

Natalie Olanick sums up our time at OCAD this way: In the 1980s, education was something that was looked at with social importance.  There was funding for any learning. The world was in an economic upswing – until the crash in ’87, which large government federal reserves made sure did not last long. Having a college or university degree was considered an accomplishment.

Life was not too expensive, and contemporary culture was operating as an Avant-garde.  The politics between popular culture, the art in the museums, and the works being shown in artists-run centers and smaller galleries differed to the point that eyebrows were raised, and there were clashes of opinions. A continuation of comments from the 60s, such as: “I could have done that” or “Is that art?” was something that was commonly heard. The dominant cultural force still happening in the 80s was a white male patriarchal rule. Later, in the mid-80s, there was a closing of the gap between popular culture and contemporary art. Punk, New Wave, fashion, neo-expressionism, graffiti.

All shared the spotlight. This was a short-lived event before each cultural activity returned to its own socially designated area.

Starting art school in the early 80s was like challenging yourself to become original.  It felt like you could do anything. Investigate, discover, and define what was possible. It is a naive modern dream to ask questions and make great art. I /we learned how the art world worked and how to make pictures, objects, and images about what we thought was important and magical. We loved going to the Salvation Army and, through our parents’ closest, finding clothes and changing them up by shorting, dying, and adding studs. Because it was not expensive to go out and have a beer and listen to local bands, going to art openings was an added pleasure. In the art world of the 80s, there were open channels to being androgynous to talk with anyone from any cultural background. Art putting forward women and the body was beginning to be included in the discussion. Technology was new. Video and time-based works were heavy packs of tape. Performance works put an emphasis on the basic importance of art and communication. French theory of the mechanics of social systems was taking a foothold in how artists would provoke and make art.

There was a shared interest in rearranging social norms. All of these experiences would lead to the forming of art collectives and large group exhibitions like ChromaLiving. Cold City, Republic, Nethermind, and Brown Spot, some of the collectives, would put on innovative group shows in unusual locations. Old buildings, department stores, homes, and sometimes in a local gallery.  The 80s art contributed to a fresh social awareness that anything is possible.






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