Visitors to the National Gallery of Canada
can see Arnaud Maggs: Identification, a survey exhibition that follows the Canadian senior artists production over four decades. On view until September 16, 2012, the exhibition features both older works that established his reputation as well as more recent material.
Arnaud Maggs: Identification features his early portrait series, his monumental photographic installations of found historical ephemera invoices, notes, and labels, the typography used in signage and numbering systems, as well as pieces that centre on rare books, including his own Scrapbook (2009), which is filled with the inspiring items Maggs collected while working as a graphic designer. Each work on display records in some way the people, places and lived experiences that have marked him they can be seen as portraits of the artist.
"Over the last four decades the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography have collected over seventy works by Arnaud Maggs, including eight major installations," said NGC director Marc Mayer. "Now, we're happy to bring together some of these works for the first exhibition that we've dedicated to this major artist, including many that have rarely been shown."
From graphic designer to fashion photographer to artist
In 1973, following successful careers as a graphic designer and fashion photographer, Arnaud Maggs, who was 47 at the time, decided to abandon his commercial ventures to become an artist. As exhibition curator and NGC Curator of Contemporary Art mentions in the exhibition catalogue, the artists personal experiences are intrinsically linked to his art and vision of the world: "When considering Maggs production, one realizes that his projects can be related to lived events, people he has met, and places he has been. He chooses his subjects because of personal interest and to acknowledge people that have had an impact on his practice." Among them are German performance and installation artist Joseph Beuys, and French photographer Eugène Atget.
An artistic career spanning four decades
Organized thematically and, in part, chronologically, Arnaud Maggs. Identification is divided into four galleries. The first gallery shows portraits produced between 1976 and 1980, while the second presents photography featuring historical ephemera. The third is devoted to works produced between 1968 and 2011 which include lettering and numbering, and the final gallery features photographs of rare books. In the latter gallery, visitors can discover the artist's fascinating Scrapbook.
In Scrapbook the artist turns his gaze inward to focus on his own personal archives. This four-part work documents the various ephemera Maggs collected over the years and that he organized into scrapbooks from 1975. Arranged in orderly collages, these items include luggage tags, stamps, tickets and photographs. Like other pieces in the exhibition, this work has an autobiographical function as it records the development of Maggs career and persona, and his eventual transition from graphic designer to fashion photographer to artist. A testament to identity, this project can be interpreted as a portrait of the artist at work.
In this exhibition a selection of archival source material will be displayed to evince the shift that occurs as Maggs photographs and further transforms found objects by altering their scale and ordering them to create typologies. His resulting photographic installation works can be interpreted as monuments to the lost and forgotten and our experience of them acts of remembering.
From human physiognomy to archival objects
In his early works from 1976 through the 1980s he combined an interest in systems of classification and ordering with his investigations of human physiognomy. Another important element at play in these works is the relationship between the subject and the viewer. His taxonomic approach lends itself to the documentation of subjects as specimens whose specific forms and physical traits we are able to scrutinize, analyze and compare.
One of the first works that the visitor can see on entering the exhibition is 64 Portraits, a study in human physiognomy. Considered by Maggs to be his first work of art, it is organized in a grid-like framework, similar to the format of mug shots, this piece is composed of frontal and profile portraits of 16 women and 16 men. The disconnected expressions of his subjects and systematic arrangement of each image gives this work a decidedly clinical tone. For Maggs, the objective position of 64 Portraits highlights the individual features of each face and draws the viewers attention to the infinite number of proportions that go into making each of our bodies so distinctly different.
As noted by various authors, Maggs fascination with typography, associated with his training as a graphic designer and lettering artist, is brought to the fore in a number of his works. Hotel Series is an example. The Hotel Series was developed during a visit to Paris in 1991. Engaged in capturing the citys essence, Maggs found his inspiration in the countless hotel signs marking the side streets. After documenting over 300 of these characteristically generic signs, Maggs developed his own system of classification, organizing the images based on categories of typeface. These groupings include serifs, sans serifs, black-on-white, white-on-black and slab serifs, among others. Rather than identifying the hotels by name, each title indicates the signs corresponding street number and municipal arrondissement. Collectively functioning as an unconventional map, these images are a visual record of the artists daily wanderings through the city.
As well, Maggs interest in the beauty and form of things continually surfaces in his work. When he began spending his summers in France in the mid-1990s, a significant shift occurred in the focus and subject of his photography. Frequenting flea markets, which he describes as a treasure trove of ideas and materials, Maggs collected various ephemera, including identification tags, stationery and invoices. These found objects, existing as fragments of the past, have been photographed and archived in works such as Les factures de Lupé. Here the artist presents stationery documenting the purchases of an upper-class couple living in Lyon in the 1860s. Each image highlights the qualities of the coloured paper, typefaces and script of the invoices. For Maggs, the kind of informal scribbles on these pages are possibly our most subconscious and beautiful drawings.
Arnaud Maggs work is found in many collections across Canada. He has won such prizes as the Gershon Iskowitz Prize, the Canada Councils Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award, and the 2006 Governor Generals Award in Visual and Media Arts. Born in Montreal in 1926, Maggs currently lives and works in Toronto.