Critics’ Picks

David Askevold, Two Beasts, 2007–10, digital video, color, 14 minutes, 7 seconds.


David Askevold

Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
1723 Hollis Street
April 13 - June 23

If there remains any doubt that a goofy sense of humor and amateurish enthusiasm—alongside a reliance on rational systems and a dry self-referentiality—underpinned much of the conceptual art produced in the 1960s and ’70s, this retrospective of work by the late Halifax-based artist David Askevold should convince even the most committed skeptics. Curated by David Diviney, “Once Upon a Time in the East” brings together sculptures, installations, films, photographs, and computer-generated images made by Askevold over his forty-year career, offering a portrait of an artist whose work seems to knowingly wink at both his collaborators and viewers.

Askevold is perhaps best known for his pioneering work as a teacher at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, where he initiated the Projects Class in 1969, inviting artists such as Sol LeWitt, John Baldessari, and Lawrence Weiner to send textual instructions for his students to execute. A set of vitrines near the entrance to the exhibition highlights the cue card–size “lessons” submitted by these guest instructors, including an assignment telexed by Robert Barry that wryly asks students to develop a project in secret, with the caveat that “the piece will remain in existence as long as the idea remains in the confines of the group.” With no documentation of the finished project, the viewer is left to speculate on how students would have realized this invisible and perhaps impossible artwork.

This interplay between appearance and disappearance is echoed in two of Askevold’s later works. “The Poltergeist,” 1974–79, a suite of seven photo- and text-based works produced in collaboration with Mike Kelley, meditates on the hokey yet haunting characteristics of both nineteenth-century spirit photography and the use of the medium by conceptual artists. “The Nova Scotia Project: Once Upon a Time in the East,” 1993, on the other hand, presents a Becher-like typology of 293 aerial photographs of the region’s small-craft harbors, creating a massive archive of a vanishing fishing industry that had long shaped the economy and mythology of the artist’s hometown.