Once Upon a Time in the East
October 21, 2011

David Askevold, The Nova Scotia Project: Once Upon a Time in the East, 1993, 293 electrostatic prints, 2 videotapes transferred to digital video, reference map. Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, Ottawa
Since David Askevold’s inclusion in the seminal exhibition Information at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1970, he’s been at the forefront of the conceptual movement.

But has the late artist ever got his due? AGNS curator David Diviney hopes to rectify that with Once Upon a Time in the East, a multi-faceted project involving a national touring exhibition and a hardcover book of the same name.

“Hopefully the exhibition will bring new found attention to his achievements and contributions to the world of art,” says David Diviney (MFA 1998), just back from the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa for the opening of Once Upon a Time in the East. “We’ll have to see where this goes.”

Born in Conrad, Montana, Askevold studied at the University of Montana, the Brooklyn Museum Art School and the Kansas City Art Institute. He moved to Halifax in 1968 after being asked to lecture at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. While he taught elsewhere—at the California Institute of the Arts, University of California and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design—he returned time and again to NSCAD. He was based here from 1968 to 1974, 1985 to 1987, and 1991 to 1992.

In the book, artist Mario Garcia Torres asks Askevold about his famous Projects Class at NSCAD  in the early 1970s, which brought working artists into the class to work directly with students, and being based “outside the loop” of the conceptual art scene.

“I think we constructed the loop,” responded Askevold, adding that “Nova Scotia had some sort of exotic appeal” which helped in attracting visiting artists to the school.

Although Askevold based his career in Halifax for 35 years, AGNS director and CEO Ray Cronin argues he always saw him as an artist of the West—the wild West that is—as Askevold continued to push his art to the frontiers. He even used the myths and icons of the old West in his work; “For Askevold, the modern mythology of the drifter, the outsider, the gunfighter seemingly proved irresistible,” he writes in his essay, one of several that Diviney has collected in the Goose Lane-published book.

“I think he was happy with his life here,” reflects Diviney. “There was enough calm in this context that he could focus on his artmaking. He could use Halifax as his base—and jump in and out (of the art world) at his own leisure.”

Once Upon a Time in the East includes more than 40 works, including key pieces from each stage of Askevold’s career. The exhibition fills three rooms at the National Gallery, beginning with Askevold’s groundbreaking video works from the early 1970s. The next room is filled with a large-scale work from the mid-90s called The Nova Scotia Project, a multi-disciplinary work of art in which the artist documented all the harbours of Nova Scotia. The third room holds his last collaborative project, Two Beasts, which was completed by his former student and New York artist Tony Oursler.

Following the National Gallery, the exhibition will tour to the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown in the spring of 2012 and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in the summer of 2013. Dates in other cities—and in other countries perhaps—are expected to be added.

The book, which will also be published in French, is now available in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia’s gift shop.