The Last Art College: A Challenge to the Art World Today

By Lizzy Hill on February 08, 2016


Guido Molinari, Opposition triangulaire (1971), lithograph on German etching paper, NSCAD Impression, 56 x 56 cm. Collection of NSCAD University

Wandering through The Last Art College: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design 1968–1978, it's easy to miss a small piece of paper, tucked under glass alongside other printed matter. But Garry Neill Kennedy’s Page 141 is not a piece of ordinary ephemera. The limited-edition print instead encapsulates the spirit of the exhibition itself, profiling an institution that was, at the time, one of the most innovative of its kind in the world.

When asked to write an essay on the school for a 1972 issue of Studio International, Kennedy — then-President of NSCAD — took a playful, unexpected approach, producing Page 141 instead. The print inventories a bizarre assortment of facts about the College, ranging from tallies of students’ astrological signs, to the maintenance budget, to the faculty’s total combined length and cubic feet.

“[These] are the things Kennedy himself deemed significant,” exhibition curator David Diviney told NGC Magazine. “At once factual and deadpan, it was consistent with Kennedy’s own artmaking and conceptual art strategies.”

But Page 141 also touches on something more: namely, that the collective actions of those who passed through the College’s doors were the building blocks for a cultural epicentre and a golden age in Canadian art. The College attracted several heavyweight artists during this influential decade, including John Baldessari, Sol LeWitt, Vito Acconci, Claes Oldenburg, Joyce Wieland, David Askevold and Gerald Ferguson.


Gerald Ferguson, Length Four (1971), 27:00 minutes, B/W, sound. NSCAD University Visual Resources Collection

Inspired by Kennedy’s book of the same name, The Last Art College pays homage to the fact that, during the 1960s and 1970s, a small, isolated art college in the Atlantic Provinces managed to establish itself as a hotbed of post-minimalist and conceptual art. Featuring more than 100 works of art in various media, the exhibition not only includes art made at the Halifax institution, but also video clips, publications and ephemera celebrating the artistic experimentation of this key decade.

“I thought what was going on at the college was distinctive and unique,” Kennedy said in an interview with NGC Magazine. Rather than looking to more bureaucratic models of academia, Kennedy took his cue from the art world itself. Students didn’t just study art from an academic distance; they got their hands dirty, often influencing the work of very artists they studied.

In one notable instance, students in master printer Jack Lemon’s legendary Lithography Workshop worked under Sol LeWitt. Having come to NSCAD to create a limited-edition series, LeWitt mailed students instructions for a suite of ten lithographs. His note, on display in the exhibition is quite specific: “Within a twenty-inch square area using a black, hard crayon, draw ten thousand freehand lines, of any length, at random.” 



 Joyce Wieland, O Canada (1970), lithograph on white Arches paper, NSCAD Impression 57.0 x 76.3 cm. Collection of NSCAD University

The resulting work (also on view) is notable, as it deviates stylistically from a typical LeWitt. Students Richards Jarden and Tim Zuck put their own stamp on the work, setting a clever “trap” for LeWitt, who Kennedy recalls was initially hesitant to sign the works. “Not only had LeWitt been led to an unexpected form of expression,” writes Kennedy in his book, “but students had pushed the ambiguities surrounding the creative act to a new level.”

Another notable print created at NSCAD was Wieland’s iconic series of lipstick kisses. Oh Canada was, in Kennedy’s opinion, one of her best works, as “it demonstrated an astute, intuitive, and intimate understanding of lithography, a process that depends on the antipathy of grease (in this case lipstick) and water.” And, of course, who can forget Baldessari’s wildly influential I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art (1971), in which the artist instructed students to write the words repeatedly on a wall — words that have since become a motto for art students everywhere.


John Baldessari, I will not make any more boring art (1971), lithograph on white Arches paper, NSCAD Impression, 57.1 x 76.4 cm. Collection of NSCAD University

Many gallery-goers are left wondering about the significance of Kennedy’s ominous use of the word “last” in the title. During a public walkthrough of the exhibition, Kennedy said that the title of the book was meant to serve as a “challenge.” When asked what advice he might have for those hoping to take up where he left off, Kennedy said with a sly smile, “I don’t have any advice.”

"What transpired at NSCAD from 1968 to 1978 was highly unique,” says Diviney, “and certainly will never be replicated. While this exhibition celebrates the confluence of individuals and ideas brought together during a storied moment in Halifax’s history, at the same time, I hope it makes people consider what is possible here — or anywhere really — and what the future might hold. The title of the book and show, The Last Art College, should be seen as a challenge." 

The Last Art College is on view at Halifax’s Art Gallery of Nova Scotia to April 3, 2016.

By Lizzy Hill| February 08, 2016
Categories:  Correspondents

About the Author

Lizzy Hill

Lizzy Hill

Lizzy Hill is an internationally published writer, Akimbo's Halifax Correspondent and the editor of Visual Arts News, Atlantic Canada's only magazine focusing on the work of visual artists.


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Copyright National Gallery of Canada 2016