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Experimental Diplomacy: Art and International Cultural Relations at 49th Parallel

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This article focuses on 49th Parallel: Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art (1981–92), a New York City-based art gallery that was conceived as a diplomatic ‘pilot project’ by Canada’s Department of External Affairs to focus on ‘new’ and ‘experimental’ Canadian contemporary art. Drawing from policy papers, memorandums and grant applications, I examine the gallery’s conceptual framework governing three key exhibitions, particularly the assumptions informing the gallery’s deployment of contemporary art as a tool of soft power within a climate of ascendant neoliberal capitalist ideologies. These records of the gallery’s mandate and programming reveal mounting pressures to increase the presence of Canadian art in the international art scene.
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Keywords: 49th Parallel: Centre for Canadian Contemporary Art; Canada–US relations; Chris Cran: Work from Three Series (1992); France Morin; Glen Cumming; Guy Plamondon; Icarus: The Vision of Angels (1986); Michael Snow (1981); exhibitions and diplomacy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Queen’s University

Publication date: October 1, 2016

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  • The Journal of Curatorial Studies is an international, peer-reviewed publication that explores the cultural functioning of curating and its relation to exhibitions, institutions, audiences, aesthetics and display culture. The journal takes a wide perspective in the inquiry into what constitutes "the curatorial." Curating has evolved considerably from the connoisseurship model of arranging objects to now encompass performative, virtual and interventionist strategies. While curating as a spatialized discourse of art objects remains important, the expanded cultural practice of curating not only produces exhibitions for audiences to view, but also plays a catalytic role in redefining aesthetic experience, framing cultural conditions in institutions and communities, and inquiring into constructions of knowledge and ideology.
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