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National Gallery Glances Over Its Shoulder with In Retrospect

Ebony G Patterson's Cultural Soliloquy (Cultural Object Revisited)

Regardless of the road you travel, it's usually helpful to cast a glance over the shoulder to see where you are coming from and the road covered thus far. The National Gallery of Jamaica opened with just shy of 250 paintings and drawings inherited from its parent organization, the Institute of Jamaica. Now, almost 40 years later, the gallery boasts a few thousand pieces of art to its name and is both to the oldest and largest art museum in the English-speaking Caribbean. Resting on the eloquence of the visual, the NGJ has opened the exhibition In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica to tell its story.

In Retrospect opened on Sunday, August 31 as a part of the gallery’s Last Sundays programme and forms the institution’s first major activity for its anniversary celebrations.  So not surprisingly, In Retrospect is most interesting for show casing the gallery’s story. 

Separated into six sections, In Retrospect to a degree highlights the different rungs of its development. The foundations segment provides a window through which to view the works that formed the original donation, which included pieces such as Edna Manley’s Negro Aroused and Everald Brown’s Ethiopian Apple.

Ceramics became a part of the alternate trajectories in the Jamaican art landscapeIn Retrospect also highlights significant exhibitions from the NGJ’s early years as well as the Jamaican Art 1922 - 1982 exhibition. It is then allowed to have more meaningful conversations (other than mere chronology) with the art in the segments Alternate Trajectories and New Routes. These two sections highlight the ways in which the NGJ has expanded to become more open and accessible, even while it simultaneously speaks to shifts in the contemporary Jamaican art landscape.

The exhibition shines the spotlight on the major donations that have allowed its collection to swell significantly: the AD Scott Collection, the Aaron and Marjorie Matalon Collection and the Guy McIntosh Donation. The permanent exhibitions should also be considered a part of the exhibition, and its certainly a great opportunity to take another look at them.

In Retrospect also pays tribute to former chief curator David Boxer who served the gallery for 37 years, taking up the post only a year after the institution had opened. These youngsters get 'in touch' with art by Mallica Kapo Reynolds

Yet though In Restrospect is a process of looking back, the breadth and pride of place given to the New Routes segment suggests that the NGJ is far more concerned with looking forward. Indeed, the bling of Ebony G. Patterson’s Cultural Soliloquy (Cultural Object Revisited) seems to provide a homing beacon for this idea as it claims pride of place in Gallery 1. 

The exhibition was formally opened by the Minister of Youth and Culture, Hon. Lisa Hannah. The formalities were followed by a performance by Black Zebra. 

In Retrospect continues through to mid-November, when it will close to make way for the 2014 National Biennial. It is by no means the most striking exhibition that the NGJ has had in recent years, but it provides a moment to look back and see the impressions that the institution has left in the sand.