Adam Harris Levine: Faith And Fortune
Adam Harris Levine, assistant curator of European Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, talks about the Faith and Fortune exhibit, and what it means for Toronto.
Global, bright and unexpected: These are the three words that Adam Harris Levine, assistant curator of European art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, used to describe his current exhibit, Faith and Fortune: Art Across the Global Spanish Empire.
Levine is responsible for European art up until the year 1700, which includes paintings, sculpture and decorative arts. As an art curator, he is responsible for making exhibitions, looking after the AGO’s permanent collection of European art up until 1700, as well as looking out for new purchases for the museum. We spoke to him about being an art curator, his current exhibition and the implications of having an exhibit like this in Toronto.
Q: This collection features four centuries of art. What would you say is a visual connection between these periods?
A: There are probably two through-lines that really connect the art from the 1400s through the 1800s in this exhibit, and those are the title themes: faith, the Catholic religion that connects the spread of Catholicism through Latin America and the Philippines, and fortune, which really looks at silver and gold and some of the precious materials that came out of these territories through colonization. In every single gallery, you’ll see elements of strong Catholic devotion and certainly the kind of shiny and lavish elements of silver and gold.
“I Hope That We Can All Use This Exhibit As A Way Of Thinking About Our Own Place In A Global And International City”
Q: Could you tell us more about the ties and relationship between medieval Spanish art and the religions in Spain at the time?
A: The period before 1492 leading up to the history that we look at in this exhibit is a period that some historians call the Convivencia, which means “living together” in Spanish. This is a period where Jewish people, Muslim people and Christian people shared cities and landscapes across Spain and lived in relative harmony. This is a period that I’m so interested in, I think about it as being impactful in Toronto, a city where we’re so proud of our multiculturalism, and it is really fascinating because when you see the art that comes from this period you’ll start to see that there are these interesting connections between neighbours. During this period, you would find Christian artists working for Jewish patrons or Muslim artists working for Christians, and you really can start to get the sense that people were at ease with people who were different from them and lived in unusual hybrid communities. That’s something I think we can learn a lot from today as we look to better understand our fellow humans.
Q: Can you tell us more about the visual culture of the Spanish empire and how it depicted and enforced colonization at the time?
A: A number of the artworks in the exhibit give us really key insights into how Spaniards justified colonization. There are some key pieces in the exhibit that depict the “constructing” idea or an image of indigenous people as requiring Spanish help, Spanish colonization, Spanish civilization and Spanish culture as a way of rescuing them from their ways. I was nervous to include these works of art in the show because they’re so troubling, but I also think that they’re some of the most powerful tools that we have in the exhibit for really understanding ugly, complex histories. So we decided to include the works in the show because we really want people to learn the true and real history of the time.
Q: What is something about this collection that you want people to know?
A: At the core of this exhibit is the idea that we’re still reckoning with the legacies of colonization from its very beginnings. This exhibit starts in
1492 when Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean, and he thinks that he’s in the Moluccas, which are islands in Southeast Asia that were important to Europeans because of their role in the spice trade. And from that very first mistake that Columbus makes, he sets off a series of chain reactions that build the world that we’re in today. So, when we think about decolonization, and we imagine our inequitable futures in places like Canada, I really want people to understand that some of the questions that we’re looking to grapple with and that we’re continuing to negotiate sometimes have 400- or 500-year-old histories and that we can see them from new perspectives if we look to the past and understand where they came from. I hope that will invigorate people to invest wholly in these questions and in these projects.
Q: What would you say is the importance of having a collection like this in the AGO and, more specifically, in a multicultural metropolis like Toronto?
A: This exhibit is exciting to me in the Toronto context because it brings together art from so many different countries. We live in one of the most diverse cities on Earth, and I hope that people who have come to Toronto from so many of the different countries in the exhibit will come and see art from their homelands and see histories that reflect their family’s histories in this exhibit. I hope that we can all use this exhibit as a way of thinking about our own place in a global and international city.
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