Isaacs Seen: Closet Collector

Date: May 19 - Sep 4, 2005
Artist: Dennis Burton, Jessie Oonark, Joyce Wieland
Curated by: Megan Bice

The Textile Museum of Canada partnered with three Toronto public galleries to present Isaacs Seen - four interconnected exhibitions illustrating the career of Toronto pioneer art dealer and avid collector, Avrom Isaacs. The interrelationship of artist, dealer, promoter and collector, as well as Isaacs's impact on Toronto and Canadian art history, was demonstrated in this collaboration by the University of Toronto Art Centre; the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery; Hart House at the University of Toronto; the Art Gallery of Ontario, and; the Textile Museum of Canada. These four exhibitions ran concurrently from mid-May to September 2005. At the Textile Museum,Closet Collector examined Isaacs's fascination with textiles from around the world, including artworks by Dennis Burton, Jessie Oonark and Joyce Wieland.

Avrom Isaacs professes an enduring love of all things woven, dyed, beaded and embroidered. When closing out The Isaacs Gallery in 1990, he realized that he had been a “closet collector of textiles.” He has commented that the sight of First Nations deerskin robes alerted him to his own mistaken preconceptions about what constituted art. He came to understand that art knows no boundaries and is revealed through everyday, functional objects. The colour, design, technique and craftsmanship of textiles from around the world mirror the cultures from which they came, as much as traditionally defined “fine arts” reflect their times and makers.

Over the years, Isaacs's gallery programs incorporated exhibitions of textiles from around the world. The programs emerged in a number of ways; by happenstance, when a stranger offered a group of exquisitely embroidered women's tunics purchased in Baluchistan; by intent, when artists such as Joyce Wieland and Jessie Oonark chose the medium of thread and fabric, and; by a simple love of what people make, exemplified by the delicate workmanship of a woman's beaded headdress from Siberia.

The works in this exhibition were drawn from Isaacs's personal collection; items he has donated to the Textile Museum over the years and memorable pieces that passed through his gallery to private hands. The exhibition presents an overview of Isaacs's enduring passion for textile arts. Closet Collector's variety is wide-ranging in purpose, technique, place and time. Its commonality rests in Isaacs's personal, appreciative eye, and in the individualism of the hand of the maker. Isaacs Seen was accompanied by a 176-page illustrated scrapbook titled, Isaacs Seen: 50 Years on the Art Front, compiled and edited by Donnalu Wigmore, co-published by The Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, Hart House, the Textile Museum of Canada, the University of Toronto Art Centre and the Art Gallery of Ontario. The publication includes contributions by Megan Bice, Sarah Milroy and Dennis Reid, as well as reminiscences by Dennis Burton, Martha Black, Robert Fulford, Pam Gibson, David Silcox, Donnalu Wigmore and others. Entries by Avrom Isaacs are found throughout the scrapbook.


Isaacs Seen: Closet Collector, By Megan Bice, 2005