York University’s art collection serves as a rich pedagogical resource for students, faculty, art historians, and scholars with nearly 1,700 art works by leading local, national, and international artists spanning painting, sculpture, prints, photography, and new media. The art collection was established in 1966, seven years after the University’s founding, and came under the supervision and care of the AGYU with the gallery’s inception in 1988.
In the late sixties, the University made a number of significant purchases, acquiring recent work by artists who were at the forefront of Canadian abstraction. Iconic works by Montreal-based non-figurative artists including Guido Molinari, Claude Tousignant, and Yves Gaucher were added to the holdings along with paintings and prints by acclaimed Toronto-based Painters Eleven member and colour field painter Jack Bush. A generous donation of sculpture, painting and works on paper in the earlier 2000s added some major Modernist artworks from Andy Warhol to Frank Stella. Then there are precious anomalies such as a large collection of works by outsider artist Alma Rumball.
Joan and Martin Goldfarb Gift
In 2001, Joan and Martin Goldfarb donated from their private collection 67 works to the University. The donation featured a number of stand-out works, including a bronze sculpture by Edgar Degas, paintings by renowned Montreal Automatiste painters Paul Émile Borduas and Jean-Paul Riopelle, as well as works by acclaimed American Abstract Expressionists Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, and Kenneth Noland. Significant highlights of the donation are a series of 10 silkscreen prints produced in 1980 by Pop artist Andy Warhol and two paradigmatic works by Anishinaabe artist and founder of the Woodland School of painting Norval Morrisseau.
Inuit Art Purchase
York University is also home to an impressive collection of over 300 Inuit prints and stone carvings produced in the 1960s by artists from the Kinngait Co-operative (Cape Dorset) in Nunavut. Featuring work by Pitseolak Ashoona, Kenojuak Ashevak, Johnny Inukpuk, and Qaqak Ashoona, among others, these prints and sculptures represent an important body of work produced by founding artists of the longest running and most influential artists cooperative in the North. These works were acquired by the University in the early seventies.
Outdoor Sculpture Collection
Beginning in the late sixties, York also established an outdoor sculpture collection which over the years has served to enhance, beautify, and animate the campus landscape. The collection includes a carbon steel stabile maquette by Alexander Calder which was commissioned for Expo ’67, a kinetic stainless-steel sculpture by American artist George Rickey, and a welded steel assemblage by Anthony Caro, produced during a residency organized by York University’s Fine Arts department. More recent additions to the public sculpture collection include Liz Magor’s amalgam of a bronze tree trunk and silicone sleeping bag, Keep, and Kuzy Curley and Ruben Komangapik’s Ahqahizu, a large-scale stone sculpture that was carved on campus and installed for the opening of the 2017 North American Indigenous Games.
The Future of the Collection
The AGYU’s transformation, alongside York University art collection, into the multi-site Joan and Martin Goldfarb Gallery of York University (2023) necessitates re-envisioning our relationship to the collection, with a view toward increased accessibility. This redefinition is future-oriented and considers cultural histories, contemporary art, and our civic responsibility to support local and internantional communities. An essential point of access will be through a Visible Vault, which will redefine how the public, students, and researchers will access and interact with the art collection, and marks a shift in how, who, and what is collected by the gallery.