From the Archives of UNIT/PITT

Curated by Rita O’Grady

Presented at The Ministry Of Casual Living, 1422 Haultain St., Victoria BC
August 6 – August 23, 2010

Also presented in the windows of 221A Artist Run Centre, 221 E. Georgia St., Vancouver BC
August 13 – August 27, 2010
Opening reception and book launch, Friday, August 13, 8pm.

From 1981 to 1983, against the backdrop of a highly-politicized government austerity program, expanded police surveillance and widespread civil unrest, a small alternative art gallery in a crumbling building on the edge of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside carried on a prolific schedule of exhibitions, performance art events and punk rock gigs. This exhibition illustrates the polarization and cross-pollination of Vancouver’s local visual art, performance art and punk rock communities in the early 1980s with a selection of posters, writings, manifestos and a ransom note from the archives of the Helen Pitt Gallery.

Since its inception as a student-run gallery in 1975, the Helen Pitt Gallery has been through many changes. Originally named after the Vernon, B.C. art patron who established a scholarship endowment for young artists, the gallery survived the loss of the Vancouver School of Art’s support in the early 1980s when that school changed its name to Emily Carr College of Art and Design and moved to Granville Island. The Unit 306 Society For The Democratization Of Art took over the management of the gallery in 1982, which then became the Unit/Pitt Gallery. A subsequent move to larger premises on Powell Street in Gastown coincided with another change of name, this time to the ironically overstuffed Pitt International Galleries (PIG). Two moves later, in a storefront on the advancing edge of Yaletown gentrification, the Helen Pitt name was restored. In the fall of 2009, faced with massive losses of revenue due to disastrous policy decisions made by the B.C. government, the gallery closed its most recent location on the fringes of Gastown and currently conducts its programming in whatever spaces become available.

However, the Helen Pitt Gallery is not dead. The experimental, radical practice of the early 1980s beckons as a viable strategy for making art in response to what poet Jeff Derksen has described as a “second Thatcherite moment”, characterized by politically-motivated cuts to government services, sell-offs of government assets (the few that are left) to political allies of the governing parties, and facilitation of an ever-widening income gap between the rich and everyone else, assisted by tightening government control over the availability of information and lavish spending on propaganda in the form of advertising campaigns and celebratory spectacles that seek to establish an artificial unity at the expense of real public dialogue.

The accompanying publication, co-published with Publication Studio Vancouver, contains full-size reproductions of many of the items in the exhibition.

The Helen Pitt Gallery is financially assisted by the Canada Council, the B.C. Arts Council, the City of Vancouver, and 2010 Legacies Now. The Helen Pitt Gallery is grateful for the support, contributions, and unpaid labour of artists, cultural workers and other volunteers, without whom we would not be able to continue. Special thanks to Ministry Of Casual Living and to 221A Artist Run Centre.