New works for Yukon’s permanent art collection

The Yukon’s permanent art collection is growing. 

Out in the Open, a show featuring 14 new works selected from across the territory, opened Friday in Whitehorse. 

Among the diverse group of new visual pieces is a large beaded pendant by Cohen Quash. At 14 years old, the Watson Lake resident is the youngest artist to ever have work acquired for the collection. 

“I’m feeling really good and a little overwhelmed,” he said at the opening reception at the Jim Smith Building in Whitehorse among a large crowd. “But I am feeling really good about myself right now.” 

Cohen Quash, an artist of Kaska/Tlingit/Taltan ancestry is the youngest person to have a piece acquired by the Yukon permanent art collection. In this photo, he waves to the crowd as he’s introduced at the show’s opening. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

“He created this completely unique style,” said Garnet Muething, curator for the Yukon government, adding it’s been a big couple of years for Quash. “He was on Pow Wow Pitch, he’s been featured at the Adäka festival, so we’re really excited to see where Cohen’s going to go.”

After spending months getting to know the new works and the artists as the show’s curator, Muething said the most exciting part of an art opening is seeing other people experience the art for the first time and seeing the artists stand beside their work and be honoured for what they do. 

A circle of intricate beading.
This beaded piece, titled Galaxy Pendant, was created by Cohen Quash. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

“The practices in the Yukon cover so many different types of materials and approaches and themes and we really want to be reflecting that in the collection,” said Muething.   

Materials used in the works in this show include beadwork, paint, bark, hide and rags used to clean snow machines. 

“Hockey holds a dear place in the centre of our communities,” said Muething, pointing to a long, purple satin banner created by artist Aubyn O’Grady. The banner reads: “What the hell are we gonna do in the winter if we can’t play hockey.”

A portrait of a smiling woman.
Garnet Muething is the curator of the exhibit. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

“It talks about community, it talks about people needing a community space in the winter but it talks about the bigger issues of the climate crisis and how that affects us very close to home,” explained Muething.    

The piece was originally installed in the Dawson City arena in response to hearing the facility might close as a result of instability due to shifting permafrost.

“Hockey is really one of the most beloved sports in the community — it’s how we tend to our mental health, it’s how we socialize when it’s minus 40,” O’Grady told CBC News. 

A woman speaks to a youth in a traditional vest.
Artists Cohen Quash and Aubyn O’Grady talk at the opening of Out in the Open. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

“I felt like it was a perfect opportunity to address something in our community using art,” she said, adding it’s strange to see it now hanging in a government building. 

Among other works in the show is a beaded traditional gun sling and bullet bag by Sharon Vittrekwa, a birch corset by Rebekah Miller and a laser-cut silk brocade work by Meshell Melvin. 

The permanent collection was also gifted several works of art and those donations are also part of the show, including a print by artist Jim Robb. 

A portrait of a smiling man in a ball cap.
Renowned Yukon artist Jim Robb. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

The show will stay up in the main foyer of the Jim Smith Building in Whitehorse throughout the winter. The pieces will then join the more than 5,000 works in the Yukon Permanent Art Collection that rotate through public buildings in the territory. 

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