The Koffler Gallery reopens at noon on Wednesday, September 23, 2020! We are looking forward to welcoming you back in our space and sharing with you the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival Core Exhibition, The Natalie Brettschneider Archive, by Vancouver artist Carol Sawyer.
To ensure the continuing health of our community, we are taking all precautions and have adjusted our operations in accordance with safety measures required at this time. For a safe and enjoyable experience, please follow these guidelines for your visit:
  • Please book your appointment online
  • The number of guests allowed in the gallery will be limited; if you plan to visit with friends or family, an individual appointment will be required for each member of your group
  • Drop-in visitors will be admitted during public hours if space capacity is not filled at the time; they will be required to register at the entrance in the gallery
  • All visitors are required to fill out a COVID-19 screening form online at prior to their visit, or upon arrival at the gallery, and to show the digital confirmation received 
  • All visitors and staff will be required to wear a mask and adhere to physical distancing guidelines
  • Gallery hours are Wednesday–Saturday, 12–5 PM
  • There will be no opening receptions or on-site events this season. Visit our website or sign up for our e-newsletter for information on upcoming online programming
We are delighted to invite you to explore the long-awaited exhibition by Carol Sawyer, The Natalie Brettschneider Archive.
In this ongoing project, Vancouver artist Carol Sawyer assembles a fiction as realistically as possible to tell a needed story. Convincingly manufactured photographs and documentary materials imagine the life and work of a genre-blurring, avant-garde artist leaving a fragmentary imprint through Modernism’s exclusionary narrative. The archive begins with Brettschneider’s childhood in British Columbia, follows her participation in the Parisian interwar avant-garde, and records her unconventional art practice after she returns to Canada in the late 1930s. Sawyer pieces together Brettschneider’s biography to (re)construct a believable artistic forebear, while at the same time creating a device that brings to light buried historical accounts of women’s creative achievements.
Selectively consolidating a monolithic narrative, the Western art history canon has been shaped by ideological, political, and psychological motivations. Organizing its version of art’s progress into neat categories and clear connections, this framework omits voices and trajectories that complicate or elude patriarchal and Eurocentric assumptions. Unfixed and ever-growing, the Natalie Brettschneider archive is a feminist intervention that ruptures the hegemonic art historical record, uncovering sidelined stories and perspectives. Tackling a different angle with each iteration, the project continuously shifts focus to research local contexts, enrich perceptions of the past, and unlock a spectrum of divergent futures.
At the Koffler Gallery, Sawyer deepens her examination of Natalie Brettschneider – an imperfect character who sometimes subverts, sometimes reinforces prejudicial historical tropes – providing an opportunity to critically examine persistent colonial and patriarchal attitudes. Including both authentic and fabricated archival documents linking Brettschneider’s explorations to actual events, people, and places, the project examines photography’s use in sustaining art historical conventions and cultural assumptions about identity, authorship and artmaking.
Placing Brettschneider in Toronto at various dates between the mid-1940s and the late 1970s, Sawyer investigates beyond Brettschneider’s struggles and privileges as a 20th-century white woman to foreground some of the queer and racialized women who contributed to the local cultural milieu, such as opera singers Aiko Saita and Lily Washimoto, Cantonese opera performers Tuey Ping Lee-Hum and Gar Yin Hune, actor Jan Chamberlain, visual artist Sarindar Dhaliwal, photographer Sylvia Schwartz, milliner Peggy Anne Jaffey, Jazz performer Phyllis Marshall, singer Portia White and many others. Through a contemporary intervention that prods the foundations of dogmatic narratives, Sawyer exposes a more nuanced array of art histories and disrupts mythologizing views of art and artists. Her acts of subversion aim to enable a fuller engagement with our living culture, nurturing hope for unfettered futures.
Koffler family FoundationCIBC Wood GundyOntario Arts Council | Conseil Des Arts De L'OntarioToronto Arts Council | Funded by the City of TorontoCanada Council