Garry Neill Kennedy | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Garry Neill Kennedy

Garry Neill Kennedy, CM, artist, teacher (born 6 November 1935 in St. Catharines, ON; died 8 August 2021 in Vancouver, BC). Garry Neill Kennedy was an award-winning conceptual artist. His work earned a Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts and was presented at the National Gallery of Canada. Kennedy was also president (1967–90) of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) in Halifax. He is credited with transforming the conservative and traditional art school into an energetic and internationally renowned avant-garde institution. Kennedy was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2003.

As an artist rooted in conceptual art, Kennedy played a sly deconstructionist game. He was suspicious of art systems and traditions, and doubtful that valid art is possible unless founded in disenchantment and critique. (See also Contemporary Trends in Art.)

A series of paintings made in 1976–77 began from the premise that the traditional reasons for painting were long exhausted and that the craft and the material conditions of painting — paint, brush, canvas — were the only trustworthy realities that remained. Although scornful of references to taste, and mechanically executed, Kennedy’s works that resulted were unexpectedly strange and beautiful. With a shrewd sense of humour, his subsequent work probed the systems that operate in museums, commercial galleries and the art world. (See Art Galleries and Museums.) It also increasingly slipped into overt critical engagement with broader social issues.

Kennedy’s exhibition Art Work/Work Art: The Administrative Art of Garry Neill Kennedy, (Owens Art Gallery, Sackville, NB, 1993) showed that his artistic strategies and the administrative ones of the college president, rather than distinct practices, were often co-extensive. In this exhibition, his skepticism about authoritative structures underlying professional management was explored in a series of works based on appropriations from popular magazines.

Kennedy exhibited regularly with Toronto’s Cold City Gallery. A retrospective exhibition focused on his wall painting originated at the Owens Art Gallery in 1996. A retrospective of Garry Neill Kennedy's work was also presented in 2000 at the National Gallery of Canada. In 2003, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. In 2004, he received a Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts.

After stepping down as president of NSCAD (now NSCAD University) in 1990, Kennedy continued to teach at the school as a part-time professor. In 2011, he and his wife, Cathy Busby, moved to Vancouver to accept full-time teaching positions at the University of British Columbia. Kennedy struggled with dementia in his later years but continued to make art before dying at the age of 85.