Bruce W. Ferguson (1946–2019) – Artforum International

Bruce W. Ferguson (1946–2019) - Artforum International

Curator, writer, and educator Bruce W. Ferguson, who championed contemporary Canadian artists and founded cultural programs such as SITE Santa Fe in New Mexico, which launched its biennial of contemporary art more than twenty years ago, died of cancer in Los Angeles on September 14. He was seventy-three years old.Born in Lethbridge, Alberta, on July 3, 1946, Ferguson knew from an early age that he wanted to work in the arts. He received his bachelor’s degree in art history from the University of Saskatchewan and earned his master’s degree in communication from McGill University in Montreal. After graduating, he was hired to teach drawing and painting at a small arts center, where he curated his first exhibition. He would later serve as director of the Dalhousie University Art Gallery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and as assistant curator at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.Ferguson would go on to organize over thirty-five exhibitions at institutions such as the Winnipeg and Vancouver Art Galleries, the Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, and the Barbican Art Gallery in London, where he curated “Un-Natural Traces: Contemporary Art from Canada” (1991) with Carol Brown. He also realized exhibitions at numerous international biennials in Istanbul, Sao Paulo, Sydney, and Venice. For the Thirty-Ninth Venice Biennale in 1980, Ferguson envisioned a pavilion dedicated to video art and its development as an established art form. The Canadian presentation featured artists Colin Campbell, Pierre Falardeau / Julien Poulin, General Idea, Tom Sherman, and Lisa Steele.Throughout his career, Ferguson helped many young arts professionals and promoted emerging Canadian artists including Tony Brown, Will Gurlitz, Howard Sawchuck, Barbara Steinman, and Jana Sterbak. “Bruce championed my work very early on and found opportunities for me to push it further out into the larger world. He did this for many artists,” Eric Fischl told Canadian Art. Among the creatives he collaborated with are Francis Alys (who referred to him as “an accomplice”), Klaus vom Bruch, and Kara Walker, who met Ferguson in 1995, when she was working on a piece for the first SITE Santa Fe biennial, “Postmark: An Abstract Effect,” which revisited the history of women’s exclusion from modernist abstraction. “I have spent most of my professional life in one way or another facilitating artists,” Ferguson said in an interview in 2000.Ferguson most recently served as president of Otis College of Art and Design in California, which he helmed from 2015 to March 2019. During his four-year tenure, he launched a summer residency program that brings international professional artists and designers to Los Angeles for a month. Ferguson also oversaw the completion of a $50 million expansion project that built the college’s first residence hall in 2016. Prior to joining Otis, Ferguson held top positions at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the American University in Cairo, Egypt; the School of Arts at Columbia University in New York; and the New York Academy of Art. He was also founding director of Arizona State University’s Future Arts Research (FAR) project, which invited national and international artists to Phoenix to engage with the university and larger community.After receiving a senior research fellowship from the Getty, Ferguson coedited the anthology Thinking About Exhibitions (Routledge, 1996). His research and writing has been published in Canadian Art, Artforum, Art in America, Bomb Magazine, Art Press, Border Crossings, and Parachute, among other platforms. He also served as vice chairman of Louise Blouin Media, whose publications include Art + Auction and Modern Painters.“Though much of Bruce’s curatorial career was outside of the country I have always felt he was the best curator that Canada has ever produced,” Jon Tupper, the director of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, told Canadian Art. “Not only was he able to organize many remarkable exhibitions and write engagingly brilliant essays, but he also took the time to be a mentor to many of us who had the privilege of working with him.”
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