New curator looks to broaden gallery experience

Paul Mayne // Western News

Helen Gregory, PhD’16 (Art and Visual Culture), has been named the new curator of Western’s McIntosh Gallery, replacing Catherine Elliot Shaw, who recently retired after 35 years.

Helen Gregory’s time at McIntosh Gallery made her most recent decision one of the easiest she ever had to make.

“One of things I appreciate the most about the time I spent here the last two years was the spirit of mentorship – between both James (Patten, Director and Chief Curator at McIntosh) and Catherine (Elliot Shaw),” said Gregory who, earlier this month, was named the gallery’s new curator. She replaces Elliot Shaw, who retired as Curator after 35 years at Western.

“I was given an enormous body of really practical skills. There is so much involved with working within the gallery; it’s well beyond the curating of exhibitions.”

Gregory holds a BFA in painting and art history from Concordia University, an MPhil in humanities from Memorial University and a PhD in Visual Culture from the Department of Visual Arts at Western. Her research has been rigorously interdisciplinary, exploring the intersections of art, science and museology with a specific focus on natural history and biotechnology in contemporary art. She hopes to continue this within her new role.

“I speak to a lot of people who have said, ‘I know the building, but I’ve never actually been in it.’ I would like to see more people be part of the gallery experience, but from different departments as well,” said Gregory, who served as Curator-in-residence at the McIntosh in 2017-18. “Because of the nature of my previous research, I’m a huge believer in interdisciplinary research. There is probably no area that isn’t left unexplored.”

Gregory is also interested in the built spaces of knowledge production – universities, laboratories, museums – as well as taxonomy and systems of display from both contemporary and historical perspectives.

In addition to her academic background in museum and curatorial studies, she has an extensive visual-art practice. Her work can be found in several major public collections including the National Gallery of Canada, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery and The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery.

Originally from St. John’s, NL, Gregory has been an active member of the London visual-arts community since moving here in 2011. She admitted the Forest City has become her home-away-from-home.

“It was a gradual realization for me. I came with the expectations that I would do the program, hope for an academic gig and go wherever the wind blew me,” she said.

“But after spending the 4 ½ years here, I bought a house and became much more rooted and involved with the community than originally anticipated. There is something about living in London – I felt really, quite surprisingly, at home. Now I’m committed to staying and trying to help the community grow and move forward.”

This may mean working with social media to complement what is happening at the gallery. The hiring of Abby Vincent, the gallery’s new Outreach and Communications Director, is a step towards that.

While everything you want to know about artists and the history of art is a Google search away, the importance of a physical gallery should not be pushed to the side for convenience.

“It’s important to have the information available on the Internet. But there isn’t a substitute for actually looking at a piece of artwork in person and having access to the curatorial and didactic information,” Gregory said. “The artists, the curators, the information or vision the curator wants to impart or what they’re trying to say within an exhibition, that doesn’t always come through online.”

Gregory would like to move the gallery towards a stronger focus on contemporary art, as well as work with guest curators to “introduce more voices and offer a lot more diversity in terms of what happens within the gallery.”