Supermarket 2024

Applications for Supermarket 2024 are closed.

25-28 April 2024

Robert Tombs/Royal Canadian Academy of Arts: Some notes on Supermarket

Robert Tombs/L’Occupation, ParisCONCRET, Paris, France, 2013


Robert Tombs is the President of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

In November 2011, I had an exhibit in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, at a gallery called Modern Fuel Artist-run Centre. For the Kingston exhibition, I published a catalogue that documented an installation that I had done in Erfurt, Germany. Michael Davidge, who was then Artistic Director of Modern Fuel, had been accepted to exhibit at Supermarket 2012. I was happy when he informed me that he was taking my catalogue to Stockholm. Meanwhile, I moved on to other things. My daughter Sylvia was then teaching English in Saint-Nazaire, France, and I visited her in January 2012. We spent a good deal of time in Paris, tramping the streets, riding the Métro, drinking wine, parler la langue; in short, doing touristy things like photo-documenting the Palace of Versailles and looking at art everywhere. I had no connectivity there, no e-mail or cell phone – it was a clean break from technology addiction – but I kept wondering the whole trip, how could I get an exhibition in Paris?

When I returned to a snowy Canada, and turned on my computer for the first time, there was an unopened e-mail from Michael. He said that there was a gallery director from Paris that had seen my catalogue at Supermarket 2012, Richard van der Aa, director/curator of ParisCONCRET, and he was interested in my work. What a coincidence! So I proposed an exhibition concept to Richard, and it was accepted. Richard staged Robert Tombs/L’Occupation in Paris in March 2013. 

I have never been to Scandinavia though I have been exposed to it since I was a young. You see, my father was Consul General to Finland in Montreal when I was a child. We had many Scandinavian visitors to the house who possessed a unique (to me) temperament. We had artifacts in the home, a Swedish carved Dala horse, Finnish pottery and textiles, and a predilection for Bergman cinema. And my father even hosted a garden party for the entire officers and crew of a Finnish Navy frigate!

As I unexpectedly became volunteer President of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 2018, I am now heading an artist-run initiative! We are comprised of nearly 700 established Canadian professionals who come from a variety of disciplines in visual art, design, and fine craft. In writing numerous grant applications, organising symposia and generally supporting artist-run culture, I have gained a new appreciation of the artist-run operations of Supermarket. 

At Supermarket 2020, we will be staging the project Objekt: a reading room. Objekt will be a reading room where art fair attendees can freely peruse bookworks by 27 contemporary Canadian artists, invited through an open call to members. We have additionally included some of our 2018 and 2019 Passages symposiums’ artist-presenters. The bookworks contain various content strategies by Canadian artists, designers, craftspersons, essayists and publishers. Participants are Diane Bisson, Deanna Bowen, Jane Buyers, Ginette Caron, Sorel Cohen, Christos Dikeakos, Pnina Gagnon, Adrian Göllner, Wesley Harris, Lucy Hogg, Thaddeus Holownia, Geoffrey James, Peter Krausz, Guy Lavigueur, Gordon Monahan, Robert Murray, Marie-Jeanne Musiol, Leslie Reid, Marina Roy, Nick Shinn, Alan Stein, Penelope Stewart, Robert Tombs, George Webber, Andrew Wright, and Jinny Yu. We’ll additionally co-present, with Elektronmusikstudion EMS, a sound performance by the Canadian pianist, sculptor, and composer of experimental music, Gordon Monahan. And I will present a talk on selected Canadian artist publications titled ‘Death to Books’. We are lucky to include two members in our book arts exhibit who have received Canada’s highest arts honour, a Governor’s General Award in Visual and Media Arts: Gordon Monahan in 2012, and Deanna Bowen in 2020.

So thank you, Supermarket, for your past, present and future achievements in building artist infrastructure, especially in consideration of your admirable tenacity to postpone, rather than cancel, Supermarket 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is a testament to the power of art.