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Opening Reception for the Great Hall Commission: Kent Monkman, mistikôsiwak (Wooden Boat People), New York

Cree artist Kent Monkman, centre, and Devan Patel, right, at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art event for Monkman's monumental paintings.

Nolan Bryant/The Globe and Mail

Cree artist Kent Monkman was the focus of a recent happening south of the border at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. On Dec. 19 the Met unveiled the Great Hall Commission: Kent Monkman, mistikôsiwak (Wooden Boat People). The two monumental paintings, titled Welcoming the Newcomers and Resurgence of the People, are prominently placed in the majestic Great Hall, a space that every visitor passes though.

It’s fitting that they hang at the threshold on the museum: The works and objects that fill the sprawling encyclopedic institution served as inspiration for this new installation, itself a retelling of sorts. Through that distinct Monkman perspective, the pieces aim to interrupt, challenge and question Eurocentric works at the Met, including Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware and works by Eugène Delacroix and Peter Paul Rubens.

The evening’s proceedings began in the Met’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium with an invocation and performance by intertribal Native American singing and dance troupe the SilverCloud Singers. Later, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, the gender fluid alter-ego of Monkman, took to the stage in a hoop frock fashioned after a tepee –complete with a paillette sequin plumed headdress – to perform, for the first time, excerpts from her forthcoming memoirs. Met director Max Hollien spoke after the performance, as did Phyllis Yaffee, Canadian consul-general in New York, the eve marking her last engagement in the position she has held since 2016. Monkman switched back to his velvet dinner jacket for a brief chat with Met curator of contemporary art Randy Griffey, before heading into the great hall for a cocktail reception. A handful of key supporters of the commission were present, namely Marilyn and Charles Baillie and Rosamond Ivey, and Victoria Jackman, director of the Hal Jackman Foundation, which provided additional support. There too was Jessica London, executive director of the Council for Canadian American relations, which partnered with the Consulate General of Canada in New York to host the opening reception.

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Marilyn Baillie, one of a handful of key supporters.

Nolan Bryant/The Globe and Mail

Rosamond Ivey.

Nolan Bryant/The Globe and Mail

Also at the event: Montreal-born, New York-based abstract artist Dorothea Rockburne; the Art Gallery of Ontario, Gardiner Museum and McCord Museum’s respective CEO’s Stephen Jost, Kelvin Browne and Suzanne Sauvage; philanthropic types including Emmanuelle Gattuso and Nancy Lockhart; curator Mary Dailey Desmarais; Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto co-founder Sage Paul; associate director of the Indigenous Screen Office, Kerry Swanson; and Monkman’s Canadian dealer Devan Patel.

Emmanuelle Gattuso.

Nolan Bryant/The Globe and Mail

After the Met soirée, many headed to an after party given at the Astor House: among them was writer Rachel Giese and her wife, Jenn Miller, director of social investment at Atkinson Foundation, whose son, Devon, was one of the figures who posed for the commission (Monkman poses and photographs people in situ before he and his studio begin the painting process); Sobey Art Foundation chair, Rob Sobey; Monkman patrons including Brand Active partner James Burn, developer Matt Kingston and his partner, writer Michelle Bilodeau; and Mia Neilsen, director of Art Toronto. The works are on display though April 9.

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