Koffler Gallery Reopens with Carol Sawyer: The Natalie Brettschneider Archive


Koffler Gallery Reopens with The Natalie Brettschneider Archive

Exhibition: September 23–November 15, 2020
Curator: Mona Filip
New Gallery Hours: Wednesday–Sunday, 12–5 PM
Admission: FREE

The Koffler Gallery reopens at noon on Wednesday, September 23, 2020! We are looking forward to welcoming you back in our space and sharing with you the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival Core Exhibition, The Natalie Brettschneider Archive, by Vancouver artist Carol Sawyer.

To ensure the continuing health of our community, we are taking all precautions and have adjusted our operations in accordance with security measures required at this time. For a safe and enjoyable experience, please follow these guidelines for your visit:

  • Please book your appointment online
  • The number of guests allowed in the gallery will be limited; if you plan to visit with friends or family, an individual appointment will be required for each member of your group
  • Drop-in visitors will be admitted during public hours if space capacity is not filled at the time; they will be required to register at the entrance in the gallery
  • All visitors are required to fill out and submit a COVID-19 screening form online at https://www.artscape.ca/c19/ prior to their visit
  • All visitors and staff will be required to wear a mask and adhere to physical distancing guidelines
  • Gallery hours are Wednesday–Saturday, 12–5 PM
  • There will be no opening receptions or on-site events this season. Visit our website or sign up for our e-newsletter for information on upcoming online programming

We are delighted to invite you to explore the long-awaited exhibition by Carol Sawyer, The Natalie Brettschneider Archive.

In this ongoing project, The Natalie Brettschneider Archive, Vancouver artist Carol Sawyer assembles a fiction as realistically as possible to tell a needed story. Convincingly manufactured photographs and documentary materials imagine the life and work of a genre-blurring, avant-garde artist leaving a fragmentary imprint through Modernism’s exclusionary narrative. The archive begins with Brettschneider’s childhood in British Columbia, follows her participation in the Parisian interwar avant-garde, and records her unconventional art practice after she returns to Canada in the late 1930s. Sawyer pieces together Brettschneider’s biography to (re)construct a believable artistic forebear, while at the same time creating a device that brings to light buried historical accounts of women’s creative achievements.

Selectively consolidating a monolithic narrative, the Western art history canon has been shaped by ideological, political, and psychological motivations. Organizing its version of art’s progress into neat categories and clear connections, this framework omits voices and trajectories that complicate or elude patriarchal and Eurocentric assumptions. Unfixed and ever-growing, the Natalie Brettschneider archive is a feminist intervention that ruptures the hegemonic art historical record, uncovering sidelined stories and perspectives. Tackling a different angle with each iteration, the project continuously shifts focus to research local contexts, enrich perceptions of the past, and unlock a spectrum of divergent futures.

At the Koffler Gallery, Sawyer deepens her examination of Natalie Brettschneider – an imperfect character who sometimes subverts, sometimes reinforces prejudicial historical tropes – providing an opportunity to critically examine persistent colonial and patriarchal attitudes. Including both authentic and fabricated archival documents linking Brettschneider’s explorations to actual events, people, and places, the project examines photography’s use in sustaining art historical conventions and cultural assumptions about identity, authorship and artmaking.

Placing Brettschneider in Toronto at various dates between the mid-1940s and the late 1970s, Sawyer investigates beyond Brettschneider’s struggles and privileges as a 20th-century white woman to foreground some of the queer and racialized women who contributed to the local cultural milieu, such as opera singers Aiko Saita and Lily Washimoto, Cantonese opera performers Tuey Ping Lee-Hum and Gar Yin Hune, actor Jan Chamberlain, visual artist Sarindar Dhaliwal, photographer Sylvia Schwartz, milliner Peggy Anne Jaffey, Jazz performer Phyllis Marshall, singer Portia White and many others. Through a contemporary intervention that prods the foundations of dogmatic narratives, Sawyer exposes a more nuanced array of art histories and disrupts mythologizing views of art and artists. Her acts of subversion aim to enable a fuller engagement with our living culture, nurturing hope for unfettered futures.

Carol Sawyer is a visual artist and singer working primarily with photography, installation, video, and improvised music. Since the early 1990’s her visual artwork has been concerned with the connections between photography and fiction, performance, memory, and history. She performs regularly with her improvising ensemble ion Zoo (with whom she has released three CDs) and in other ad hoc improvising ensembles. Her work is represented by Republic Gallery, Vancouver.

The Koffler Gallery is a forum for the presentation and development of contemporary visual art that reflects diverse cultural, material and aesthetic perspectives, generating critical discussions around ideas of our time. Featuring a year-round program of exhibitions, publications, public programs and educational initiatives, the Koffler Gallery fosters new production while equally aiming to expand the visibility of existing work by Canadian and international artists. The program positions the contemporary Jewish experience in a context of comparative discussions of identity, memory and place.


The Natalie Brettschneider Archive is a Core Exhibition of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival. The Koffler Gallery gratefully acknowledges the support of the Toronto Arts Council, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council.

Visit us online at kofflerarts.org

Image: Carol Sawyer, The Natalie Brettschneider Archive, 2000-ongoing (Natalie Brettschneider performs Profile Mask, Around 1952), Archival ink jet print from original negative, Acquired with the assistance of Kathleen Taylor, 2015.


Artscape Youngplace | 180 Shaw Street, Suite 104-105 | Toronto, ON M6J 2W5
647.925.0643 | info@kofflerarts.org | kofflerarts.org | koffler.digital

Tony Hewer, Director of Marketing, Communications and Archives
647.920.2398, thewer@kofflerarts.org

The Koffler Gallery and its administrative offices are located at Artscape Youngplace, in Toronto’s vibrant West Queen West art and design district. The Koffler Centre of the Arts acknowledges the support of the Koffler Family Foundation, Cultural Season Sponsor CIBC Wood Gundy, the Ontario Arts Council through the Community and Multidisciplinary Arts Organizations Program, TD Bank Group through the TD Ready Commitment, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, our donors and patrons. The Koffler Gallery gratefully acknowledges the support of the Toronto Arts Council, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council.