Published: October 16, 2018
OTTAWA, ONTARIO, CANADA — Pierre Théberge, highly regarded in both Canada and abroad for his grand, thematic exhibitions, died October 5, after a long illness. As director of the National Gallery of Canada from 1998 to 2009, he made many important acquisitions, including “Maman,” the sculpture of the much-loved giant spider by Louise Bourgeois, and programmed exhibitions that had broad public appeal, ensuring the continued growth of the gallery during his 11-year tenure.
“Pierre Théberge left an indelible mark on the National Gallery of Canada, from his earlier role as curator of Canadian contemporary art to his years as director and chief executive officer,” said Marc Mayer, director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada. “His best initiatives, such as integrating Indigenous art into the Canadian galleries and the many partnerships that he forged with a variety of institutions, were not only pursued, but significantly expanded in the years since his retirement. Many of his acquisitions have been transformative for the national collection, from Joe Fafard’s ‘Running Horses’ to the acquisition of Janet Cardiff’s sound installation, ‘Forty-Part Motet (2001).’”
Théberge first came to the gallery in 1966 as its assistant curator of Canadian art. He became curator of contemporary Canadian Art in 1970 and curatorial administrator in 1972. He organized landmark exhibitions of Guido Molinari, Greg Curnoe, N.E. Thing Co, Michael Snow and Joyce Wieland, and he enriched the gallery’s collections through acquisitions of works by Molinari, Curnoe, Snow and Wieland, as well as by Ron Martin, Henry Saxe, Claude Tousignant, Charles Gagnon, Murray Favro and Gathie Falk, among others.
From 1986 to 1997, Théberge served as director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where his original and dynamic programming strengthened the museum’s international profile. He was appointed director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada in 1998. Among his achievements were the summer exhibition “The 1930s: The Making of ‘The New Man’” (June 2008) featuring more than 200 works created by some of the most celebrated artists of the Twentieth Century, including Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Alex Colville and Walker Evans; the purchase of Ron Mueck’s hyper realist oversized sculpture of a new born baby titled “A Girl” ( 2006); and the subsequent exhibition, “Ron Mueck” (March 2007). The gallery also increased its holdings of First Nations and Inuit art under Théberge’s directorship, acquiring Norval Morisseau’s “Observations of the Astral World” (circa 1994) and Brian Jungen’s whale skeleton sculpture, “Vienna” (2003).
Pierre Théberge was born in 1942 in the County of Kamouraska, Québec. A noted member of the arts community for more than 50 years, Théberge was a graduate in art history from the Université de Montréal and also studied at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.
Numerous honors marked the progression of Théberge’s career. He was appointed Knight of the Ordre national du Québec in 1992, and Officer of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 1994. In 2001, he was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada for his exceptional contribution to the visual arts. In 2002, he received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal and in 2003, the Austrian Honorary Cross for Science and Arts. In 2008, he was appointed Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.
“Throughout his career,” said Marc Mayer, “Mr Théberge stayed closely focused on the public and its needs while always remaining loyal to the ideals of excellence in art. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and friends.”
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