Uncommon Language

October 17, 2020 - April 5, 2021

Allison Hrabluik, The Splits, 2015 (still), digital video with sound, 15 min., Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Purchased with proceeds from the Audain Emerging Artists Acquisition Fund

Within European and North American art history, expressions of abstract art—from the early to the mid-20th century—have often been linked to a utopian desire for a universal aesthetic language. Uncommon Language responds to the Eurocentric promise—and presumption—of a single overarching artistic language, through the presentation of artworks that evoke, embrace, complicate and counter the idea of a common vernacular. Loosely grouped into interconnected thematic sections, the works in Uncommon Language employ a range of aesthetic idioms that draw from traditions of abstraction, spirituality and literature, as well as ideas around selfhood and the body.


Featured artists include Josef Albers, Sonny Assu, Vija Celmins, Allyson Clay, Andrew Dadson, Beau Dick, General Idea, Jean Goguen, Betty Goodwin, Angela Grauerholz, David Hockney, Jenny Holzer, Allison Hrabluik, Robert Indiana, Karin Jones, Mary Kelly, Ann Kipling, Zoe Kreye, Lui Shou Kwan, Ken Lum, Agnes Martin, Robert Motherwell, Ad Reinhardt, Françoise Sullivan, Takao Tanabe, Cy Twombly, Rachel Whiteread, Joyce Wieland, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun and Zhu Jinshi.



An audio described tour of Uncommon Language was designed to make the exhibition more accessible to those who are blind or live with vision loss. This tour can be enjoyed as an accompaniment to anyone’s visit to the Gallery.


Your feedback is important to us. Once you have completed this tour, please feel free to contact Adult Public Programs Coordinator Stephanie Bokenfohr by email at sbokenfohr@vanartgallery.bc.ca or by phone at 604 662 4700 with any comments you may have.

Organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery and curated by Zoë Chan, Assistant Curator

  • Installation view of Karin Jones, (body of work) series, 2017–18 (excerpt), handmade steel chain, corn, brass, handmade brass mount on wood panel, Courtesy of the Artist, Photo: Ian Lefebvre, Vancouver Art Gallery

  • Zoe Kreye
    De Fem: Cocoon Moon Magic Baby Invitation, 2020
    ink on canvas, rope, ink on newsprint, wood, performance
    Courtesy of the Artist
    Photo: Ian Lefebvre, Vancouver Art Gallery

  • Ken Lum
    Melly Shum Hates Her Job, 1989
    chromogenic print
    Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery
    Gift of Dr. Doug Foster

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