Remembering Ben Portis

July 24, 2017 - 12:10 pm

Remembering Ben Portis, 1960 – 2017

Ben Portis brought a diverse background as a visual artist, writer, and independent and institutional curator to his role at the MacLaren Art Centre, where he was Curator from April 2010 to September 2013. Executive Director Carolyn Bell Farrell said at the time of his appointment, “Ben possesses an extraordinary intellectual curiosity, passion and engagement with the contemporary visual arts.” Ben  was deeply committed to artists and had an unfailing passion for art. He was also a kind man and supportive colleague and we are shocked beyond measure by his tragic death.

Ben Portis held a M.A. in Curatorial Studies from Bard College in New York, a M.F.A. from The University of Chicago, and a B.F.A. from Queen’s University. Ben began his visual arts career as a working artist, but he took a different path when he began writing art reviews for Parachute magazine and organized a museum exhibition, Civic Visions, World’s Fair, at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. These led him to consider that a career as a curator might be a fulfilling outlet for his creativity, and he enrolled in the graduate program in curatorial studies at Bard College.

From 2002 to 2009, Ben was Assistant Curator, Contemporary Art, at the Art Gallery of Ontario. There he was known for his fresh eye on the museum’s permanent collection, his visible commitment to artists, his lucid writing, and the significant solo exhibitions and projects he organized by artists such as David Urban, Rebecca Belmore, Harun Farocki, Eddo Stern, Seth, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and Denyse Thomasos, among many others. Ben was also an acclaimed writer whose essays, articles and reviews frequently appeared in exhibition publications and art journals, including Canadian Art and Border Crossings. Earlier in his career, Ben was a curatorial assistant at The Dia Center for the Arts in New York, a curatorial intern at The Bronx Museum of the Arts, and a gallery assistant at The Renaissance Society in Chicago. Before joining the MacLaren Art Centre as Curator he was the curator of tandem exhibitions by Kent Monkman which opened in Calgary in February 2010 at the Glenbow Museum and Trépanier Baer Gallery. Following his tenure at the MacLaren, Ben continued to work as a freelance writer and curator.

Ben will be honoured at a gathering in Toronto on November 4. Complete details here

Ben Portis was highly productive during his time at the MacLaren, as this list of shows he curated so clearly demonstrates:

Urban Jewels: Denyse Thomasos' Big Canvases, 1993 – 1999, September 12 - November 3, 2013

Matt Bahen: Gravity's Faith, June 8 - September 1, 2013

Kristan Horton: A Haptic Portrait of Groping Imaginations, February 28 - May 26, 2013

Striking Stone: John McEwen, July 6, 2012 to June 1, 2014

Richard Watts: The Three Seasons, June 14 - September 2, 2012

Slow Sight: Itee Pootoogook, Tim Zuck, June 9 - September 2, 2012

Return: Joseph Hartman, June 2 - September 9, 2012

Good Intentions: Jon Sasaki, March 3 - May 27, 2012

Hourglass Continent:Osvaldo Ramirez Castillo, Oscar Camilo de las Flores, Nahúm Flores, Erik Jerezano and Ilyana Martínez, March 3 - June 3, 2012

Joanna McEwen: Interiors of Place, November 26 - February 20, 2012

Disruptions: Juan Ortiz-Apuy, September 15 - October 30, 2011

The Imperial 6: Michael Comeau, Steve Manale, Steve Murray, Ben Shannon, Chris Stone and Steve Wilson, September 15, 2011 - October 30, 2011

faceless: Works from the Permanent Collection: Brian Burnett, John ScottSeptember 9, 2011 - January 6, 2012

Wile Wild: Robert HengeveldJune 16, 2011 - October 30, 2011

Figure Out of Place: David Craven, Will Gorlitz, Rae Johnson, Tony Scherman, David Urban, Shirley Wiitasalo and Marlene Hilton MooreJune 11, 2011 - September 4, 2011

Figure in Place: Frederick HaganJune 4, 2011 - September 11, 2011

Trading Surfaces: Juliana PivatoMarch 5, 2011 - June 5, 2011

Seeing Sound: Sound Art, Performance and Music, 1978-2011: Gordon MonahanFebruary 26, 2011 - May 29, 2011

Inside- Outside (Black Walnut): Denis Bolohan, February 5 – March 31, 2011

Lost and Found: Arnaud MaggsSeptember 4, 2010 - October 31, 2010

Doris McCarthy: CentenaryJune 17, 2010 - July 11, 2010

A Tribute to David Bolduc, 1945-2010April 22, 2010 - May 7, 2010