In 1955, shortly after arriving in Vancouver from the United States, Alvin Balkind and Abraham Rogatnick opened the New Design Gallery (NDG), one of the first galleries dedicated to contemporary art in Canada. At that time B.C. artists were gaining national recognition but had few opportunities to exhibit their work locally. Balkind, who had studied and worked with several key galleries abroad, and Rogatnick, who had studied architecture at Harvard, both brought with them new perspectives about contemporary art and design. Encouraged by Jack Shadbolt and Arthur Erickson, Balkind and Rogatnick opened the NDG in adjacent apartments above Tony Cavelti’s and Karl Stittgen’s jewellery studio in West Vancouver.
Balkind, somewhat disparagingly, later wrote: “Vancouver in 1955 was a sleepy provincial, rather stuffy city, sitting tight on the only distinction it had: its natural beauty.” The North Shore however, with its inspiring natural setting (and then relatively affordable property) was also a creative incubator, attracting both established and pioneering artists, architects and other creative intellectuals.
The NDG profiled contemporary art during a time of public apprehension and distrust towards modernism. The original press release announced that “the New Design Gallery, [will] show the public fine art and good design that can be used in daily life [and serve] as a centre for artists who are in harmony with the modern spirit.” While the NDG’s successful openings drew crowds of people seeking, as Rogatnick suggests“a sophisticated art milieu,” he points out “… they didn’t buy very much.” The gallery subsequently moved to Vancouver in 1958 where it shared space with the newly formed Arts Club and continued until 1966.
The influential gallery introduced Vancouver to the work of numerous artists from British Columbia, Canada and the United States.The New Design Gallery on the frontier 1955 -1966 chronicles the important role the NDG played in advancing modernism in the region through historical documentation, photographs and artworks by Joan Balzar, Maxwell Bates, Bruno Bobak, Molly Bobak, B.C. Binning, Audrey Capel Doray, Reginald Holmes, Don Jarvis, Thomas Kakinuma, Zoltan Kiss, Roy Kiyooka, John Koerner, William Koochin, Bill Mayrs, Michael Morris, Toni Onley, Joseph Plaskett, Marianna Schmidt, Jack Shadbolt, Gordon Smith, John Snow, Takao Tanabe, and Glenn Toppings.