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Alvin Balkind

Alternate Names:
Vital Dates:
Born: 1921
Died: 19 December 1992


Alvin L. Balkind (1921-1992) was an art curator, critic, and essayist. Balkind was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and served in the navy in World War II. He began his university studies at Johns Hopkins University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts with a focus in literature and theatre, and pursued further studies at the Sorbonne. 

In 1954, Alvin Balkind and his partner Abraham Rogatnick moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where Balkind went on to play a vital role in the development of the avant-garde art scene. Soon after moving to Vancouver, Balkind and Rogatnick set up The New Design Gallery. It was the only gallery in Vancouver showing contemporary art at that time and was a hub of creativity for the small but vibrant art scene. The gallery hosted a wide variety of art exhibitions, performance pieces, and other events, including: live theatre, visual art, films, concerts, lectures, and poetry readings. Balkind was involved in running the New Design Gallery until 1962. After 1966, the board of directors managed the gallery until it was finally sold to Doug Christmas. In 1958 Balkind and Rogatnick opened the Vancouver Arts Club (now the Arts Club Theatre), which acted as a venue for Marshall McLuhan’s first lecture. 

From 1962 until 1973 Balkind held the position of curator of the University of British Columbia Fine Arts Gallery. He also taught classes in the Fine Arts Department of UBC, which was closely associated with the gallery. Under the direction of Balkind, the UBC Fine Arts Gallery moved in an innovative and creative direction, and the meager resources of the gallery were used to experiment with art, design, and curation. By taking such an approach, he attracted influential artists such as Ray Johnson. Balkind also curated the first shows of many artists who were later prominent in the Vancouver scene. Artists such as Jeff Wall, Ken Lum, and Ian Wallace got their start with Balkind as mentor and curator. Balkind also exhibited and promoted the work of female artists, such as Gathie Falk, whenever the opportunity arose. 

Balkind became a Canadian citizen in 1969. In 1973, he left his position at the Fine Arts Gallery and continued his career in the arts first as curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, then head curator of the Vancouver Art Gallery (1975-1978), and later as the head of the visual arts studio at the Banff School of Fine Arts (1985-1987). In addition to his work as a curator at these institutions, Balkind also worked as an independent curator. In 1992, as a testament to his long and active career, Balkind was the first recipient of the $50,000 Vancouver Institute for Visual Art (VIVA) Award. 

After a two-year fight with cancer, Balkind died in December 1992.

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