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Art & Architecture The National Gallery of Canada names new curator of Canadian art

The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa has named Katerina Atanassova its curator of Canadian art, succeeding Charles Hill who has held the position since 1980. The Bulgarian-born Atanassova, currently exhibitions director and chief curator of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ont., begins her new job Dec. 1 while Hill, 69, vacates his post in early October.

In a statement released Thursday by the National Gallery, Atanassova's new duties include "developing the national collections of Canadian painting, sculpture, prints and drawing and decorative arts, dating up to 1980. She will [also] make new acquisitions, organize exhibitions, head the reinstallation of the permanent collection of Canadian art and direct the department of Canadian art."

Chief curator Paul Lang said: "[Katerina] has real charisma and conviction, and will bring a new eye to the collection."

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Atanassova came to Canada in 1990 to study medieval icon art at the University of Toronto's Pontifical Institute but soon became enamoured of the work of the Group of Seven. As a graduate student – she obtained her M.A. in 1994 – she worked with the university's Malcove Collection of early medieval and Byzantine art. But, as she told an interviewer earlier this year, she "found [herself] drawn … to the University College Art Collection" and its Canadian holdings, eventually becoming assistant curator there. In 1999 she was appointed education director of the Varley Art Gallery in Markham, Ont., named after Frederick Varley, one of the original Group of Seven painters. Eventually, she became the Varley collection's curator and program co-ordinator. Currently she is a PhD candidate and instructor at York University's department of visual arts and culture, studying "the emergence of urban culture in Canada from the late 19th century to the early 20th."

Since her arrival at the McMichael in 2009, Atanassova, now in her mid-40s, has been a galvanizing presence, dedicated to both raising and modernizing the McMichael's profile in the Canadian arts firmament and heightening international awareness of Canadian art. In 2012 she was co-curator of the acclaimed travelling exhibition Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven that enjoyed successful runs at London's Dulwich Picture Gallery, Norway's National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design and the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands. A well-regarded version of this show was later displayed at the McMichael. Among other Atanassova-orchestrated exhibitions held at the McMichael or elsewhere in the past seven years are You are Here: Kim Dorland and the Return to Painting, Ansel Adams: Masterworks/Edward Burtynsky: The Landscape That We Change and F.H. Varley: Portraits into the Light. She also has curated a new component for Morrice and Lyman in the Company of Matisse, which is coming to the McMichael from the Musée national des beaux arts du Québec in October.

In a statement Thursday, McMichael director Victoria Dickenson lauded Atanassova's artistic vision in "helping to build a strong foundation and establish the McMichael as a major cultural destination … We look forward to collaborating with her and the National Gallery in the promotion of Canadian art both at home and on the global stage."

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