Friday, February 20, 2009

National Art Gallery

Finally! Rob and I spent an afternoon at the National Gallery and it was thoroughly enjoyable. The building itself is beautiful, I can see why it is billed as "a work of art." Visually adjacent to the fortress of the library that lays within the walls of the Parliament's impenetrable stone buildings, the gallery front is a vaulted glass structure that welcomes visitors to explore within. Natural light cascades through the core of the building to floors below. Courtyards offer a respite from gallery fatigue. The architect, Moshe Safdie, still takes an active interest in maintaining the building, originally constructed in 1988.

The collection began in 1880 and has grown to several hundred thousand pieces, with only a small percentage on display. Maybe that explains the lack of Emily Carr or Group of Seven (although we luckily have a lot of Group of 7 at the McMichael in Toronto). Lots of Montreal artist Betty Goodwin showing at the time of our visit, I enjoy her wit. And also 'discovered' another Canadian artist, James Wilson Morrice, (a painting of his on the right) who was one of Canada's first modernist painters (1864-1924). He had such a talent for painting light. There was a painting on display he did of an open-air cafe in Cuba in the early 1900's that made me feel I was sitting at one of the tables. There were also several voluptuous reclining nudes with soft round eyes gazing with such desire in the direction of the artist... it made me wonder how he got any painting done!

We had a tour of the Impressionists, Fauvists and Post Impressionists led by a young and very earnest and passionate guide. His enthusiasm was contagious. What a dilemma artists must have found themselves in when the camera came onto the scene, a mere machine capturing in an instant what they had struggled so hard to replicate. It was fun to walk close-in and then far away from Monet to see how distance affected perception. Or to circle the Rodin sculpture to take in all the angles. Calder's tree mobile was expertly displayed, so when you walked underneath it gently swayed around your head. Being able to interact with the art definitely enhances the pleasure and experience.

One of the funnest was the post-modern piece by Duchamp, 'Fountain,' in the exhibit "readymades." The original was an actual urinal pulled from the wall of a public washroom, grimy and filthy, trying to make its way to display at an NYC exhibition. A great commentary about art, the meaning of art, the marketing of art. The original was tossed into the Hudson River, but a nice, clean, porcelain copy purchased by Duchamp in the1960's is now on display. I think we may have lost something in the translation, although Duchamp probably laughed his way to the bank. What the hell, by then he probably needed something to fund his retirement.

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