Monday, January 23, 2006

Stuff Seen - The National Gallery of Canada


My ticket stub from the National Gallery of Canada


I'd be embarrassed if I ran the National Gallery of Canada. I was there yesterday, it was my first time visiting, and was sorta pumped. The website ain't that bad, and from the press releases it looked like someone might be home. After the visit, I've changed my mind. Ain't no one home, and it appears that they ran away a while ago.

To back up a little, I got there at about noon, bought my ticket, there was no temporary exhibit, so why exactly do I have to pay to see the permanent collection? What are my tax dollars spent on? Washing windows? I asked the woman who sold me my ticket, "how many people are here?" She told me it was a busy day, there were something like 200 people in the museum because of family fun day. And now upon a closer examination of my ticket - I realize in fact that I was customer number 164 (look for the number in the lower right part of the ticket).

OK, so at the beginning of the day (ie when they should be most popular) they were doing 100 people per hour. Even if they kept up that pace for the entire day (or in other words got 700 people) there is only one way to describe it, horrible. Calculated out over 260 days - how many days they are open during the year - it becomes 182,000. Or in a different way about 30,000 less than went to see the Turner, Whistler, Monet exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in three months.

I then went through the galleries three times. The first time, backwards, so I could see the contemporary stuff first. The second time forwards, so I could attempt to make some sense of what they were showing, and a third time so I could take notes. I ended up taking five pages of notes on things that I thought were horribly bad. I'm going to try and distill them down to something easily readable.

First off, I think the decision to group the silverware, the aboriginal artifacts, the paintings, the sculptures and everything else together and then progress chronologically, while it does in theory seem to work as a concept, but when the collections of silverware, aboriginal artifacts, the paintings, the sculptures and everything else vary wildly it ends up becoming something akin to deciding to replace Elmer Lach with Steve BĂ©gin on the Punch Line because somebody decided that the Punch Line should be more in tune with the times.

The Jack Pine by Tom Thompson is blocked from view on its axis.

While I was pleased to see that they had updated the chat tag for Jacques de Tonnancour to show that he had died last year, somehow they hadn't gotten around to doing the same things for Jori Smith or Ghitta Caiserman Roth. In a place that is trying to be politically correct, it is sad to see that women are still not getting equal rights.

In gallery C202, which is supposed to exhibit Gothic and Renaissance Art there is a really nice Gerhard Richter painting.

Kevin Schmidt has a 10 minute video that is projected as large as possible onto a wall, in its own room. Dan Graham has a 60 minute video that is viewable on a 20" TV with really cheap headphones. I did not ask a guard, but I would pretty much guarantee that no one has watched all of Mr. Graham's video in its current installation. What's the point in exhibiting something if nobody's going to see it?

In gallery C215, they were storing, or moving some items, I was very happy to see that they used the same methods as I do here - they leaned things up against each other, basically trusting gravity. While I imagine that it is all right if I'm dealing with art that's $300, I wouldn't want to see what happens if a painting from say 1862 fell.

In B103 if Brice Marden was born in Bronxville, New York, do you think he is really going to spell the word "gray" with an "e?"

All over the place there were a ton of lights that had blown: C218 had 7 lights that were blown, in C201 there were 8 lights that weren't working, A113b had one light blown and as did A106b. Note to future curators and art technicians, it ain't such a hot idea to try to exhibit things without working lights.

I really really got a kick out of C204, and while I don't know if Abraham and the Three Angels is the best painting ever painted by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo but it better be, it has the most prominent spot in the entire room while a Nicolas Poussin and an Anthony Van Dyck are shunted to the side. Or maybe someone realized that in fact it wasn't one of Murillo's better works and that's why they decided to block the view of the bottom half of it with a Plexiglas box when you sit on the couch in the gallery.

Since I went directly to view the contemporary art first, I walked down a long hallway to the rotunda. On my way I passed by a bulletin board that was painted gray (I too, am American) it was about 15 feet long. 8 feet high, four inches thick and was bare as they had not gotten enough children's art to hang on it. In the second room I entered I suddenly saw Leslie Reid's Calumet Island. Ain't nothing like spelling it out to your visitors (for those who don't quite understand, Calumet Island is about 15 feet long, 8 feet high, four inches thick and painted a solid shade of gray).

While it ain't an egregious error I would strongly recommend that they move the chat tag for Gary Neill Kennedy's piece to level 2.

If Eric Goldberg's self-portrait was painted in between 1911 and 1914 what is it doing in a room that is labeled "Canadian Art 1930 - 1950?"

I'm certain that there are some good things about the National Gallery, and I am certain that it is a good thing that we have a National Gallery, but I sure as shootin' wish that the fine folk running it were slightly better than they are.

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