Canadian and indigenous galleries
The National Gallery of Canada is intertwining Indigenous and European art history to paint a more complete picture of Canadian identity. The Canadian and Indigenous Galleries: From Time Immemorial to 1967 will open on June 15, replacing the former Canadian Galleries. Gallery director Marc Mayer spoke about what visitors can expect from the new galleries—and what they never would have expected.
Q: What can Canadians learn from this combination of the Canadian gallery and the Indigenous gallery?
a: They influenced each other over the last 400 years, so that is a very basic and extraordinarily important story about canada. it’s going to be extremely helpful for canadians to get a glimpse of their identity—something that’s very, very fleeting and that no one can really put their finger on.
Q: And how many new artifacts are you bringing in?
a: we had around 400 things before, now we have over 600. anything from beadwork to tiny amulets, to paintings, sculpture, and photographs. [There’s] an embroidery by a woman named marie la mère de songe, who was an ursuline nun and also a brilliant embroiderer. she was by far the most gifted european artist practicing in canada, and that’s new. normally at the national Gallery we start with the painters and the sculptors, who were generally priests, because that’s what you see in an art museum— but it’s just unfair. her imagination and her skill is so superior to the men who were working at that time, that it’s just unfair to not identify her as the first trueblue european artist to practice in canada. Plus, she lived here for 50 years! once she came here, she never went back.
Q: And how does this combination of galleries define the approach that the National Gallery is now taking towards Canadian art in general?
a: it’s a broader approach, a more inclusive approach because the story of art-making in canada goes back thousands of years, not just hundreds… [historical indigenous art] was normally shown, is shown, and will prob-
ably be forever shown in museums, where the emphasis is really on the culture, as opposed to the outstanding examples of art from those cultures. so they’re looking for typical things that can explain that culture, whereas in an art museum you have exceptional examples of typical objects, and that’s how we’re redefining art for the national Gallery. That it’s not just descendants of europeans, and it’s not just painting and sculpture.
Q: Are there any surprises or anything interesting people might not expect to find in this new gallery? a: well, the fact that we’re starting the european story with a woman i think is going to be very interesting... we’re committing to include indigenous art in the story now in a systematic way. and i think people are going to be very surprised by how beautiful the galleries are. They’re being completely renovated: we’ve opened up doorways, we’ve changed the colour of the floor, we’ve eliminated walls, and put walls where walls weren’t. it’s a much more fluid space, you’re going to be a little bit freer to skip a few decades if you want to go a little faster. [There'll] be lots of surprises, i think people will find it exhilarating.
salomon marion snuffbox wiTh aGaTe, c. 1820 silver, aGaTe, Gold, Gold alloy, coPPer, and brass, 2 x 7.6 x 5.4 cm
Purchased 2015 naTional Gallery of canada, oTTawa PhoTo: nGc
unknown (naskaPi arTisT) hunTinG coaT, c. 1840 caribou hide, PainT, Thread, wool and Glass beads, overall measuremenTs on mannequin: 95 x 80 x 50 cm
Purchased 2014 naTional Gallery of canada, oTTawa PhoTo: nGc