Eye-catchers in 2012,
Ottawa’s visual art scene really popped last year
Ididn’t see every exhibition in the Ottawa area this year, but I did see many. Here are the shows in visual arts that I remember most fondly from the past 12 months ...
1 Nuit Blanche (Sept. 22): The overnight festival of contemporary art installations, spread throughout the city core, had a smashing debut in the capital. Thousands of people milled through the streets to see the work of hundreds of artists until well into the next morning. Big Beat high point? At the corner of Rideau and Sussex was Genevieve Thauvette, the young, idiosyncratic Ottawa photographer, dressed as Marie Antoinette in a giant cake singing La Marseillaise and Mon Cher Ami all night long. Her performance embodied the exuberance and freshness of the night. Nuit Blanche organizers proved the event held annually in cities around the world can work in Ottawa, because the public interest is huge.
2 Three installations (National Gallery): Throughout the year came a triumphant trio of temporary installations at the National gallery. Janet Cardiff’s glorious Forty Part Motet, with 40 voices on 40 speakers, returned and was again ideally set in the Rideau Chapel. Christian Marclay’s 24-hour video The Clock was built of imagination, ambition, and thousands of short clips from film and television, woven into a daylong odyssey of familiar scenes made oddly strange. Christian Jankowski’s one-hour video Casting Jesus is a subversively straightforward record of a casting call for actors to play Jesus Christ at the Vatican, with papal officials presiding over would-be messiahs like reality-show judges, catty remarks and all. (It’s now showing at the gallery.)
3 Van Gogh: Up Close (National Gallery): Some people told me they didn’t go to the gallery’s big summer show because it lacked the Van Gogh blockbusters — no Starry Night or Portrait of Dr. Gachet. How silly is that? Those people missed an exhibition that showed how Van Gogh’s work, in just a few years, went from being studious and derivative to being free-spirited and enormously influential. Included were grand works by any measure — Almond Blossom, Wheat Field with Sheaves, Iris — and they helped to provide insight into how Van Gogh became possibly the most famous artist in the world, more than a century after his death. 4 Sailing Through Time (River Building, Carleton University): Ottawa sculptor David Fels took the trunk of the 300-year-old “Brighton Beach Oak,” a tree beloved by residents in Old Ottawa South until it died and was cut down last year. From a single block of wood Fels carved Sailing Through Time, a swooping, billowing colossus — more than 12 feet high and weighing hundreds of pounds. It’s an eloquent, beautiful example of Fels’ unique and profound relationship with wood.
5 Joe Fafard & Russell Yuristy (Cube Gallery): Joe Fafard and Russell Yuristy are old friends, and their work in the exhibition Prairie Companions was mutually complementary. Yuristy’s drawings and Fafard’s sculptures round up a menagerie of animals domestic and wild, and the stars of the show are Fafard’s wild horses. They are magnificent, just like the larger versions he has outside the National Gallery.
6 Marc Nerbonne (Galerie St-Laurent + Hill): The Gatineau artist, now in Montreal, photographs roadkill and uses the images in multimedia paintings of animals. Some are ghoulish, some look almost normal, but all are stunning and highly original. In his exhibition No Med, at St-Laurent + Hill, and in the Local Flora group show at SAW Gallery, Nerbonne created a dark an disturbing world.
7 Extreme Self (SAW Gallery): Jason St-Laurent’s debut exhibition as curator at SAW Gallery brought together self-portraits by artists cast in ice-cream (Theo Pelmus) or submerged in swamps (Anitti Laitinen). Suzy Lake stood motionless in the forest, 2Fik cast himself as gay Muslim man, and Chris Burden made TV ads that took self-promotion to new levels. The show was hilarious, tragic and provocative.
8 Jonathan Hobin (City Hall Art Gallery): Hobin’s meticulous photographs of his grandparents, titled Little Lady, Little Man, made voyeurs of all who saw them. The centrepiece was a large, proud portrait of the couple in their Sunday best, remarkably lifelike when printed in UV ink on aluminum panels. Most challenging were the images of Hobin’s grandmother on her death bed. They were loving portraits from a photographer with a distinct eye.
9 Amy Schissel (Patrick Mikhail Gallery): Abstract art is like a force of nature, and the artist’s job is to control that force just enough to make it coherent. Amy Schissel paints images of cyberspace, of the Internet, cast as a swirl of vibrant colours. Her show Systems Fever at Patrick Mikhail Gallery showed that the concept works better in large format than in small, but left little doubt as to why she was shortlisted for the RBC Canadian painting prize.
10 Majestic (National Gallery): Michel de Broin’s giant sculpture, made of lamp posts uprooted by hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, is playful and profound, and the best part of the Builders biennial of contemporary Canadian art. Majestic is sobering and uplifting at the same time. It was installed only recently and if I’d had more time to spend with it might be higher on this list. Regardless, it’s imaginative, reflective and accessible — ideal for an outdoor piece at a public institution.
A few other things that deserve special mention from the Ottawa art scene in 2012 ...
I won’t soon forget seeing Howie Tsui’s works on the War of 1812, from drawings on deer hide to a refurbished pinball machine. Kristy Gordon’s portraits at Cube Gallery showed a young artist who continues to probe, to learn, to impress. Lorena Ziraldo’s painting She Whispered, at Wallack Gallery in November, was as good as any I saw in a commercial gallery in Ottawa this year. Adad Hannah’s video installation the Bourgeois of Calais, at the Ottawa Art Gallery, was destabilizing and compelling. Finally, Andrea Stokes’ exhibition at the Hintonburg Public House was a moving record of her young daughters, and their lives in the wake of the sudden death of their father. It was art as both therapy and testament.
Life is Beautiful was the theme of Nuit Blanche, the all-night contemporary art festival that had a smashing debut in Ottawa in September. Above, fans take part in Tavi Weisz’s Study of Staged Exuberance in the ByWard Market.
Christian Marclay’s intriguing installation The Clock, at the National Gallery, combined thousands of short clips from film and television.
The National Gallery’s blockbuster Van Gogh exhibit in the summer of 2012 featured some spectacular works.
Joe Fafard’s fanciful horses roamed a delightful show at Cube Gallery.
David Fels created a majestic sculpture from a rotting 300-year-old oak that had to be cut down in Old Ottawa South.
Jonathan Hobin’s loving, intimate portraits of his grandparents were remarkably lifelike.