Two new exhibitions at the Ottawa Art Gallery

(Re)Collecting the Group of Seven and Art + Parcel

Maureen Korp

The end of the year offers many gift-giving occasions. Bring art into your home. Two exhibitions at the Ottawa Art Gallery show us multiple possibilities, then and now. First, we look at (Re)Collecting the Group of Seven. The exhibition, curated by Rebecca Basciano, is another look at the Ottawa Art Gallery’s Firestone Collection. Then, walk into the Annexe’s showrooms to see Art + Parcel. All is for sale.

Mountain Lake” c.1938 by A.J. Casson is one of the eye-catching pencil drawings  in curator Rebecca Basciano’s  new look at the Firestone collection.

O.J. and Isobel Firestone liked art, bought what they liked, and enjoyed having people over to their home here in Ottawa to talk about art. The Firestones very much liked landscapes, mountains and lakes, big trees. In time, their collection of the Group of Seven, and a good many others, would become the heart of the Ottawa Art Gallery’s permanent collection.

Basciano has included a short film, running on a continuous loop in (Re)Collecting the Group of Seven. Filmed May 11, 1973, and entitled “Touring 375 Minto Place,” we see an Ottawa reporter being welcomed into the Firestone home. The sofas you see in the film? Here they are today in the gallery. Alas, for display only. No one may sit there presently.

Among the number of smaller works on display, three caught my eye. Two are pencil drawings, graphite on white paper: “Mountain Lake” c.1938 by A.J. Casson, and “Back Street, Toronto” c.1921 by Lawren S. Harris. Each is a compositional study of repetitive line and edge, straight verticals, curves, and angles. Neither was drawn as a document of a specific place or event. Each is a two-dimensional visual map of four-dimensional realities.

The small ink and enamel drawing by Norval Morrisseau, a k a Copper Thunderbird, is not the same sort of drawing. Morrisseau’s drawing is entitled “Sacred Bear” c.1962. We see the bear inside and out. The exterior line is red and black, the interior yellow. The artist’s composition is more than patterned line and colour. It is an Anishinaabe document attesting to the artist’s own visionary knowledge of Bear, the sacred bear. In most of the world’s indigenous languages, words translated into English as “art” are also the same words as “vision.” Morrisseau’s drawing shows us why. All three drawings are of modest scale. Artists often price their work by size: larger costs more.

Works in the Art+ Parcel exhibit are all for sale, most in the $200 to $450 range, Above, Mystical, 2017, by Niki Economo depicts a forested row of tall birch trees in soft, soft colours.
Courtesy of Niki Economo

With that thought in mind, time to take a look at Art + Parcel, the new installation crowding the walls of the Annexe. All is for sale, most in the $200 to $450 range, some less, some more. The money goes to the artists, a bit to the local galleries. A good lot of the work may be rented on a monthly basis for as little as $30. This is art for today, art small enough to fit on anyone’s wall or shelf, almost anywhere. Easy enough, too, to take with you should you change abode.

Art + Parcel is not hung in any particular order. There is a wide range of medium: photography, textile, printmaking, drawing, . . . Painting predominates. Subject matter? Varied. There do appear to be several themes: modes of transportation, landscape, city streets, portraiture, design and commerce. One constant however is apparent: Art + Parcel is work by Ottawa artists; the artists live here, too.

As we all know, the LRT has not had a good first year of operation in Ottawa. Nevertheless, its trains, tracks, and passengers are fascinating subject matter for several artists. Eryn O’Neil’s acrylic paintings are skillful studies of the trains and the LRT architectural infrastructure. “Stranger,” a black and white photograph by Zoe Cheung, is a view of three people carried upward on an escalator, two with backpacks. Who is the stranger?

Examples of landscape and nature study are numerous. No surprise. The Ottawa area, all unceded Anishinaabe lands, is blessed with rivers, forests, meadows. “Mystical” by Niki Economo depicts a forested row of tall birch trees in soft, soft colours. Jay Anderson’s “Old Suzy Q’s” is a straightforward depiction of a beloved roadside pitstop. “Actias Luna” by Uta Riccius lays out bits and pieces of forest detritus. Marc Adornato’s two acrylic paintings, framed in the manner of old masters, bear sadly ironic, oh-so-truthful titles: “Indigenous Groups Paying the Price for Russia’s Massive Arctic Fuel Spill,” and “Hazardous Dumping Costs Metchosin about $5,000 to Clear.” Familiar Ottawa city streets show up in the work of Maurice Dionne’s “Laurier and Elgin,” and Louis Theriault’s “March.” There are familiar faces to be seen, too, in Helene Lacelle’s photographic studies.

One of John Healey’s Fastener Series – Paper Clips, 2018.
Courtesy of John Healey

John Healey is the 2020 Project X Photography Award recipient. In Art + Parcel are several of his small, elegant studies of paper clips and safety pins. How do we hold ourselves together anyway? One answer might be Sayward Johnson’s small wall sculpture of copper wire and paper entitled “Womb Study.” Then again, “The Journey” by Tafu presents another answer as we make our way in trying times.

The walls of the Annexe are jampacked, chock-a-block with art to be seen, bought, and taken away. No delays. No shipping waits. This is art for today. Have a look around. Bring art home.





Current Exhibitions Ottawa Art Gallery

(Re)Collecting the Group of Seven, continuing to late 2021

Art + Parcel, continuing to 10 January, 2021

50 Mackenzie King Bridge / 5 Daly Street
Free admission. Fully Accessible. Open Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Book your visit on line: