Ottawa Art Gallery marks a summer of success

The view of the Ottawa Art Gallery from the Mackenzie Street Bridge. Photo: Peter Robb

About 80,000 people have visited the new Ottawa Art Gallery in its inaugural summer, drawn to see the opening exhibition of the work of about 190 artists from this region called Àdisòkàmagan / Nous connaître un peu nous-mêmes / We’ll all become stories, which starts to wind down Aug. 26 when part of the show closes. The rest will remain open to the public until Sept.16.

The attendance is the largest for any show at the OAG.

The end of the beginning of the summer kicks off Friday at the gallery with a day-long symposium that will bore in on one of the themes that emerged in the creation of the inaugural exhibition at the new gallery.

It is a fitting topic for a gallery that is exploring and explaining art-making of and from the region. The day will examine the impact that regionalism can have through arts activism on a larger political stage … thinking globally and acting locally in other words.

Catherine Sinclair, the senior curator of the OAG, will open the session Friday morning. The day will also feature the screening of a short film Gephyrophobia by Caroline Monnet; an interactive workshop with artist Valérie Yobé and a performance called Mobilis in mobile IV by Hélène Lefebvre. In the afternoon the film Shooting the Indian Act: Kitigan Zibi byClaude Latour will be screened followed by a panel discussion featuring five artists who are all in the We’ll all become stories show: Janet Kaponicin, Jane Martin, Shahla Bahrami, Carl Stewart and Kalkidan Assefa. For more about the day please see

The purpose of this event is to probe more deeply into some topics that were unearthed in the making of the inaugural exhibition, Sinclair said in an interview. And it will also ask the question what is this region and examine its larger national and international role.

“We wanted to also focus on why is regional art important. A lot of the time regional art gets told it is not important and gets ignored. Linking it to political art is to say local art can have a wider impact, even into global movements.” And such art can take many forms from the photographic portraits of Yosuf Karsh to whimsical or satirical pieces by artists such as Ron Noganosh, who poke fun at the red tape runaround.

One of the speakers in the afternoon panel on Friday, Kalkidan Assefa, has a mural in the OAG show which speaks to his identity as and Ethiopian Canadian. It speaks to the wider Black Lives Matter movement and his role as a mural artists which involves him in communities, Sinclair said.

This is something that is often connected with art but the gallery wanted to focus on how that plays out locally, Sinclair added.

Symposiums such as this have been part of the OAG’s activity as part of its educative mission. A full-day event is more rare. It is the final event of the summer and now the OAG will prepare for the future with a return to more regular programming.

In the fall, an early highlight will feature the works of internationally known designer Karim Rashid who got his start in Ottawa. It begins Oct. 11. The following week another floor of the gallery will feature several more shows. It’s about to get busy.

After doing that big show, Sinclair said, there is much more that can be said about art produced here. And that is where the gallery will go now, Sinclair said. It is bittersweet to think that some of the art will be coming down after this weekend. This means no rest as the curators are busily preparing for the fall.

“We are moving back in to a regular rotation and away from one big mammoth show,” she said. Going forward there will be about four shows opening, three times a year.

“The first show in the new building has been very special. Overall we have heard nothing but good comments about it. We feel like we have achieved what we wanted to achieve which was to map out some of the story of this region.

“The big show has been a big overall look. Now we can get into some topics in greater depths and focus on individual artists. Now we can focus (for example) on Michele Provost of Gatineau. We’ll look at our permanent collection in a show. We’ll pair the work of Michael Belmore in relationship with A.J. Casson.”

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.