In September, the Winnipeg Art Gallery announced a new partnership with the National Gallery of Canada. Stephen Borys, the spirited and talented WAG director, declared that, as a consequence, the gallery will now be able to give its public exclusive access to masterworks from the NGC collection, among them the B.C. Interior’s own Janet Cardiff’s Forty-Part Motet, and the internationally celebrated darling of the last Venice Biennale, Christian Marclay’s The Clock.
It was the third such matrimonial hitching for the National Gallery in as many years. Previously, it had struck a deal to ensure an ongoing NGC outpost gallery within the Art Gallery of Alberta and, again, last summer, within Toronto’s Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art. It seems our national gallery is out looking for satellite spaces for its coast-to-coast conquest. So, what’s not to like? After all, it is our national gallery, our resources, our collection, our heritage, our money – why not spread the joy nationwide? Everyone working cooperatively together. Good stuff, no?
Well, yes. These are wonderful art experiences that all Canadians will find of value. Nothing not to like here. Yet, I have a question.
Didn’t we already have access to the collections of the National Gallery?
It used to have a national touring exhibition program available to be hosted by any public gallery. Why are communities now obliged to contractually sign up individually to confirm exclusive service agreements with our national gallery as a pre-condition to receiving loans and exhibitions from them? Don’t we all pay for the National Gallery? Is the tax revenue that supports the programs of our national gallery generated soley from the constituents of these three locales? Apparently so, as the NGC is focused on providing preferential service to its three confirmed partners. Too bad for Canadian art lovers elsewhere – your national gallery has just cut a side deal; they have cut you out. Their coolest stuff is held on reserve for their special partners. Everyone else will have to chill. The party is elsewhere. You aren’t going to see Marclay’s The Clock. Really?
And I’m still waiting for a media release from the National Gallery that announces the mother ship will host a project generated by one of their special associate institutions: The Art Gallery of Alberta, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto, or the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Has the National Gallery set aside guaranteed confirmed spaces for its ‘partners’ to program some corner of its palatial ‘digs’ in Ottawa on a perpetual basis? No?
Have you been to the National Gallery of Canada lately? Do you find yourself reflected in its portrait of the nation? Are the artists, views, images and issues that matter to you anywhere in evidence? I’m guessing it is still, more often than not, Algonquin Park, Automatiste fantasies and Vancouver photo-conceptualists. I’m not feeling the love. Are you?
Recently, the National Gallery came West seeking financial contributions from Western Canadians to support Canada’s representation at the Venice Biennale. Likewise, the Canadian Art Foundation came a-calling on its annual search to fund “national objectives.” Many Western Canadian patriots, once again this year, graciously complied. And thanks to them. The nation’s progress depends on it. I’m just sayin’, since these visitors were in town, why didn’t they drop by for a chat and see what's on at our galleries?
Perhaps, in Western Canada, we need our own version of Quebec City’s Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec. The national gallery of a province – what’s up with that? Maybe it is preposterous. Yet, what the heck, just maybe Quebec has it right. Listen up. We may have great art; however, Quebec certainly seems to have the winning strategy. For 2013, I’m counting on the establishment of the National Gallery of Western Canada.