Artful Musing

THE ARTFUL BLOGGER: You might be surprised at the art you just bought

By Paul Gessell

Véronique Claude's "Shelter III," 2010, oil and acrylic on wood panel.

There are three main reasons for attending the annual exhibition of new art acquisitions by the City of Ottawa.

First of all, if you are an Ottawa taxpayer, you can see what $100,000 of your money bought on the recommendation of a peer jury. This year, that lump of dough purchased 101 artworks by 69 artists. The figure includes such costs as framing and honorariums for jurors. That means the city paid less than $1,000 for each piece of art in the show called Close to Home. A real bargain.

The second reason to attend the annual show at City Hall is to see what some of Ottawa’s A-list artists have been up to in the past year; people like Jinny Yu, Eric Walker, David Jones, Blair Sharpe, Lorraine Gilbert, and Tim desClouds.

That last guy steals the show with a whimsical assemblage of a red piano on wheels called “The Voyage of Theresa of Cartier Ville (OTHERNESS).” This joyful work is a tribute to the artist’s late mother, Theresa Eaton-desClouds, and represents a vessel containing symbols of a life lived to its fullest.

Nearby, take an especially good look at Yu’s oil-on-aluminum curvy sculpture, “Notes.” (A second one, “Bent,” was acquired, but is not on view in the exhibition gallery). Yu is on the fast track to international stardom. This might be the last year the city can afford one of her cerebral, innovative works. Consider this a wise investment.

The third reason to attend the annual show is to be surprised at the art produced by people you have never heard of before and are new to the city’s collection. This year, 35 of the 69 artists are first-timers. City officials believe that to be a record.

Don Maynard's "Checker Board," 2007, encaustic on paper.

The newbies include the likes of Laurence Butet-Roch, Heather Campbell, Veronique Claude, and Rémi Thériault, and even such high-profile pros as Jonathan Hobin, Frank Shebageget, and Pedro Isztin. Those latter three should have been in the collection years ago. What were those past juries thinking? The word at City Hall is to expect to see more of Hobin’s work in the acquisitions show next year.

This time, Hobin is represented by a large photographic image on aluminum called “The Pied Piper.” A devilish woman, hovering slightly above the floor, is intent on stealing a group of children surrounding her. The effect is a mesmerizing cross between a fairy tale and a horror show.

Veronique Claude makes an impressive debut with her acrylic paintings of tents, each one inviting viewers to create a narrative. Whitney Lewis-Smith joins the collection with “Fox,” an antiqued photo of a fox staring menacingly at the viewer. Laurence Butet-Roch has photos from Thetford Mines, Quebec, including one called “After Work” of a man playing pool. There is a moodiness to the photograph reminiscent of Michael Harrington’s iconic paintings of middle-aged male losers occupying gloomy rooms.

The overwhelming majority of the city’s art acquisitions are placed in municipal buildings for all of us to see. So the next time you are arrested by the police, or you go to pay a parking ticket, or you come pleading to the office of your city councillor, expect to see some of this art. Admire it. You paid for it.

Close to Home is at The City Hall Art Gallery from July 13 to Sept. 9. Admission is free.