WEB EXCLUSIVE: Ready, set, bid! An OAG auction primer

By Ilan Mester

Addicted to art? Love the energy of the chase, and the atmosphere of a community art event? If so, you likely already know about the Ottawa Art Gallery annual art auction. On June 2, artists, art lovers, and community builders will descend on the Ottawa Art Gallery for the chance to take home a made-in-Ottawa work. In advance of the big night, Ottawa Mag chats with OAG organizer Saweena Seth about the evolution of the event, artists to watch, and how to make sure you go home with your personal pièce de résistance.

Sarah Hatton Darlin' (from the series Turn for the Judges), 2005 Painting 24" x 30" Click on the image to view a gallery of auction works.

The Ottawa Art Gallery has been hosting auctions for quite some time. How has the event evolved throughout the years?

The Art Auction is the signature fundraising event for the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) and is in its 16th year. In its early years, the event was driven strongly by a theme.  There was a year when the artists were given a “regatta” as the subject to work with; another year 23 artists were invited and presented with a “chair” to work with, so the event that year was called 23 Chairs. Our use of a guiding theme has evolved in the past decade, sometimes the theme being a topical one such as ‘Stimulus’ in 2009, with the intention of providing a positive note to the community during  an economic downturn.  However, the artists have gradually started to either move away from the theme or incorporate it but in a lighter fashion.  This year is definitely a turning point for the event where the OAG has decided to give the auction a permanent name and a new look which defines the very spirit of the event it has held since its inception.  It’s now called ‘le pArty!’

Over the years the OAG has worked hard to include a wide range of artists — young, mid-career, and senior artists — and there is a focus on always including new artists that have not previously been involved.

More than 60 works will be featured this year. What are some of your favourites from the auction?

We have so many wonderful submissions, and such a wide variety of artists and practices, it’s impossible to choose! However, I could point out that we have a really innovative light-box called Tunnel Vision (2010) by husband and wife duo Andrew and Deborah O’Malley (The Latest Artists). We also have a delicate watercolour called Accordian Adrift (2011) by the young and talented Melanie Authier, whose nationally acclaimed abstract works are taking Ottawa by storm. We have the beautiful carving form of sculptor Paula Murray’s work State of Being (2010), who was recently short-listed for the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Arts Award’s Mid-Career Artist Award. And we will also have an intriguing landscape entitled Study for Valhalla (2011), created by Andrew Morrow, winner of the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Arts Award’s Emerging Artist Award in 2011.

Christopher Lea Dunning "After Eustache Le Sueur" (The Muses), 2010 acrylic and ink on paper 18" x 22" framed. Click on the image to view a gallery of auction works.

CBC’s Rita Celli will return as emcee for le pArty. What’s it been like working with her?

Rita Celli is a delight to work with! She’s warm, insightful, and above all else a consummate professional. She does a marvelous job as the emcee.

What would you say are some of the current trends for artists in Ottawa?

One of the trends these days is large scale abstract painting. There is a hand-made, folk-inspired aesthetic — it’s often combined with political and social critiques. Surrealist and minimalist drawings and watercolours have also been prevalent on the scene for a few years now. There’s also the theme of environmental issues, sometimes involving an examination of western consumerism, especially through photography. Work exploring the representation of the body, in photography, ceramics, and installation work is also a big trend. There’s actually a lot of video art in the region, addressing everything from memory and a sense of home or place to more political issues such as class and race.

Funds raised will benefit public educational programs. What are some of the upcoming programs?

The event raises essential funds for the gallery’s educational programs, including the Art in the City Summer Camps, family workshops, school visits, and other outreach programs.  This year the gallery is very excited to present two new outreach initiatives — Creative Sundays and an art tent. Keep your ear to the ground for details on these!

Do you have any advice for art lovers hoping to nab some paintings?

First, take a good look at all the available works. Go for what you really like, not what you think might increase in value. You can also check out the artists in advance — the OAG website has a special page with the names of the artists and, in most cases, an image of the work along with the value and dimensions so you can give it some thought before you even arrive at the event.

Each work of art has a minimum opening bid and a minimum bid increment. But remember, the bidding process is supposed to be fun!

Thursday, June 2. 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. $85. The Ottawa Art Gallery, 2 Daly Ave.