By Paul Gessell
Surely, you remember the Portrait Gallery of Canada?
That was the project unveiled way back by the Chrétien Liberals to turn the former American embassy on Wellington Street into a museum of sorts filled with portraits of Canadians.
Lilly Koltun, an art historian with a passion for Karsh photograhs, was made the director of the new gallery and supervised the multi-million-dollar renovations to the beaux-arts building just across the street from Parliament.
Koltun was filled with enthusiasm, not just for the renovations, but for the way portraits of both the traditional and unusual kind could tell the story of Canada’s people.
Alas, the Harper Conservative government balked at the runaway budget and the long delays and cancelled the project. Depending upon one’s point of view, Koltun was a victim or the villain of the plot.
Now, fast forward a few years and head over to a small room at the University of Ottawa called Gallery 115, a cramped, drab exhibition space for fine arts students studying on campus. These days, there is a small sculpture exhibition called The Life Within. The artist is one Lilly Koltun.
“This is my coming out as an artist,” Koltun exclaimed at the recent Halloween evening vernissage.
Koltun is in her third year of studies towards a bachelor of fine arts. She already has a PhD in art history. But now she has a drive to create art, not just study it. She finds herself most at home with sculpture.
The exhibition is dominated by two sculptures of an anguished man’s head, torso, and arms. One is relatively life-like and in bronze. The other more expressionist one is in lacquered clay. They are both inspired by Koltun’s own father and his often distressing wartime memories. Both sculptures are fine beginnings for a new artist.
Sadly, Gallery 115 is the only exhibition space for the fine arts students at the University of Ottawa. Carleton University, which does not even have a fine arts program, has a large, top-notch gallery that, with a small budget and tiny staff, creates exhibitions that rival ones at the National Gallery of Canada.
Once again, there is talk of the University of Ottawa landing an exhibition space in the planned Arts Court renovation. The new building would practically be on campus and be a perfect location for students like Koltun to show the world that there is life and art beyond the public service and the colossal failure of a high-profile project.
The Life Within continues until Nov. 12 at Gallery 115, in room 115 of 100 Laurier East.