BY PAUL GESSELL
Stephen Harper likes the Canada Council for the Arts. Since first being elected in 2008, the Conservative government has always favoured the Canada Council over other agencies. While museums and other cultural organizations have tended to experience cuts, the Canada Council’s budget has generally grown although its current parliamentary appropriation, frozen in 2012 for three years, is $181.2 million. Still, a freeze is better than a reduction.
The prime minister has never really said why he likes the Canada Council. Maybe because the agency is efficient and puts most of its money into the hands of real artists rather than public servants.
Whatever the case, you can bet that Harper has just found another reason to like the Canada Council, which has just opened a classy art gallery on the ground floor of the Performance Court office building at 150 Elgin St., showing off for free top-notch artworks purchased by the Canada Council’s Art Bank. The 3,000 square-foot gallery is called Ajagemo, an Algonquin word signifying “crossroads.” The space is also suitable for musical performances.
The Art Bank is Harper’s idea of culture. It is generally self-supporting, although there have been deficits recently. But then, so has the government incurred deficits. The Art Bank’s profits earned from renting art to companies and government departments are used to purchase more art from contemporary artists across the country. And while the quality of the purchases remains high, the Art Bank generally does not acquire works showing sex, nudity, or other things that deputy ministers, corporate presidents or members of the Conservative base would be reluctant to hang on an office wall.
Yes, you can call that censorship. But what’s the point of an Art Bank buying art no one would want to rent? That’s also why complicated installations are no longer being collected by the Art Bank.
The first exhibition at Ajagemo is called Land Reform(ed) and is curated by a University of Ottawa master’s student, Stanzie Tooth. It will be shown for three months in this bright, airy space. The exhibition “explores how artists have understood and interpreted humans’ relationship to the landscape and documents themes of metamorphosis, rupture, adaption and evolution.”
Land Reform(ed) includes 13 works – paintings, drawings and three-dimensional pieces. Some of the most recognizable names in contemporary art are represented, including Michael Snow, Liz Magor, Dil Hildebrand and Kim Adams. Paintings from two local artists, Carol Wainio and Judith Berry, are also part of the show. Wainio’s painting, Narrative, is one of her complex scenes of fairy tale figures and contemporary iconography. Berry’s painting, Filter, is one of the artist’s surreal manufactured landscapes revealing scenery never seen in real life, unless hallucinogenic drugs were involved.
This is a high-quality, safe exhibition rooted in landscapes. Some of it will even appeal to children, notably Kim Adams’s 3-D tabletop miniature town called Artists’ Colony. This is also an exhibition that will advertise the wares of the Art Bank and encourage all the nearby lawyers’ offices across from the court house to rent some art.
The gallery is located in a new building wrapped around the old Friday’s Roast Beef House, which is in the process of becoming the new home of Beckta. On the ground floor in the same building is a branch of Scone Witch, which serves scones and jams to die for. Beckta, ginger scones and fine art are a heady combination.
Ajagemo, located at 150 Elgin St., is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.