By Paul Gessell
Tavi Weisz is a man of few words. He even refused to speak to the large crowd at the recent vernissage of his powerful and sometimes startling exhibition of paintings — the first artworks to be shown — at the relocated Karsh-Masson Gallery in Ottawa City Hall.
I tried to interview Weisz once and gave up in frustration. The conversation just kept hitting dead ends. Thankfully, Stefan St. Laurent, who was charged with writing a short catalogue essay on Weisz, is far more patient than me. St. Laurent spent four hours poking and prodding Weisz until the stories emerged that explain his remarkable paintings in the exhibition titled One Last Time.
Most of the paintings are influenced by the experiences of Weisz and his family in Romania, during the Second World War, the Holocaust, and the Romanian Revolution of 1989 that saw the fall of the Nicolae Ceausescu regime.
In those days, there was mandatory military service for Romania’s ethnic Hungarian population, people who tended to be considered as “undesirables” by the Romanian majority. Weisz was one of those “undesirables” and was forced to spend a very difficult year in the army.
“He has never forgotten the humiliation and destitution of being stripped bare and given one uniform to wear for over a year of government-sanctioned slavery,” writes St. Laurent.
Memories of that year in the military, along with the experiences of older family members, repeatedly influence the works in Weisz’s new exhibition. In many of the paintings, we see the artist standing naked confronting Nazis, Communists, and other villains in the life of the artist and his family. The paintings are disturbing for a stranger and are surely cathartic for the artist.
The show continues until Jan. 12. But don’t miss the Jan. 11 closing party at 7 p.m. and a chance to view Weisz as performance artist. The Netherlands is still talking about a performance piece he did there a few months ago. It involved a flag, paint splashed everywhere and some racing around. For Weisz, actions speak louder than words.
The new Karsh-Masson Gallery is only slightly smaller than the 2,600 square feet of space in its previous incarnation in a National Capital Commission building between St. Patrick and Murray streets, in a courtyard just east of Sussex Drive near the National Gallery. A leaky roof at that building seems to have been at least part of the inspiration for the city to vacate the premises this past summer after 10 years when the lease expired.
The building has been repaired and, the NCC reports, there are negotiations with a possible tenant to occupy what originally began as the short-lived Canadian Museum of Caricature, a creature of Library and Archives Canada.
The new Karsh-Masson Gallery has come full circle by being located in Ottawa City Hall. A gallery of 4,000 square feet was originally located in City Hall, when that institution was located on Sussex Drive. When the building was sold to the federal government for use by the Foreign Affairs Department, the gallery was wisely moved from that high-security precinct to the more people-friendly ByWard Market location near the National Gallery.
Now, Karsh-Masson stands cheek-by-jowl with the older Ottawa City Hall Gallery, which will become a venue controlled by the Ottawa Art Gallery until that institution gets a new, improved home in the planned Arts Court development.
“It’s going to be the OAG Annex and it will show a mix of things: some often unseen works from the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art, some information about the OAG expansion, and changing displays of works by local artists who participate in OAG’s Art Rental and Sales service,” says Taline Bedrossian, communications and marketing manager for the Ottawa Art Gallery. “The first of these will be a show of collaborative drawings by artists Kristin Bjornerud and Erik Jerezano, completed by mail between Ottawa and Toronto, which is scheduled for March.