By Paul Gessell
Several of the most innovative artists in the Ottawa area are facing a quandary: Where to exhibit following the closure of Dale Smith Gallery at the end of August?
Smith opened her Beechwood Avenue gallery in 2003. Since then, she has been nurturing and exhibiting an impressive stable of artists, including Heidi Conrod, Sarah Hatton, Amy Thompson, Karen Bailey, Michele Provost, Kristin Bjornerud, Reuel Dechene, Jonathan Hobin and Genevieve Thauvette.
“I am saddened to see the gallery close,” says Conrod, creating of riveting portraits. “Dale created a very unique and refreshing gallery space with her choice of artists and helped many of us get to the next stage in our careers.”
Conrod summed up Smith using such words as “professional,” “fair,” “compassionate” and “ honest.” “Her dedication to the artists and their work was unparalleled and her encouragement of artistic growth suggested that she cared more about the artist than the sale.”
Indeed, throughout those eight years, Smith took chances on young talent and difficult work. Not for her a conventional decorator painting of flowers or a landscape imitating the Group of Seven.
Who can forget Thauvette’s dark but cheeky photographic self-portraits of herself playing all five of the Dionne Quintuplets? Or Conrod’s haunting paintings inspired by vintage photos of First Nations residential schools? Or Dechene’s ability to turn hubcabs into hip light sculptures? Or Hobin’s staged photos of children in very adult activities?
The only way to continue in business, Smith says, would have been to move to a different location but “that would have cost tens of thousands of dollars.” So, Smith decided to close the gallery. But she still plans to act as an agent for some artists, matching them with clients. And she may become involved in some other art-related project, possibly in art education. “I will definitely be in the art world,” says Smith.
Several of Smith’s artists, when contacted, said they were unsure what gallery to sign up with next. Many are already represented by galleries in other cities but still need an Ottawa venue. Some of the artists were contemplating approaching such local galleries as Patrick Mikhail, St. Laurent-Hill or Terence Robert. But each of those galleries has its own niche and look and may not necessarily be a good fit with every artist’s style (or temperament).
“Dale is a hard act to follow,” says Karen Bailey. “I haven’t decided on a new gallery. Dale has assured me that she will make the necessary introductions for me once I’ve made a decision.”
From Italy came an email from Provost: “Dale and I had a natural, blissful partnership.”
Hatton said she was saddened by the gallery closure. “I am planning to soldier on and approach other galleries this summer.”
Thompson said she will remain with “Art Interiors in Toronto and Diane Farris in Vancouver for now and I’ll be showing at EBA (Enriched Bread Artists) this fall. I’m open to being represented in Ottawa but have made no commitments at this time.”