Artful Musing

THE ARTFUL BLOGGER: Come June 2013, the city-run Karsh-Masson Gallery will close the doors at its current location

By Paul Gessell

A look inside Karsh-Masson Gallery during Maria Lezon's 2010 exhibition "The Lounging Soap Opera." Maria Lezon @ KM, 2009-2010.

The Karsh-Masson Gallery will cease operations, at least at its current ByWard Market location, in June next year.

The gallery, which is run by the City of Ottawa, moved to 136 St. Patrick St. in 2003 after initially operating for 10 years in the former City Hall on Sussex Drive. That building now houses offices of the Foreign Affairs Department.

Karsh-Masson may re-open somewhere else after leaving the market but the city’s top cultural officials, including Debbie Hill and Nicole Zuger, aren’t answering questions. Queries to them were forwarded to the city’s corporate communications office.

“The five-year lease at 136 St-Patrick will expire in June 2013 and the City won’t be renewing at that location,” city spokesman Michael Fitzpatrick said in an email. “The City is now investigating options for an alternate location.”

That is apparently all the public is going to be told at this point.

We can only speculate at this point as to the reason for the move. Was the building in bad repair? Did the NCC raise the rent? Was the space just not suitable?

The gallery was plagued by a leaky roof and forced to close for a few months this past spring. That closure shortened the length of an exhibition by Ottawa artist Karen Jordon to avoid her art getting damaged, and another show by Lisa Creskey, an Outaouais ceramicist, was postponed until next May. Creskey will, in fact, by the last artist to show at the market location next year.

The National Capital Commission says the leaky roof is fixed.

A leaky roof in an NCC building was the initial reason given some years ago for the “temporary” closure of the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography beside the Fairmont Château Laurier. Well, the roof got fixed but the museum never re-opened.

The museum’s parent organization, the National Gallery of Canada, needed to reduce expenses and Parliament needed more committee rooms near the Hill. So, it was a win-win situation all around, except for the photography museum, the many artists who showed there, and the visitors who admired those artists’ work.

The building housing Karsh-Masson was the former Canadian Museum of Caricature operated by Library and Archives Canada. That museum lasted only a few years before the feds closed it.

The current exhibition at Karsh-Masson showcases the work of Ottawa photographer Rosalie Favell, who is this year’s winner of the Karsh Award for excellence in photography. Photo credit: Rosalie Favell, Snow (Wish You Were Here), 2011.

Karsh-Masson moved in there in 2003, supposedly only on a temporary basis. The building offers 2,600 square feet of exhibition space spread over two floors. The previous space at the former City Hall offered 4,000 square feet. Thus the market location was smaller and, being rather cramped, did not lend itself to the exhibition of large artworks and installations.

The gallery’s location has pluses and minuses. It is close to the National Gallery and other market galleries, meaning there is a critical mass of art-lovers in the neighbourhood. But the gallery is in a small, hidden courtyard that is easy to miss. Rarely, does one see many visitors inside.

The current exhibition at Karsh-Masson showcases the work of Ottawa photographer Rosalie Favell, who is this year’s winner of the Karsh Award for excellence in photography. That show ends Oct. 28.

When Karsh-Masson moved to the market, the move was billed as “temporary.” There was talk back in 2003 of returning to the former City Hall some day. Let’s hope that idea has been ditched. That building is now controlled by Foreign Affairs, which is not exactly known as a people-friendly place.

The city also controls a small gallery in the downtown City Hall at Elgin Street and maintains several community galleries that offer a mix of professional and amateur art.

The Ottawa Art Gallery receives some funds from the city but is much more independent than Karsh-Masson. Each gallery has a particular mandate although it is difficult at times to figure out how they differ from one another. The city also supports the artist-run Gallery 101.