Skates at OAG Annex forecast good year for arts in Ottawa

By STUDY28|Violette Stepaniuk

I n a city known for the largest skating rink in the world, people walking around with skates in hand is a common winter sighting. After all, skating on the Rideau Canal is an Ottawa tradition. Not so common, however, at least not in my experience, is spotting a bag with skates lying on the floor of an art gallery − and, no, I don’t mean an art installation paying homage to this fun winter activity.

Since fitting Ottawa’s many art exhibitions into my schedule is a challenge, I was hoping to check out a few this New Year’s Day. Of the eight galleries on my list, only two were open that day, both at City Hall.

I was surprised to find City Hall buzzing with activity at dinner time on New Year’s Day. “It’s because of the skating rink,” my companion explained, reminding me of the Sens Rink of Dreams on the west side of the Hall, and the lit up trees, BeaverTails and hot chocolate.

I think it was my first time at our City Hall at Christmas time, so the charming scene inside also caught me by surprise: Christmas trees decorated with twinkle lights, wooden soldiers standing guard, Mrs. Claus’ sweet bakery table filled to the brim, someone playing the baby grand, people strolling between exhibitions, and children exhausted from skating lining the walls like little elves. But the biggest surprise was still waiting for me inside the OAG Annex gallery.

Pleasantly distracted by this Christmas wonderland, I almost forgot the purpose of my visit: Roberto Santaguida’s video installation Diaries at the Karsh-Masson Gallery, and two selections of works, In Good Company and Visual Assembly at the OAG Annex.

As I expected, we watched Santaguida’s film in a nearly uninterrupted solitude. A few people stopped by the dark room just to leave a moment later, not giving the unusual documentary the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, the paintings, photographs and mixed media works selected from the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art and from the ART Rental and Sales service attracted more attention, even from the youngest visitors.

While taking in the works by the Group of Seven and their contemporaries, we were joined by a woman with two children. The group engaged in an impromptu art tutorial, with the guardian explaining different works in Mandarin and the children pointing out the things they found interesting.

A few minutes later another group with children walked in to check out the works by Ottawa-based artists. They engaged in their own discussion, in English this time, at first pointing to a photograph of a dead bird, which caught my attention 15 minutes earlier.

It was this family’s bag with skates that I noticed near the gallery’s door on my way out. I smiled when I realized what the bag contained…and what the contents signified: some of us, including children, are having fun mixing skating with gallery hopping, totally relaxed and oblivious of what some consider an intimidating and exclusive world of arts.

2015 is shaping up to be a good year for the arts in Ottawa. See you at the gallery.

Happy New Year!

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