Morning Star

This past week instead of hiking I loaded the family (and Grandma) into the car and we spent a few days in Ottawa, Canada. I really like Ottawa. Just a 5 hour drive from my house and presto – everything is different. My six year old loved it – weird money (loonies and toonies kill him), people speaking french (along with many other languages), buses, bicycles, and cabs all over the place (he took his first cab ride on this trip), the changing of the guard with their bright red uniforms and bagpipers.

Our hotel, the Lord Elgin, was just a few blocks down the hill from the parliment buildings, within site of the Rideau Canal, and not far from all sorts of cool things to do and see. Besides just wandering around the area, we hit the Canadian Museum of Civilization one day and The National Gallery of Canada (Musee des beaux-arts du Canada – everything sounds better in french for some reason) the next.

Civilization was right up my son’s alley. He wasn’t that thrilled with the historical recreation on the third level or the Canadian Personalities Hall on the fourth, but the First People’s exhibit on the first and the Children’s Museum on the second kept him plenty busy while the adults took turns visiting the rest of the joint.

The photo at the top of the page is a portion of a painting on a domed ceiling above a winding staircase. It is by Alex Janvier and called “Morning Star”. I just love this painting. I could have stood there and looked at it all day. The link above tells the story of this work and the meaning of the symbols. The symbolism was unknown to me at the time. I just liked the rich vibrant colors and the way the designs clashed and mixed and danced as my eyes followed them around the circle.

Right off the bat, the National Gallery scored points with my son by having a gigantic spider in front of the door. This is “Maman” by Louise Bourgeois. You gotta love a thirty foot spider!

The gallery didn’t hold the boy’s attention quite as well. However, there is a little area called “Artissimo” where kids can create their own works of art. He and his mom also had fun keeping a running count of the number of butt cracks he saw in the paintings. I think he said the total was 18. He really did remarkably well and for a kid he likes looking at art a lot more than I did at his age. This is a big building with heaps of stuff to see – maybe even too much for an adult to see all in one day.

The european collection was pretty good, but my favorite was the contemporary and canadian collections area. Being a nature type guy I especially liked the works of Tom Thomson and the “Group of Seven“. There was a special exhibit going on called “The 1930s – The Making of the New Man”. With science and war on the rise, it was a turbulent time and the arts reflected this. I especially liked the Grant Wood  (the “American Gothic” guy) works in here. I also liked the Max Ernst works; particularly his “L’Ange du Foyer”.

I liked what I saw of the Inuit art. The flowing colors and patterns rooted in life lived close to the environment really appeal to me.

MamanThey also had a collection of objects by Marcel Duchamp.  In one area they had a copy of the famous urinal, a snow shovel, a hat rack, a typewriter cover, some chunks of wood, etc. – all found objects or “readymades”. You may remember that a couple of posts ago I flippantly mentioned Duchamp’s famous urinal from 1917 as a point at which modern art (or post-modern or avant garde – whatever you want to call it), moved into realms that are beyond the average viewer or even the above average viewer for that matter.

Well, my friend over at artiseternal has taken me to task for this and has posted a defense of Duchamp on her blog. I deserve it. I know better than to blow this stuff off with snide comments.

With his urinal and other works, Duchamp was making a deliberate statement about the state of art at the time and especially about the closed mindedness of elite artists and critics who while ostensibly decrying the rigid confines of traditional art rules, fell into the trap of creating their own just as confining rules. His cubist work, “Nude Descending a Staircase, 2”, was rejected at a cubist art show because the multiple images, though static individually, hinted at movement which went against the cubist “rules”.

Duchamp broke out of just about all rules by presenting what some term anti-art. His work really has had a profound effect on the art world to the point that in 2004 a group of artists and critics named his “Fountain” as the most influential work of the 20th century.

I am definitely down with Marcel on this one. From now on I will avoid cracking wise about this kind of thing.

Just to clarify things before I quit. Laying aside the flippancy of my previous remarks, and with an eye toward natural aesthetics, I think that my original point remains valid. That is that the aesthetics of much of modern art is lost on all but the most artistically engaged individuals with a knowledge and feeling for the inner workings and prejudices of the “art world”. On the other hand, many of the aesthetic merits of natural environments are apparent to all people just by the fact that they are human and therefore part and parcel of the world in which they live. 



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4 Responses to “Ottawa”

  1. Canada » Ottawa Says:

    […] OttawaBesides just wandering around the area, we hit the Canadian Museum of Civilization one day and The National Gallery of Canada (Musee des beaux-arts du Canada – everything sounds better in french for some reason) the next. … […]

  2. fencer Says:

    Hey, a little different than your usual forest rambles… interesting works of art. That painting you like just draws the eye in with the colors… you’re inspiring me to get to the galleries more around here.


  3. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Sounds like you’ve had a great holiday.
    I had to go to Ottawa often when I was working. I liked it a lot because, despite it’s smaller size (than Vancouver) it’s quite cosmopolitan and caters to an international community. It’s easy to find restaurants and the cuisine is generally very good.
    It’s not strong on galleries, but I’ve got one there that carries my most abstract work.
    It’s a city that has a village feel to it, especially in the Byward Market.
    I find the big spider creepy, but I am amazed by the sculptor’s ability to conceive of a sculpture so large. If I were buying a sculptural piece for myself, money no object, that certainly would not be it; but I have to respect the expertise and the vision. And it just goes to show: Someone had the taste and the budget for it, since it graces our National Gallery plaza.
    I’ve been to the Museum of Civilization and never noticed the painting that you posted above. It’s a marvelous painting, full of vigor and happy colour. I’ll have to check it out next time.
    And as for the “cracking wise”, just feel free to keep doing it. What would I write about when I’m feeling a bit of writer’s block if I didn’t have something to react to.
    p.s. I could live with the painting “A nude descending the staircase” but the famous Fountain (the Urinal) just has to stay in the Museum. I couldn’t live with that one.
    Which goes to show, that eventually we get used to some of these shocking things that artists do to bludgeon the edges of the rule box and they’re not so bad after all.

  4. forestrat Says:

    I wish I had the time and money to go back to Ottawa and some other Canadian cities like Vancouver or Montreal. And of course there are scads of wilderness areas I’d love to visit.

    “Morning Star” is painted on the ceiling over a staircase at one end of the great hall. Not many people go down that way and if they do, they probably aren’t sure what to make of it.


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