Artful Blogger

THE ARTFUL BLOGGER: Tears and farewells amid Carleton University’s Embarrassment of Riches

By Paul Gessell

Geoffrey James, "Viaduct of the Ohio Turnpike, Cuyahoga National Park," 2004.

It was the last vernissage at the Carleton University Art Gallery to be presided over by the retiring director, Diana Nemiroff, and Ottawa’s art royalty turned out in force.

It also helped that many Ottawa artists attending had some of their own works on the gallery walls. They included Justin Wonnacott, Loraine Gilbert, Jane Martin, Jennifer Dickson, Michele Provost, and relatives of the late Gerald Trottier. Other artists in attendance were Cindy Stelmackowich and Jerry Grey, along with major collectors Joe Friday and John Cook, art dealer Dale Smith and prominent curators Catherine Sinclair, Judith Parker, and Jonathan Shaughnessy.

Nemiroff broke into tears as she delivered her farewell speech and discussed her seven years at Carleton since leaving her post as the curator of modern art at the National Gallery of Canada.

The new exhibition is titled An Embarrassment of Riches: The Collection in Focus and it is something of a tribute to Nemiroff in that all the works on display were acquired during the years she has been at the gallery. The show was jointly curated by Nemiroff and the gallery’s chief curator, Sandra Dyck, and includes works both purchased and donated.

Nemiroff’s replacement has apparently been picked but the university has not yet made the name public.

Justin Wonnacott. "Three Spanish mackerel arranged together for the photograph like this…" 2009 From the “I Remember and I Forget” series, 2010 Gift of the artist.

John Osborne, Carleton’s dean of arts, told the crowd that the university is hoping the gallery can be greatly expanded. The gallery’s holdings include 29,000 works of art, making it one of the big players among Canadian art galleries. Yet the gallery space is such that there is little room to display even a tiny fraction of the massive collection.

Osborne’s remarks created quite the buzz at the May 7 event as guests speculated on just how fast a new gallery might be created. It seems doubtful the financially distressed Ontario government is going to bankroll a new gallery. But is there perhaps a big corporate donor waiting in the wings?

Embarrassment of Riches also includes works from top Canadian artists from places other than Ottawa. Among them, Kent Monkman’s video, Dance to Miss Chief, a cheeky deconstruction of the Western film genre; landscapes from photographer Geoffrey James; stark photo-based streetscapes from Jocelyne Alloucherie; and various Inuit artists — a genre of art that is one of the gallery’s major strengths.

Embarrassment of Riches continues at Carleton University Art Gallery until Sept. 30.

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