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'You make our culture grow:' NAK Gallery bringing modern art to Wellington West – OttawaMatters.com

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Sylvette Briere wants you to buy more art. 

And not just art, but art art. Originals, statement pieces, works by up-and-comers that will double in value in a year’s time. Yes, it might be expensive, but she says it is an investment — in the artist, in the art world, and in your own self-expression. 

“I want people to know more about art. They’re interested in art but there’s not a lot of people knowing about art,” Briere says, walking through the newly opened NAK Gallery, in Wellington West, surrounded by contemporary works. “I want people to feel free to come in, see what we have here, ask about it, and know more about it.”

Briere, the director of NAK Gallery, seems to have found her happy place in the art world, and is settling into her role after a career working as a singer. Here, she can be an advocate for art, the arts, and artists. 

“I know it’s more expensive than buying a piece in Walmart,” she explains. “People often come here and say, ‘Why would I pay $2,000 for a piece like this, when I can buy a similar one for $160?’ If you buy an artist, you make our culture grow, our give our identity more value.” 

In the context of Ottawa’s art world, Briere places NAK on the more contemporary side of the aisle — a gallery with more modern tastes and sensibilities than what she sees as the “more traditional” galleries elsewhere in the city. But she wants to blend that with a degree of approachability rarely associated with contemporary high art. 

“I want this gallery to be more accessible to regular people, to ordinary people,” Briere says. “I do not see any difference between the rich one or the poor one that comes here. If they cannot afford it right now, nothing says that they will not be able to afford it in two months, or in a year. I work with everybody.” 

NAK Gallery, which opened in late September, is a spin-off business from NAK Design Studios, an architecture and design firm. It’s a helpful relationship, Briere says — when condo developments need art to hang in the wall, or to stage a unit, it’s helpful to have a vault full of art to dip into.

It isn’t meant to be a corporate-directed business though, and Briere still thinks of it in very personal terms — especially now, during COVID, when the beauty (or lack of it) of one’s personal space its something many people are more aware of now than a year ago. 

“I think right now people are so bored of their walls that they want to change it,” Briere says. “So they buy a nice piece they’re really proud of, they put it on their wall, and they’re happy to look at their new wall.” 

Looking towards a post-lockdown world, Briere hopes that the gallery can be a place for artists to hang out, network, and build more community spirit. COVID put a damper on any plans for grand openings, hot exhibitions, or any of the events that Briere hopes to put on in the space, but those are all still things she keeps on the horizon. She wants to put on “at least” four solo shows a year, she says. 

“I know it’s going to get bigger, because we do have extraordinary artists,” she says. “I know that other galleries are looking over at us and saying, ‘Hey, what the f——? How did you get that?’” 

And maybe to other galleries’ chagrin, Briere is committed to NAK Gallery becoming a fixture in the nation’s capital. 

“I know we’re here to stay. I know we’re doing good,” Briere says. “I know that all the visions behind our choices [of art] are pretty cool, and people really like the diversity. They like the fact that we have something for almost all tastes, something to please everyone.” 

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Six art exhibitions in Ontario you can visit this winter – The Globe and Mail

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New York-based artist Moyra Davey’s exhibition, The Faithful, at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

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Consider the humble phragmites. Also known as European common reed, the plant is a ubiquitous sight along highways and across wetlands in Ontario – its tufted stalks so commonplace that they are almost invisible. But it is in fact a killer hiding in plain sight, an invasive species that has been wreaking havoc on Ontario’s ecosystems for decades. Thanks to COVID-19, many of us can relate more keenly to the perilous feeling of being a species under threat of invasion.

While we do everything we can to protect ourselves against that biological menace, artist Cole Swanson has been constructing a sort of temple to this one. “The Hissing Folly,” a thatched pyramid of phragmites installed in the loft space of a historic barley mill at the Visual Arts Centre of Clarington in Bowmanville until Feb. 7 weaves together multiple layers of meaning. It draws parallels with the destructive consequences of imperial ambition – the grasses entered North America following the same ocean passage as European colonizers – while also recognizing that phragmites (which derives from a Greek word meaning fence, or screen) possess value as a material for construction. With reeds reaching into the rafters, this folly – an architectural oddity that exists primarily for decoration while signifying a greater purpose – looms as a reminder that nature will always challenge humanity’s attempts to dominate the land.

The natural world and the screen meet again in Chantal Rousseau’s exhibition at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston, on view to Dec. 6, though this time with a welcome dose of whimsy. In Tap Dancing Seagulls and Other Stories, the Kingston artist sets her detailed watercolours in motion through the internet’s favourite medium, the animated GIF. A squad of squirrels does fitness training at a frenetic pace, repeating endless sets of exercises without any hope of rest. Two irritated-looking blackbirds stake claim to a Cheezie, wiggling back and forth forever in an interminable battle for some precious neon-orange cheddar dust. At first quirky and even a bit quaint, the animal characters appear increasingly agitated and anxious the longer you look at them. Who can blame them – performing the same routine in the same small space every day is making all of us go a little loopy.

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The first Canadian artists to sit in front of a computer and decide to get creative get their dues over at McIntosh Gallery in London, where curators Adam Lauder and Mark Hayward present a landmark historical survey of first-generation computer art in Computational Arts in Canada 1967–1974, on view to Dec. 12. Western University was “one of a handful of universities across Canada to house a mainframe computer during that time,” Lauder says, so the artists who engaged with the technology were entering territory then occupied only by engineers and other specialists – not exactly the user-friendly interfaces we are now familiar with. Among highlights are dramatic, zigzagging paintings by Suzanne Duquet, who was a professor at the University of Quebec at Montreal. “She is one of the few artists that learned to code,” Lauder says. “Her paintings are based on programs she wrote herself.”

At the Art Gallery of Hamilton until Jan. 3, Rebel Opera is a retrospective exhibition covering four decades of work by pioneering artist Nora Hutchinson, who made key early contributions to feminist video art, performance and installation. Sung and spoken words feature heavily, with expressive and personal poetry recited over experimental music tracks in early autobiographical works and in later works that tackle social issues such as mental health. A teacher at the Ontario College of Art and Design, the University of Guelph, York University and the Dundas Valley School of Art, Hutchinson is revered not only for her artistic contributions but also for her role as a mentor to many in the media arts community. In Opera Around the House from 1987, which she has described as a “comedic tape about everyday life which combines the formalities of the opera format with songs about kids, dogs, cats, laundry, groceries,” she sings, “Courage comes from the word heart / Coeur, coeur, coeur.”

The Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery bravely interrogates its own city’s history of white supremacy and anti-Black racism in Black Drones in the Hive by Montreal artist Deanna Bowen, on view until Feb. 28. Opening on the 100-year anniversary of the gallery’s first exhibition by the Group of Seven, this research-intensive project acts to dismantle the myth of terra nullius espoused in the group’s work and bring visibility to the maligned narratives of Black and Indigenous survival in Canada. Bowen’s own family history is included in 1911 Anti Creek-Negro Petition, a reproduction of a 234-page document recording signatures of people opposed to letting those of mixed Black and Indigenous heritage enter Alberta – some of whom were Bowen’s ancestors. Barker Fairley, an early champion of the Group of Seven, was one signatory. In a video introduction to the exhibition, senior curator Crystal Mowry asks of today’s proliferation of digital petitions, “Who is collecting the proof of dissent? Will we be able to access that proof some time in the future?”

The question of what is worth remembering and preserving for posterity is central to New York-based artist Moyra Davey’s practice. Her exhibition The Faithful at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, on view to Jan. 3, collects 54 photographs and six films – including a new work, i confess – that commemorate the detritus of daily life and chronicle everyday activities of ordinary people. The name of the show comes from a graphic T-shirt worn by a longhaired record collector photographed in one of her signature mail art works, and pays homage to the passion we have for surrounding ourselves with objects and people we hold dear. Nearly all of her works bear the trace of physical touch – a study of marks gouged into soft copper pennies from heavy use, folds and tape remnants left from photographs sent through the postal service – and remind us of the joy of being around strangers. Most commuters probably never thought they’d miss public transportation, but spend some time with Subway Writers, a series of people scribbling in notebooks while in transit, and prepare to feel nostalgic.

The Globe has five brand-new arts and lifestyle newsletters: Health & Wellness, Parenting & Relationships, Sightseer, Nestruck on Theatre and What to Watch. Sign up today.

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Spirals of Colours: Victor Vasarely's Optical Art – Capilano Courier

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Victor Vasarely’s Op Art exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery is a feast for the eyes

Jaymie Marie // Contributor

Optical illusions are one of the first art forms we see as children, usually in books like Magic Eye. There’s a sense of wonder that comes from suddenly finding a picture where there was once only colours.  Victor Vasarely’s abstract works in the field of Optical Art (Op Art) provoke the same awe-inspiring reaction with their mesmerizing patterns and bright contrasting colours. From Oct. 17, 2020 to Apr. 5, 2021, the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) is housing a large collection of Vasarely’s pieces encompassing his later works in the 1960s and 70s.

Bruce Grenville, a senior curator at the VAG, emphasizes how you don’t have to have an art background to engage with Vasarely’s art. “When kids come in, they come to look at Vasarely in ways that are a kind of a sophisticated way of looking, which is to marvel at how this thing can be constructed,” he reflected. The exhibition creates a game element that lets the viewer “play” with the world of Vasarely’s art and “create [their] own art based in [his] language.” 

Vasarely was a Hungarian-French artist with a background in graphic design, who was born in 1908 and came into the public eye in the 1950s. Europe through 1950 to 1970 was undergoing  enormous social change.  “There is a tremendous amount of things that happened in that time,” said Bruce Grenville, who is a senior curator at the VAG. “This is an artist who came forward with what was in many ways a sort of radical vision, but was also very human,” Grenville explained.

OERVING, 1968, tempera on wood composite board. Courtesy of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Vasarely’s experiences and desire to make art accessible  relate and connect with some of the feelings our society is currently experiencing in this global pandemic. Grenville mentions how, “[Right now] we are given the opportunity to recognize the way that art can bring people together, where they can share their experience.” He elaborates that this idea is at the root of Vasarely’s art and how this “emerged out of [Vasarely’s] experience during [the Second World War], creating an understanding of the fragility of the culture that we live in.” 

Vasarely was known for having a utopian vision for the Op Art movement, and for wanting to make his pieces as accessible as possible, though this idea of universality does not come without critiques. Grenville stated that we should approach the idea of universality with caution because, despite the fact that Vasarely’s work can be enjoyed and consumed internationally, those with “different cultural histories, different experiences, will approach [Vasarely’s art] differently.” 

Tickets for Victor Vasarely can be purchased on the Vancouver Art Gallery’s website. The gallery is currently allowing visitors to book a time in advance and wear a mask while visiting. The Capilano Courier recommends proceeding with caution due to the worsening COVID-19  pandemic and the recent B.C. Public Health Order. 

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At Toronto's Museum of Contemporary Art, director Kathleen Bartels aims for a sweet spot of popular but smart – The Globe and Mail

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The new director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Kathleen Bartels, in Toronto on Nov. 20, 2020.

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There’s a new sheriff on Sterling Road. In person, Kathleen Bartels is relaxed and cheerful, but the veteran gallery director, who took over Toronto’s struggling Museum of Contemporary Art in April, is also firm and forthright: “Build a program, raise the profile, build the donor base, that is what you need to do,” she said in a (carefully distanced) interview.

Those tasks will be made harder by the pandemic – MOCA closed its Junction Triangle premises as the city went into its second lockdown last month – but Bartels arrived just after the start of the first wave, and even if she didn’t plan to switch jobs in the middle of a pandemic, she does know what she is getting into.

“It’s a good time to be here,” insists the director, who lead the Vancouver Art Gallery for 18 years. “I think the institution is poised for change. It’s been a rocky four or five years.”

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Those years included MOCA’s much delayed move to the renovated Tower Automotive Building on Sterling in 2017, and also the departure of two executive directors after less than a year on the job each.

Bartels, who oversaw great growth at the VAG but didn’t manage to get its new building built, makes it clear that her long experience with an institution four times MOCA’s size is going to bring stability. No more revolving-door management and no more letting the board run the place; developer Brad Keast took over as chair last year and Bartels believes in regular board turnover. Since her arrival, the museum’s landlord, Castlepoint Auto Building, has forgiven a $5.7-million construction loan, letting MOCA finally close the capital campaign for its new building. The museum also announced recently it had secured an anonymous donation of $1-million to spend on programming, and once it reopens will display work from the Flowers for Africa series by Kapwani Kiwanga, the Canadian who recently won France’s top art prize.

“I’m sure there has been a lot of talk in the community about MOCA’s financial sustainability These two [donations] are important because they show people want this place to keep going, to flourish,” said Bartels, adding that she is close to balancing a $5-million budget.

With MOCA on surer financial footing, Bartels and artistic director November Paynter can concentrate on getting the programming mix right. That has been another area where MOCA has struggled, lurching between accessibility and impenetrability. Lately, the mix has been getting smoother, providing the visitor with a more seamless experience over four floors of exhibition space.

Although the building stands in a wasteland of empty lots still awaiting long-promised residential and office construction, the first floor is intended as a community gathering place. It features free art along with expensive coffee and pastries thanks to a Forno Cultura café. (You only need to buy a ticket to access the upper floors.) Last winter, Portuguese artist Carlos Bunga made the most of the space by erecting a cardboard arcade; this fall, Bartels got Taiwanese artist Michael Lin to plan one of his site-specific installations in riotous floral motifs. His installation at VAG in 2010 was a huge success – he covered the entire classical Georgia Street façade in massive pink-and-red floral banners – and he was commissioned to bring a bit of that zing, albeit on a smaller scale, to MOCA. He worked remotely, with local artists painting seating platforms and flooring, but unfortunately visitors will have to wait to judge the effect. The painters were just finishing when the lockdown order came.

Still, the Lin commission summarizes one direction Bartels thinks the institution should be going: popular but smart.

“I think Michael’s work is accessible but I don’t think that takes away from its intellectual rigour,” she says of the artist, whose work has been hailed internationally for questioning the difference between high art and mass production by covering elite architectural spaces with commercial Asian textile designs.

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Meanwhile, on the upper floors, the current exhibitions stick with the formula Paynter had deployed with success last winter, stressing site-specific installations that speak to each other and to the Tower Building’s industrial history, demanding both an admission ticket and more intellectual commitment as you rise.

On the second floor, the programming seems to hit a sweet spot of entertainment and intelligence with an exhibition devoted to Mika Rottenberg. The New York artist’s loopy video installations – you walk through a small tunnel to view one; another reproduces a room where bags of cultured pearls are sorted – play off their equally zany content. Spaghetti Blockchain, the title piece, features a soundtrack provided by a Mongolian throat singer and images of brightly coloured slabs of some unidentified gelatinous substance being sliced like salami and melted on a grill. Like Cosmic Generator, another video piece by Rottenberg, which features startling images of Chinese wholesalers surrounded by their plastic wares, the film speaks about production and consumption, delighting in an “ooh gross” aesthetic even as it ponders the cultural implications of globalism.

Meanwhile, on the third floor, the art gets more demanding as Canadian artist Krista Belle Stewart meets Turkish artist Fatma Bucak. Stewart, who is Indigenous, is working on a project where she visits German hobbyists who enact fake “Indian” gatherings, complete with feathered headdresses and war cries. Her photography and video work painfully examines the trend but does not overtly denounce it. Bucak’s photos and videos are also about cultural juxtapositions, in the Middle East in her case, but they’re more opaque. Previously, she produced a video where she asked women to wash the ink from newspapers as a metaphor for Turkish censorship; it is represented here by an installation featuring row upon row of photographs of the blackened water that produced.

“There’s something for everyone,” Bartels said, “whether you want to sit on a pod and have a coffee or engage with Fatma Bucak.”

So how does this display of international contemporary art, with the occasional Canadian contribution, make MOCA different from the Power Plant, the contemporary art gallery at Harbourfront Centre?

“I have heard that question a lot,” Bartels said. She argues there’s room for more than one contemporary art museum in a city as large as Toronto, but she also sees MOCA as special. “I like that it’s in a unique place; it’s really grounded in a neighbourhood and that’s unusual for a museum.” The Power Plant – or MOCA Los Angeles, where Bartels was assistant director for more than 10 years before she moved to Vancouver – are located in central entertainment districts. On the other hand, the former industrial area around the railway junction in Toronto’s west end could only be called emerging: MOCA should be an institution more solidly rooted in the city and its arts community, Bartels figures.

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When she arrived at MOCA she took plans for an exhibition devoted to seven local artists and expanded that number to 21 to create a big Toronto group show that will be the main act in 2021. She also wants to see prominent Canadian artists such as Jeff Wall or Xiaojing Yan at MOCA.

The timing couldn’t be better since international artists can’t travel, but there’s also a certain irony to these plans. MOCA lost the second C in its name, which stood for Canadian, when it moved to Sterling Road with grand international ambitions. Now, this Toronto gallery is relying on an American ex-pat from Vancouver to be put the local back in its global.

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