“Art has a long story to tell…it is an incredibly effective delivery system and tool for change. It gives us an opportunity to have a voice.” - Rashid Johnson
To quench a burning desire to feast my eyes physically on works of art outside of our jewel of a Gallery, I took a trip to Ottawa over Labour Day weekend to touch base with colleagues at our sister institutions and take in the exhibitions. Despite being fortunate to work in a gallery where works of art surround me, I have missed visiting art museums. The pandemic threw a wrench into that joyful experience.
Although I am not about to relay my entire weekend of visits, I want to share with you an eventful experience at the National Gallery of Canada. Before proceeding up the Great Hall to enter the galleries, I was immediately struck by a remarkable work by Black American artist, Rashid Johnson, titled Capsule - a monumental installation consisting of open cubes stacked in a large pyramidal shape, filled with plants, books, fiberglass and sculptures made out of shea butter. The work connects elements that are autobiographical, musical, intellectual, art historical and literary, and explores tensions of race and class.
Then I ventured up the hall to view Rembrandt in Amsterdam. The show was punctuated with interventions of work by Indigenous and Black artists, works that were interspersed among Rembrandt’s famous portraits and genre scenes. Both projects represent a positive move on the part of NGC towards decolonizing space. I am pleased that KWAG is on that same path, one that ensures that marginalized voices are seen and heard. As evident in Rashid Johnson’s quote above and his installation, one of the things that artists teach us is the pleasure of learning from materials, methods, collaboration, and experiencing the world through our senses.
Over a year ago, when our world was turned upside down by a global pandemic, we had faith that KWAG would eventually reopen, understanding that the Gallery would be different from the one prior to March 2020, and in a good way. At its heart, KWAG is a community of people. The impact of the pandemic and the events caused by it have been unimaginably complicated and difficult for everyone. As the summer comes to a close and we open a new seasonal door, I want to share how we are moving forward with purpose as an organization. Facing the profound challenges that the pandemic and social unrest brought forward, we have taken actions to sustain the Gallery and the community we serve, focusing on supporting our employees, artists, and working collaboratively with organizations. As a cultural institution that has been supporting artists for more than sixty years, we know the importance of pushing boundaries and bending the status quo towards social change. We highlight the importance of fostering a cohesive, empathic environment for all and take seriously our belief in welcoming all communities and voices to be heard.
I want KWAG to be a place where people not only feel comfortable asking questions but understand that learning only comes by acknowledging what we don’t know. There is joy in the spirit of curiosity. This applies both to those who visit us and our staff, board, and communities. Museums produce knowledge and meaning through experiences and in dialogue with their communities. As the world reorders itself, post-pandemic, art and art museums offer a platform from which we can explore the changing landscape of culture.
The fall is a special time for art museums. Like a first day of school, this is the time when we launch a new year, so to speak. This year, the fall has a special resonance as we re-emerge. I am excited and optimistic about our future. When I saw visitors roaming around the gallery spaces during the summer, I confess to wanting to reach out and hug them.
This fall we are opening two exhibitions: Annie MacDonell: The Beyond Within and Yoshiki Nishimura: Shapes of Facts. We will be offering a slate of new programs and events for children, families and adults over the next few months that can be experienced both on-line and in-person. The power of art to bring connection, comfort, joy, and inspiration has never been more important.
I remain deeply grateful to our staff for their patience in reopening to the public. To our Board, sponsors and membership that support us, we would not have made it this far without you.
We stand profoundly changed by the events of the past, yet our relevance and renewed commitment to social bonds is unwavering. We continue to welcome the presence of all artists and our communities who are helping us create an inclusive, accessible and equitable institution.
A warm welcome back to all our members and visitors. See you soon at KWAG.