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Sunday, December 19, 2004

The Sublime and the Ridiculous 5 

We 're back! Yes, we've returned from The Great White North to greener pastures. I'm very happy to be back, but my thoughts are still full of our Ottawa experiences. So, I will hearken back to them for my sublime and ridiculous entry this week.

Two encounters with the sublime occurred last week and I must refer to both in this posting. The first took place at Rideau Hall, the governor general's residence. It was there that we were escorted through the public areas of the building, but were also allowed to see into the semi-private areas. In one of these, we saw a beautiful piano. Our guide said that this piano, although an aesthetically pleasing object, was really notable because it had once belonged to Glenn Gould. I quietly gasped when I heard this. To give you an idea of how much of a fan I am, I would have been excited to see a napkin once used by Glenn Gould. However, seeing his piano in a place where I hadn't expected to see it was an amazing surprise.

My next encounter happened in the National Gallery of Canada. I was very much looking forward to seeing the National Gallery, as I knew works of some of my favourite artists were on display there. I particularly like Van Gogh, Pollock, Degas, Rubens, and Monet. It was a painting by the last of these that caught me by surprise. It is entitled, "A Stormy Sea." Now, other than his paintings of water lilies, I had never seen any Monet work with a depiction of water. I was impressed at how well he succeeded in showing the true "storminess" of the sea and then juxtaposing it against the blueness of the sky. I really felt that this demonstrated how two such disparate experiences could be occurring simultaneously, right next to each other. It made me think about watching large groups of people gathered at a bus stop or a train station. You can watch one couple behaving affectionately and another couple nearby arguing about their credit card bills.

Inevitably, we have reached the ridiculous phase of this posting. I will preface this by saying that there is a modern/contemporary art section in the National Gallery of Canada.....I remember the great philosopher Red Green once saying, "it's not art, if I can do it." I do find merit in modern art, where the composition may be seemingly simple, but the title of the piece displays some thought and depth in its creation. I find this to be true of Jackson Pollock. I liked both of his pieces at the gallery. Yet, in walking through the gallery I notice a large diagonal wire occupying a small alcove area. I thought this was a spot reserved for a future exhibit, so I did not investigate it further. Ryan later informed me that this was actually a piece of art. I dispute this. If "art" can be mistaken for an incomplete construction site and thereby causes individuals to ignore it as such, is it achieving any kind of goal or statement? I mean, art displayed in a gallery is, by its very placement there, desiring public viewing. Therefore, a piece of such apparent insignificance, that presumably cost actual money to acquire, is the epitome of a waste of space. What is it doing under the same cover as Van Gogh's "Irises" or even Andy Warhol's unapologetically commercial Brillo pad boxes? I leave you with this question, as I'm afraid I am at a loss for an answer.

[RjC here: the links in this entry are all courtesy the National Gallery's excellent "Cybermuse" web site, which has details on most of the artists and works in the collection. It suffers from acute Flash-itis, though, so I recommend the Site Map as the most painless point of entry.]

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