Field Trippin’ – March 20, 2013

As an Art History student, most – if not all – required courses are image-based. To understand what is represented by an artwork and to be able to study its formal properties, we must look at it. Every day, we see both new and familiar works of art in our textbooks and in our lectures. And honestly, I can’t even imagine spending four years in a programme which didn’t expose me to art that consistently challenges the way in which I perceive the world.  However, one of the few downsides of studying Art History (aside from trying to memorise that towering stack of cue cards the night before an exam) is looking at slides of artworks rather than seeing the real thing. Of course, it would be impossible to see Michelangelo’s David in Florence or the Guggenheim’s collection of Kandinsky paintings during an Art History lecture.

Looking at these flat, two-dimensional projections during a lecture just leaves me wanting more – especially when a passionate professor says we simply must go see each artwork she or he shows us. Fortunately, although we may not be able to teleport to galleries around the world, Ottawa proves to be a great resource for seeing artworks first-hand.  With the National Gallery of Canada at our doorstep, it turns out that we can, in fact, look at original artworks during class. Plus, it’s always fun to get out of the classroom and go on a field trip!

This past week, I’ve gone on two such field trips to the NGC. Last Thursday, my Canadian Twentieth Century and Contemporary Art class gathered in the Canadian Art galleries for a tour and guest lecture. In class, we had studied much work by Canadian artists of different backgrounds, but it was quite fascinating to actually see these and other similar works in real life! The lecture tour, which focused on the artistic narrative of the interaction between Indigenous and European cultures, gained much depth within the gallery setting – with the real artworks before my eyes. And not even the best digital projection in a lecture theatre can serve as a substitute for that experience!

interior photo of National Gallery of CanadaA few days later, I found myself once again downtown to meet with my History and Methods of Art History class for a second excursion at the NGC. This time, however, we were not there to look at art, but rather for an informative session at the Library and Archives. Here, we were given tips on using the primary sources in the archives collection as research material. Having always been slightly intimidated to approach the NGC Library and Archives, it was refreshing to learn that curators, historians, art collectors, and students alike are welcome to the resources of the facility. We were even given the chance to each look through archival materials of various renowned Canadian artists – this included newspaper clippings, exhibition pamphlets, and personal correspondences.

Afterwards, I headed over to Martin Creed’s temporary exhibition in the contemporary galleries with a couple of classmates.  This installation by Creed, “Half the air in a given space,” is basically a room full of black balloons intended to confront our traditional perceptions of physical experiences. I felt at once euphoric – like a child discovering for the first time the physical limits of a space – and terrified that I would never find my way out. And I am definitely going back.

I highly recommend visiting Creed’s installation at the NGC for a dramatic adventure of primal sensations. It’s on until April 1: