The National Gallery of Canada has transformed its Canadian art gallery into a Canadian and Indigenous gallery and after months of construction it is set to open June 15.
During an advance media tour Wednesday, gallery director and CEO Marc Mayer said the decision to combine the close to 800 works of art in the same gallery was made to tell a more complete story of art in Canada.
"It presents Canadian and Indigenous art, side by side, telling two separate stories that may seem to converge in the present, but converging without assimilation," said Mayer.
This is the first major redesign at the gallery since opening at its current location on Sussex Drive in 1988.
According to the gallery's associate curator of Indigenous art, Christine Lalonde, the new Canadian and Indigenous galleries are the largest display of Indigenous art in the gallery's history.
"The installation of the permanent collection hasn't changed since we opened this building 30 years ago," said Lalonde. "History is really a living thing. The events that happened in the past are recorded, but often from one point of view. As we march forward in time we start to learn different perspectives of that same hostory."
In order to display 185 Indigenous artworks, Lalonde and her fellow curators searched not only within the gallery's own collection but also negotiated loans to secure 95 additional Indigenous artworks.
Among the pieces on loan are a north-west coast raven sun transformation mask from the Canadian Museum of History and moccasins from the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.
"I think our visitors will see a visual expression that is much more expansive than it has been in the past and much more visually captivating," said Lalonde.
'New and fresh approach'
Another example of the gallery's new philosophy is the decision to install an Algonquin canoe in the centre of a room displaying paintings by the Group of Seven.
Associate curator of Canadian art Adam Welch said that combination, as well as positioning Indigenous sculptures with abstract paintings from the 1950s and 60s makes for new and at times surprising relationships.
"You're seeing for the first time Inuit sculptures with these outstanding backdrops by Borduas, by Riopelle, by members of Painters Eleven," said Welch. "I think it's really a new and fresh approach to showing this material."