I recently visited the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery (JNAAG). This is an amazing public art gallery in downtown Sarnia, located in the historic Thoms building, which was specially renovated for the purpose and re-opened in October 2012. The day of my visit happened to fall on a Family Sunday, and the lobby was abuzz with happy artists and their families.
The JNAAG’s Dr. J. Telford Biehn Gallery – named after a local doctor, art collector and tireless supporter of the gallery – has been dedicated to exhibitions featuring the JNAAG’s Permanent collection, which includes more than 1,100 works. Moonlit Mystics, an exhibition of twenty treasures from the collection, took dreaming, spirituality and mysticism as its central themes, and the Biehn gallery teemed with wonderful works by David Milne, Michael Snow, William Ogilvie and ten other artists.
Curiouser and Curiouser occupied the entirety of JNAAG’s third floor gallery and featured nine artists, including Petrolia-based Norman Barney, whoseworks formed the basis of the exhibition. Whimsy and imagination were examined and explored with the intention of challenging viewers’ definitions of what art can be – especially in terms of the materials from which it is made, the ideas and issues it engages, how it can function in our world, and the ways in which it affects (and reflects) us. A great, oversized label at the entrance to the exhibition charted key information about the show for the audiences, connecting the artists to each other as well as to moments and figures – Duchamp, Picasso, and others – in the history of art.
Well-known Aboriginal artist Ron Noganosh, featured in Curiouser and Curiouser, was invited by JNAAG Aboriginal Resident Curator Jason Baerg to create works inspired by the Great Law of the Iroquois, a concept involving traditional Indigenous knowledge and particularly, seven-generation sustainability, calling for foresight and consideration of the impacts of present-day decisions on future generations. Noganosh’s exhibition, Eleven Times Eleven/Peyakosâpwâw incorporated Indigenous traditions of image making and storytelling while pointing ahead to the future.
The overarching theme of reflection emerged, in considering these three very different exhibitions – reflection upon the self; the role, functions and expectations of art; the power and consequence of action. Leaving amidst the bustle of the young artists caused me to reflect on the importance of public galleries as sites of learning and beginnings, community and connections, celebration and preservation, and so much more. I encourage you to connect with what’s happening at your local gallery – whether it is in Sault Ste. Marie, Sarnia, or elsewhere. For more information on upcoming activities, exhibitions, programming and more at the Art Gallery of Algoma, visit www.artgalleryofalgoma.com
By Miranda Bouchard, Curator, Art Gallery of Algoma