National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Annual Bulletin 1, 1977-1978

Annual Index
Author & Subject

Discoveries of a New Director

by Hsio-Yen Shih

Pages  1  |  2  |  3

The Programmes

A visitors' survey begun in the winter of 1977/1978 has revealed that a gratifying number of intrepid travellers came to the Gallery to view special exhibitions. And indeed, it is exhibitions that engage the energies of almost all Gallery staff.

The numbers and wide variety of exhibitions presented at the Gallery itself, or by the Gallery in institutions across Canada, can be discerned in the appended listings. This year, too, our Exhibitions Policy was formally presented to the Gallery's Visiting Committee. Its purpose and goals are defined as follows:

(a) to inform Canadians about significant manifestations of human creativity in the development of the history of art;

(b) enhance understanding of Canada's place in this context;

(c) encourage and stimulate such creativity among Canadians;

(d) enlarge and enrich scholarly research in art history, so as to increase Canadian contributions to the world's body of knowledge;

(e) promote exchanges and appreciation of holdings in Canadian collections of art towards a greater sharing of Canada's cultural resources;

(f) expend and develop international cooperation through shared experiences of aesthetic and intellectual values; and

(g) contribute to Canada' s artistic vision and development by challenging the future in the perspective of the past, and revealing the most significant perceptions of the present.

An examination of press clippings from this year indicates that exhibitions of contemporary Canadian artists attracted the most attention, although such unusual exhibitions as the peasant paintings, lent by the People's Republic of China, proved fascinating to both journalists and the public. Whether works for an exhibition come from abroad or from Canadian collections, whether an exhibition is conceived and organized by the Gallery or another institution, at least ten Gallery departments are involved in their presentation. Curators supervise exhibition content, write exhibition catalogues and other accompanying texts, and experiment with a variety of methods of enhancing the visitor's experience. Education Services actually devises the programme surrounding each display. The Publications Division works under immense pressure to produce bilingual texts and ensure high quality in both text and illustration, as well as to achieve elegant graphic design. Unfortunately, its control of standards ends at the point that manuscripts are ready for production, when the Department of Supplies and Services in the central government becomes responsible for tendering the printing process.

Meanwhile, our Library, Photographic and Slide Archives are kept busy providing research sources, reference tools and reproductive images for a multitude of exhibition demands. The Restoration and Conservation Laboratory often has to work months ahead to ensure that works from other Canadian institutions are made fit for public view and travel. Photographic Services must supply photographs and slides for research, publication, public relations and sale. Registration is responsible for insurance arrangements and the logistics of transport. Finally, Installations, the Workshop, and Public Relations produce those effects which are most immediately striking to our visitors. Throughout the sometimes years-long planning and execution of a single exhibition programme, the Exhibitions Department coordinates administrative and financial controls. In common with art museums throughout the world, the Gallery must acknowledge the increasing difficulty of mounting large exhibitions of very highly valued works. As our knowledge of environmental hazards grows, and the entrance of works of art to public institutions continues apace, the borrowing of intrinsically irreplaceable objects involves increasing complexities of judgement and responsibility.

The Gallery itself also suffers peculiar restrictions of space, staff and economic support. It has, therefore, to plan its exhibition programmes and their circulation with such problems in mind. Nevertheless, every effort has been and win continue to be made to provide for as broad a distribution as is judged wise and feasible. At the same time, quality win not be sacrificed, though the number of exhibitions may have to decrease.

The Staff

In any single year a good portion of working time will be devoted to projects not immediately visible to visitors. The Gallery is proud of having highly-trained professionals on its staff, and is conscious of the need to make their expertise available to others. Thus, staff members travel widely in Canada, and, more occasionally, abroad, both to offer and to gain knowledge. They present lectures at many levels of formal education, as well as to general-interest groups. They serve as jurors and assessors for a variety of art-related organizations. They also organize and present instructional sessions specific to museum work, such as the custody workshops held this year within the Gallery to alert and refresh our own staff regarding the necessary techniques in handling works of art, or the highly successful seminars on care of works of art on paper attended by staff from other museums.

Again this year, renovations to the building (replacement of fire-alarm and air-handling systems, as well as the ceilings and lighting) necessitated dismantling, storing and re-installing every work of art within the building. As well, as part of planning for the Gallery's centennial year programmes, a massive project of photography for new catalogues and checklists of the permanent collections was begun. Each painting to be photographed had first to be unframed, examined for a condition report and, sometimes, given spot treatment. The results of many hundreds of condition reports on works, some of which have been in storage for years, indicate that almost 75 per cent of objects stored outside the main Gallery building will require some degree of restoration.

What is particularly dismaying regarding this discovery of the ill-effects of limited and scattered space, and the consequent necessary shifting of works of art, is that the Canadian representation, because it is the largest group, has suffered the most. The National Gallery has always had the distinction, among comparable institutions in other countries, of offering a truly national collection. Moreover, our staff remains in the vanguard of serious, scholarly work on Canadian art and history. Through publications such as the Canadian Artists Series and Documents in the History of Canadian Art, the Gallery has helped all our compatriots to recognize the worth of our creative heritage. It is more than embarrassing to be forced to admit that the Gallery is physically not able to preserve this heritage to the standards we ourselves have set.

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