Our Stories: Connecting with Art

As Canada marks the 150th anniversary of Confederation this summer, Canadian art will be front and centre at the Gallery. In addition to launching Canadian and Indigenous Art: From Time Immemorial to 1967 and Canadian and Indigenous Art: 1968 to Present, the Canadian Photography Institute at the NGC is also featuring the outstanding exhibition Photography in Canada: 1960–2000.

From ancient works of art to cutting-edge installations by Micah Lexier and Rebecca Belmore, the NGC is the place to be this summer for masterworks from every conceivable art practice. But how to negotiate this embarrassment of riches, and where to start? Enter the Our Stories orientation hub, newly installed just off the Scotiabank Great Hall. Designed to be a user-friendly introduction to Canadian art for visitors of all ages, Our Stories features eight separate areas, each with a different theme.

How It’s Made, focuses on precisely that. How did Inuit artist Karoo Ashevak carve the whalebone he used in Figure (1974)? What exactly is the lost-wax technique, used in Katherine Wallis’ His Best Toy (before 1910)? What is a camera obscura? How is a lump of silver turned into an elaborate cup? Is that really Tom Thomson’s paintbox? What is the story and technique behind Métis beadwork? For those interested in exploring the galleries with this information close at hand, there is also a take-home guide detailing several different processes.

Art Can offers an intriguing look at the ideas that often motivate art. Using examples of great Canadian art from various periods, this zone features thought-provoking statements such as: “Art can spring from personal history” — illustrated with a painting of 19th-century loggers by George A. Reid— followed immediately by, “But it doesn’t have to” — supported by Adrien Hébert’s industrial scene of Montreal’s harbour.

The Woolsey Family dissects an 1809 family portrait by artist William Berczy. In addition to examining traditional compositions, it also looks at body language and the roles and lives of various family members during this period in Canadian history.

In the central area, a large round table features an interactive map of Canada, ringed by iconic works of Canadian art from every era and every part of the country. When visitors select a given painting or sculpture, the related city or region lights up, demonstrating the strong connection of art to place in this vast land. Complementing the interactive map, an extensive timeline covers millennia of history, punctuated with relevant works of art from all traditions.

Imagine the Landscape is also interactive, encouraging visitors of all ages to contemplate a series of landscape works, then create their own versions using iPads and a special paint program. This activity includes a wide range of information on how landscapes are constructed by artists, along with definitions of such terms as scale, horizon line, vanishing point, and picture plane.

Five Fallacies of Art, a video featuring NGC Director and CEO Marc Mayer, discusses five misconceptions about art and artists, challenging visitor assumptions, and encouraging them to think about art in new ways. He also explains the significance of the new Canadian and Indigenous Galleries.

Our Stories is structured as an engaging introduction to the Gallery’s wealth of Canadian art, and features in an astonishing range of information. The eighth and final area, Where to now?, offers a range of tools to help visitors find the art they most want to see.

Supplementing floor plans and other conventional forms of information, the NGC has produced four handy guides, each tailored to a different visitor experience. In addition to the guide for visitors interested in how things are made, there is a guide for visitors who are visiting to reflect and rejuvenate, a fun scavenger-hunt-style guide for families, and a guide for visitors interested in seeing as great a cross-section of works as possible. Rounding out this section, tablets will be available, offering visitors a short, playful quiz to help them find their NGC “art match.”

With so much to see at the Gallery this year, Our Stories is a great way to get your feet wet and ease into the wealth of works on view. From the way an artist such as Paul-Émile Borduas applied paint, to the way photographic artists such as Shelley Niro play with stereotypical images, there is no better place to start than Our Stories, making exploration of the main galleries an even richer and more rewarding experience. 

The Our Stories orientation hub is located next to the Scotiabank Great Hall on Level 1 at the National Gallery of Canada, and opens on June 15, 2017.

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