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2005 04 02
The Art World is a Particular Place
imageI was reviewing a recent survey on the art preferences of our members. It reported a strong interest in art by “renowned artists,” followed by Canadian art, European art, photography then contemporary art. The findings remind me that the art world is a particular place. On the one hand, people respond to what they know, and on the other hand they respond to what they think they should like. The two don’t always align.

“I want to see art by renowned artists.” What is that? It’s art you’ve heard about, art you know. “I want to see Canadian art.” They might well say that out of a sense of comfort because it is affirming who they are. That’s part of what art does, opens up the categories of how you understand yourself or your culture.

On the other hand there’s a sense of responding to what you should like, as in, “I listen to National Public Radio when I’m in New York.” That’s where we realize there’s a relatively small audience for contemporary art. And yet contemporary art pushes the bounds of the familiar and stands for what is best about the museum experience. It is an invitation to the viewer to interpret, engage and feel creative. I often think of it as the gap between what we know and the unknown. Contemporary art works in that gap and that’s just where we want to invite our audience, safely, to take a chance or two.

In the end, contemporary art is the lifeblood of the institution because it is the most direct connection to the idea of creativity. With contemporary art you’re engaged with how is it made, asking yourself, “Why does the artist find this subject matter interesting, and therefore why should I find it interesting?” These very questions make it a very active process. You’re alive in the moment trying to figure out what it all means. To that degree, the AGO must be absolutely and unequivocally committed to contemporary art.
When you come in to the AGO today, many of the ways we approach the presentation of our collections is through the eyes of contemporary artists. I believe that makes the AGO a truly active place. For example, in the transformed AGO, the first space people will see when they walk in will be a free space for contemporary art, a space that boldly declares art matters.

What free space is something I really like about the new design. The very front of the building -- as a torch of the Gallery’s holdings -- is contemporary art. It is the most accessible space and it’s all about provisional statements rather than certainty. That’s what contemporary art is. It says, “Here’s my best shot, here’s my proposition.” You don’t look at contemporary art with the certainty you look at a da Vinci or a Monet. Contemporary art is so open to debate, so opened ended, that it automatically becomes a more open process. People want to feel that they’re engaged, and one of the roles of the AGO is to ensure people feel that engagement.

Galleries in the Centre for Contemporary Art, Image © Gehry International Architects, Inc.
[email this story] Posted by Matthew Teitelbaum / AGO on 04/02 at 09:32 AM

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