Recently, our professional writing class took a unique trip to visit Ottawa’s own National Gallery. The Gallery is on Sussex Drive and is easy to spot—you just have to look for the giant metal spider outside! The “fun day” was intended to give us an opportunity to gain some inspiration for a creative writing assignment, though we were given free rein to explore the exciting location at our own pace. I hadn’t visited the Gallery in years and was not expecting the works on display to be as engaging or varied as they were. As it turns out, just about anyone can find something thought-provoking or entertaining to look at on a visit to the National Gallery.
The section I spent the most time in was the Contemporary Art wing. Here, you will witness the kinds of art installations that always make you look twice. The goal for most of these artists seems to be to make the viewer question where the art begins and ends. Many of these pieces have an incomplete or incidental feel. This was never truer than for one piece that was made to look like the Earth, only as a work under construction. Oceans and continents were crafted from various unusual materials and there was a sense of motion and improvisation that permeated the darkly-lit corner of the room where the piece was housed.
While admiring the piece and musing about whether the multitude of elements contained within were meant to represent ideas in motion or natural forces that shape our world, I had an epiphany. At my feet was a black roller on wheels with a bright yellow rope tying it to one of the main pieces. It was simply left there, with no markings or clear boundaries to signify whether or not it was in fact meant to be there. I had the sense that I could have moved it around if I had wanted to. It is this sort of unanticipated engagement with the art that really makes the contemporary section worthwhile for me.
There are a many other wings at the Gallery of course, encompassing a broad range of classical and cultural interests. These include frequently rotating exhibitions that ensure there is always a reason to go back. General admission is seven dollars for a student; double that for special exhibits. But if you are looking for the most cost-effective entry method, do what we did and show up on a Thursday night, any time between five and eight pm, when admission is absolutely free.