Friday, April 25, 2008

National Art Gallery, Ottawa

The National Art Gallery in Ottawa is a gorgeous building by Moshe Safdie. This photograph was taken from the Peace Tower. I apologize for being didactic, but notice how the cupolas echo those on the lovely old Parliament building:

Here is the cupola from the inside:

Do you, by the way, notice a similarity with this skylight?

This one, which you might recognize by the surrounding forms, is at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Another thing you might notice is that odd concrete angle in the glass wall on the right side. I'll come back to that in a moment.

Here is the glass wall close up.

Inside, the angle that you saw earlier (and immediately above) is revealed for one of these lovely transitional ramps which takes you from level to level. This is another one, with a skylight above:

The detail on the wall above is ceramic pieces like this:

And two of the skylights cap courtyards like this one:

The only thing in the building that made me seriously grumpy was the stupid painting by Barnet Newman, "Voice of Fire". Three stripes, the outer ones of the same colour. Less interesting therefore than the French tricolour, which at least has three colours. Of course, this is "minimalism": the philosophy that contrary to Aquinas, more is not better. Newman was perhaps the least interesting of the New York expressionists -- he doesn't express anything.

Looking at "Voice" close up, I discovered that the colour from each stripe had bled into the next one. Newman didn't seem capable even of the house-painter's art of painting a clean edge:

A three year old could have done that, right?

In the audioguide, a moronic curator -- you really have to hear him -- explains that if you fixate on a point on the ragged edge, you experience a brightening on one side, and then if you shift your gaze to the other side you get a brightening on that side. A sort of dancing, coruscating effect. This is supposed to account for Newman's title 'Voice of Fire'. The coruscation reminds this curator of fire apparently. Presumably, it is an elementary adaptation effect on retinal cells: you fixate on a point on the boundary and the long-wave cone cells on the red side get adapted. Then when you shift to the blue side, the short-wave cells at the same location get excited, making the blue side look a purer blue. You don't need a painting worth a million and a half to prove this: a little demo in the lab would do. It is certainly interesting if somehow the ragged edge contributed to this -- but I would venture to say it still doesn't make this a work of art.

No comments: