Look Again! The Salon Wall
April 4, 2015 (ongoing)
The Salon Wall: The Art of “Art on the Line”
This wall is a recreation of a ‘salon-style’ exhibition modelled on how the Royal Academies of Britain and France presented their annual shows before the 20th century. Today’s public art galleries have some roots in this exhibition model because, prior to the 18th century, privately commissioned oil paintings like these largely remained in the homes of the wealthy. To shift the display of paintings from private to public sites in the 18th century was a major social transformation, one that granted access to art for the public. As audiences increasingly sought to experience original art in public life, these exhibitions grew in popularity throughout the 19th century.
At salon exhibitions, more literally meant MORE; they were places where audiences came to see art and to be seen. Privileging the art of representational oil paintings adorned with ornate gold-gilt frames, the displays were usually presented on richly-coloured walls and installed in a mosaic-like, frame-to-frame format to include as many works as possible. Figurative sculptures were also included throughout the salon gallery to reinforce the importance of representational art forms in three-dimensional media such as bronze and wood. Serving principally adult audiences, the artists whose works were hung “on the line,” or at eye-level, benefitted over those below and above the line. In this re-creation, we provide you with viewing glasses so that you can enjoy more works from multiple angles and viewpoints, regardless of your height.
This display draws principally on the AGW’s collection from the 17th–19th centuries by paintings affiliated with Canada, the United States, France, Britain and other northern European countries. The artists were dominantly Caucasian males trained in the academies of northern Europe where they honed their skills in representational art in the genres of portraiture, landscape and still life.
Despite its impressive volume and aesthetic triumph, this salon wall is a potent reminder of the role public exhibitions play in the privileging of subjects and objects. In these shows, a place for female artists remained both conditional and limited, and there was no place for artists of non-European ancestry who did not benefit from access to the academies and training in the art of oil painting. During the formation of Canada as a nation state in 1867, this exhibition strategy was imported to the Euro-Canadian visual arts establishment without question. Organizations such as the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and the Ontario Society of Artists mimicked the salon presentation for their annual artist-member exhibitions, and it remained a staple for these organizations until the turn of the 20th century.
WATCH the Look Again! video
Grade 12 Pilot Writing Project
In the course of developing Look Again! Celebrating the AGW Collection, Education Committee members who worked with the Gallery over the past two years on this project suggested that the exhibition might be an opportunity to further enhance writing skills among upper high school levels. Walkerville High School’s visual arts teacher Walter Cassidy offered to lead this project with his Grade 12 class during fall-winter 2014. Students were asked to address the identity of the artist by preparing short biographies and to imagine being the artist, being in the picture, and imagining themselves as creators. The responses to this invitation were enthusiastic and the entire class participated. The results vary to reflect the individual styles and strategies of each student — some embraced an essay style, while others engaged in more fictional and literary strategies. We hope you will enjoy seeing the AGW collection through the eyes of these students.
For the AGW, it was important to engage in this project because each of you as visitors will bring your own lens to reading the artworks. While the Gallery staff has prepared writing for your enjoyment, we see this process as also important because it diversifies what and how we can approach works of art, and our mission of visual literacy development at all ages.
Catharine Mastin, PhD
Curated by Catharine Mastin
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