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Columns : Art Life - Susan Mackay Last Updated: Feb 6, 2017 - 2:32:04 PM

The Vital Gallery
By Susan Mackay
Aug 4, 2006 - 10:55:46 AM

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Yesterday I took two pieces of artwork on the plane to Nassau to The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. It's an exciting event- an open call to all professional artists living in the Bahamas (and Bahamians living abroad) who may submit up to three pieces of art- in a range of categories from installations, assemblages, painting, and new media. All the art work will be judged by a panel and selections made for the exhibition held in July, just in time for Bahamas independence day celebrations.

For the moment , I stand in the small National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) office and fill in my art submission form There is a vibrant energy. Artists are discussing how to transport their pieces safely, where to put them and unwrapping paintings and sculptures. There is a toilet seat in the parking lot - not junk but a conceptual piece waiting patiently to be judged. Forms are being filled in, photographs taken.

The National Art Gallery is something Bahamians should be proud of. It has a continual fast-paced programme of events, encompassing workshops, lectures, films, as well as thought-provoking and pertinent exhibitions. Its focus is firmly placed on The Bahamas, yet is broad enough to encompass international presentations, such as, the 'What is Africa to Me?' heritage series.

Galleries are the traditional forum for presenting art and art has become so much more than creating pretty pictures. It is as vital, real and valid as blood. It touches on science, history, politics, psychology, in fact any issue you can think about - guaranteed, there is a piece of art or a whole movement of art that looks at that issue. It envelops all religions, colours, tastes, thoughts, beliefs.

It is an intellectual conundrum, it is a language, beautiful and ancient, yet can be sharply modern. I love going to art galleries and looking at art work. I love to be provoked by a piece that might be mesmerising and inane in beauty or disturbing and stomach wrenching in its ugliness. I love being challenged to see beyond the personal and push into a cultural or worldwide context. I love to see the political connotations. I love to delve into the intensity of a stunning expression of pure emotion.

The Gallery space is an integral part of the world of art. It is not just the place to display art work created by artists. The gallery offers a space - literally a space from life - to observe in peace. It's function becomes that of a mirror, a place to look at ourselves, society, culture, life and our relationship with each of these.

Artists represent (re- present) life. When art is presented in a gallery it becomes transformed by this focus. We understand that something brought to this space creates an immediate alchemy. And to discover the gold we must bring ourselves. We must bring our intellect. We must bring our emotions.

In these times, when there is so much confusion about what 'art' is, the gallery becomes a fascinating frame. There is much scoffing in the media about work by artists like Damien Hirst- his shark in formaldehyde named 'The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living' (1991) - a stunning idea - where the shark, a raw symbol of wild nature, is preserved in an unwavering space - held bound in death and yet pseudo vitality in the gallery. Or the unmade bed, 'My Bed' (1998/9) courtesy of Tracey Emin. In this piece the artist presents her unmade bed with an array of personal paraphernalia.

In the gallery these pieces have an intellectual intensity. Although, even the artist may tease about his artistic integrity, as Carl Jung discusses in 'Man and his Symbols', that the 'product' of the artist, once created, moves out of his ownership and into the collective consciousness of society. The fact that these works were created and now exist in the gallery, immediately offer us a new vision of our life, existence and society. Often times that vision provokes abhorrence and discomfort as art can insinuate issues that society may prefer not to look at. We can also be confronted with humour, satire, inspiration, joy, or quiet reflection.

When a work of art exists in the gallery, it has a place, and a validity, beyond money or material. Our dramatic reaction to it, may provide an insight to the shadows or light we prefer not to see.

Contemporary art (art and art movements current to this time) has pushed the boundaries of our traditional understanding of art. The new paradigm of art that is not created to be sold ,as presented by conceptual art (art that deals with an idea and looks at process as opposed to creating a commercially viable product) means that The NAGB open call is a vital part of Bahamian art because it embraces all artistic expression including a new paradigm of art that is not created to be sold, as exemplified by conceptual art (art that deals with an idea and looks at process as opposed to creating a commercially viable product). The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas offers artists a place to show their ideas and work freely, in a sympathetic, non-commercial environment. This is vital to encourage and promote contemporary art in Bahamas.

I look forward to seeing life through the eyes of 'Bahamian' artists in the fabulous setting of the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas. This years exhibition, curated by Krista A Thompson, is due to open 6th July 2006.

The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas.
West and West Hill Streets. Nassau.
Tel (242) 328 5800

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