NEW HOME, NEW CONTROVERSY
In May 1989, one year after moving into a grand granite and glass structure designed by Moshe Safdie—which features innovative skylights never before seen in museum architecture—the Gallery’s one-millionth visitor walks through the door. The $1.76-million purchase of Barnett Newman’s three-stripe painting, Voice of Fire sparks controversy countrywide, even in the House of Commons.
From April to June, Michael Bell fills in as acting Director. Joseph Martin then replaces him, and becomes the Gallery’s new acting Director, for the second time.
The Gallery’s Canadian collection is now the most comprehensive and important in existence.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau decides that both the National Gallery of Canada and the Museum of Man should have their own buildings, and establishes the Canadian Museums Construction Corporation.
Dr. Jean Sutherland Boggs is appointed Executive Chair of the Canadian Museums Construction Corporation, and is responsible for the building of a new National Gallery of Canada.
The Gallery receives a gift from Phyllis Lambert of the world’s most important collection of Walker Evans photographs.
On 27 July, Joseph Martin becomes the seventh Director of the Gallery. Born in St. Félicien, Quebec, Martin has studied sociology at Laval University, and has earned a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Paris.
Martin has been with the Gallery for 13 years as Deputy Director (1970-1973), as Associate Director (1975-1978), and most recently as Special Advisor, External Affairs. He was also the head of the Unesco office in Venice (1973-1975), responsible for the international effort to save Venetian art treasures from flood damage.
The architectural firms of Moshe Safdie, Montreal, and Parkin Partnership, Toronto are selected to design the new building, and excavation begins on Sussex Drive.
Parliament changes the Gallery’s name, in French, from la Galerie nationale du Canada to le Musée des beaux-arts du Canada.
Responsibility for the new building is transferred to the Department of Public Works.
The Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography is founded and affiliated with the Gallery in January.
The CMCP’s history actually goes back to World War II and the Still Photography Division of the National Film Board. For nearly five decades, the Division collected and championed Canadian photography. It built up its collection by assigning photographers to document Canada, its resources and its people. The extensive archive of negatives dating from 1941 to 1962 is now housed at the National Archives of Canada. In the 1960s, the Division established its fine print collection and started its exhibition and publication program.
The museum carries on the Division’s legacy, producing major exhibitions and award-winning publications.
On 3 November, Richard M. Alway becomes the Gallery’s acting Director.
Alway has been Warden and Chairman of the Board of Stewards of Hart House at the University of Toronto since 1977. He was Vice-Chairman of the Ontario Heritage Foundation and has been a member of the Board of Trustees of the National Museums of Canada since 1979. In 1981, he was appointed Chairman of the National Gallery’s Consultative Committee. In 1989, he will be made a Member of the Order of Canada, and will be promoted to Officer in 1998.
Dr. Shirley Thomson is named Director of the National Gallery of Canada.
Secretary-General to the Canadian Commission for Unesco from 1985 to 1987, Thomson has been associated with Unesco in various other capacities since 1964. Before her Unesco appointment, Thompson was Director of the McCord Museum in Mnotreal. She received a Ph.D. in art history from McGill University, and has a particular interest in 18th century French art and architecture. In 1994, she will be named to the Order of Canada as Officer.
The Lorne Building closes its doors as preparations begin for the move to the new building.
On 21 May, the Governor General, Her Excellency Mme Jeanne Sauvé, officially opens the new building at 380 Sussex Drive.
After 108 years of presenting art in facilities designed for purposes other than art, the National Gallery of Canada celebrates the opening of its own new building with festivities such as a 9 am brass band parade that twines through Ottawa’s historic Byward Market.
At 11 am, to the jubilant cheers of spectators and dignitaries gathered on the plaza in front of the Gallery, Governor General Jeanne Sauvé cuts the metre-wide white ribbon emblazoned with red maple leaves from around the entrance’s glass pavilion.
Throughout the day, throngs of visitors tour the exquisite granite and glass structure designed by Israeli-born, Canadian architect Moshe Safdie. They explore the ceremonial Great Hall, with its panoramic views of the Ottawa River and Parliament Hill, the unique, two-level galleries lit by innovative skylights (previously unknown in museum architecture), the intimate, vaulted galleries housing the Canadian and the European and American art, the interior gardens, quiet courtyards, the beautifully restored Rideau Chapel and more. In the evening, a spectacular display of fireworks lights the skies above Major’s Hill Park.
The new building’s opening, combined with the Degas exhibition, draws a record of over 930,000 visitors.
The Gallery formally establishes video art as a collection area, and has been acquiring videos since 1977 in recognition of contemporary artists’ use of this medium.
On 16 June, the Gallery opens its first exhibition in the new building: Degas
The first large retrospective of Edgar Degas’ work of in 50 years, the show features 200 paintings, pastels, monotypes, prints, drawings, photographs, and sculptures from internationally renowned collections.
On 18 May, the National Gallery of Canada welcomes its one millionth visitor, Maryse Gagné, since its opening on 21 May 1988.
The Minister of Communications increases the Gallery’s acquisitions budget to $3 million.
The Gallery purchases Barnett Newman’s famous Voice of Fire for $1.76 million. The purchase is hotly debated in the House of Commons and in the media.