You might think that to see art works of the highest quality would require international travel or at the very least a journey to a major population centre like Ottawa, Toronto or Montréal to visit the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery of Canada or the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal.
Perhaps you’d be surprised to learn that you would be wrong? What if I told you that you could see everything from old masters, like John Singer Sargent, to more contemporary luminaries such as William Ronald, Ellsworth Kelly, Alex Calder, Jean Arp, Joseph Albers, Jean Paul Riopelle and Tony Urquhart. And, what if I further advised you that all these great art works may be found in one convenient and quite central location? Would you want to know where this largely unknown collection of master works is to be found? Well would you?
Maybe you’ve have guessed, maybe not? Let’s draw my teasing remarks to a swift conclusion: the answer is the Art Gallery of Northumberland (AGN), thoughtfully located in the middle Cobourg. I would wager that answer might be a big surprise to most readers.
This year the AGN celebrates its sixtieth anniversary, a laudable achievement, with a carefully crafted exhibition that will remind everyone of the scope and importance of this collection of Canadian art which now numbers over a thousand pieces. As befits a sixtieth anniversary there is some recognition of the past and pointers to the future: the first piece in the show is Boats by Paavo Airola which was the AGN’s first acquisition in 1961. Adjacent we find work by local artist Ron Bolt, which is currently in process of being donated to the permanent collection. Combining a satisfying mix of familiar classics, old favourites and less familiar treasures the exhibition is given an irresistible spicy twist with, in the smaller gallery space, a contemporaneous show of work by Michael Adamson.
Michael Adamson is a Toronto based artist of international repute whose stimulating and colourful paintings are inspired by, and therefore become extension of, works from the anniversary show by Lucius O’Brien, William Ronald and Gershon Iskowitz. A master stroke by Executive Director, Olinda Casimiro, connecting the past and present to the future which can only help build the gallery’s momentum and propel it into and exciting future.
The AGN has been wedded to the west wing of third floor Cobourg’s townhall since 1977. This diamond of an anniversary show reflects what has been achieved since the gallery’s origins sixty years ago in the rear of what is now Tugg’s Furniture store. From these humble and perhaps unprepossessing beginnings the AGN is well poised to move forward.