When I found out that the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery offers guided vault tours, I made sure to sign up for the next available one. On Sunday, April 24, I joined about 10 others for a behind the scenes look into the vault. KWAG's Permanent Collection comprises about 4,000 works, but due to limited gallery space, they are unable to display them all at once.
Before heading downstairs to the vault, Assistant Curator & Registrar Jennifer Bullock had us pause in the Corridor Gallery while she explained the Community Curator exhibition. Anyone can apply to become a curator. If selected, they work with gallery staff to create an exhibit based on their own interests and curiosity. The exhibitions are then put on display for approximately 12 weeks. The current Community Curator is Edwin Outwater, Music Director for the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. His exhibition is called "Portals" and is on display until August 21, 2016.
The entrance to the vault was just a simple sliding door, no lasers, retinal scanners or voice recognition like what you see in the movies. There is more than one vault, but this one was chosen because it was large enough to accommodate our group. Jennifer told us that the temperature in the vault is climate-controlled to make sure there are no extreme changes in temperature. Artists work in a variety of mediums and keeping the vault at a stable temperature keeps the art from being stressed. We learned that light damage is cumulative and irreversible. The lights were turned up for the tour, but it was still quite dim in there. We were asked to be very mindful of where we were standing and where we were putting our bags.
Jennifer spoke about the history of the museum and the Women’s Committee that was responsible for acquiring a lot of important pieces for the gallery. The gallery's first acquisition was in the late 1950's. The gallery's collection has been built up by the outstanding generosity of artists, past curators and community members. KWAG is home to 95 Edward Burtynsky pieces, gifts from the artist himself, Salvador Dali prints, and work by Picasso. She mentioned that it was interesting to look at the record of value for some of the pieces. Some works were valued at $50-$75, but the combination of time and artist fame has resulted in the values increasing significantly.
The gallery has representation of all members of The Group of Seven, except for Franklin Carmichael, as his pieces are hard to come by. The gallery has one piece by Tom Thompson, but due to the poor condition it is in, it hasn't been shown for about 10 years. Some items are too delicate to exhibit, so the public doesn't get a chance to see them. The story of the Tom Thompson has a happy ending. The piece is with The Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) and is being treated. Once it is returned, it will be proudly displayed.
Jennifer ended the tour by showing us a painting by one of the earliest members of The KW Society of Artists. It depicted a scene of King Street in 1944.
If you're local, your next chance to get a behind the scenes look in the vault is in October. If the art gallery in your area offers tours like this, I would suggest checking it out.
Story and photos by Glodeane Brown