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Van Gogh and Marclay's The Clock at the National Gallery

What a difference a year makes. This time last year I was at the National Gallery in Ottawa enjoying the powerful images and technical magnificance of Caravaggio--this year it is Van Gogh. And there were significantly more people--at least double if not more in attendance. While Caravaggio is a lesser known figure to current day audiences, his mastery of the technical, and his subject matter of a more somber bilblical and human narrative offered a complex, multi-layered and emotionally powerful viewing experience.

Van Gogh by contrast offered light, colour and work that crossed over to impressionistic and abstract at times. His use of strong colour and his assertive brushstrokes loaded with paint created an almost 3D effect a times. Tied to the show was an impressive collection of Japanese woodblock prints that Van Gogh avidly collected. Most people walked by the room but the prints showed how Van Gogh absorbed the use of different perspectives into his own work. Their intricacy and technical perfection was impressive.

Inspite of his ongoing internal struggles and mental illness, Van Gogh chose to rise above it to create a passionte and very personal unique view of the world. Caravaggio had his own internal demons and his work offered a somber often cynical/cutting insight into the pain of the human condition. Caravaggio and Van Gogh--great contrasts in styles and periods-- both rising above their human limitations with inspired works of art.

I was fortunate enough to discover Christian Marclay's The Clock as I walked through the Contemporary Art Section after Van Gogh. I settled into one of the dozen sofas and spent a mesmerizing hour watching this masterpiece. Thousands of movie clips (from the silent movies to current) compiled and edited over three years that follows a full 24 hours of the day, constantly referring back to the exact time of day that you are viewing it and it is all seamslessy edited. You simply want to see it all in real time as the artist intended--until the National Gallery attendant announces the day is over. You just want to say "hold on , I am still watching it..." but then realize bureaucracy wins out over art. A cold beer on a patio in Ottawa's heat wave will have to do instead....

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