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Barry Ace and Earl Truelove's Ottawa living room plays host to much of their extensive art collection.Blair Gable/The Globe and Mail

“Our aesthetic would be – believe it or not – minimalist,” Earl Truelove says. The statement is met with a hearty laugh from Truelove’s partner, visual artist Barry Ace. “Furnishing-wise, versus artwork-wise,” he clarifies.

The good-humoured Ace and Truelove have been together since 1995, and in their Rideau Canal-adjacent Ottawa condo since 2004. Collecting art is a shared passion, and the couple have amassed more than 350 works at this point – many acquired through trades with friends and colleagues, and about 90 per cent by Indigenous artists. The works, by Carl Beam, Michael Belmore, Robert Houle, Rita Letendre and others, hang salon-style in groupings. “The entire apartment is covered floor to ceiling in every room,” Ace says.

“It’s a full-body, immersive experience,” says Rachelle Dickenson, who has spent time in the space. Dickenson, a curator, is writing her PhD dissertation and working with Ace and Truelove to develop an exhibition of their art collection, titled Synchronicity, with works organized into what they’re calling “mnemonic clusters” that “trigger a story or memory,” Ace says.

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The collection provides rich source material, as do the bankers boxes (akin to Andy Warhol’s “time capsules”) of ephemera Ace has accumulated over the years. These letters, photographs, drawings, invitation cards and various sundry tell stories that are often lost to time, and not typically included in museum showings. “When people collect art, they don’t necessarily collect the ephemera or stories that go with each artwork,” he says.

“To me that’s just a picture of Barry’s brain. That’s a reflection of his academic, curatorial, research, archivist and artistic mind,” says Truelove of his partner’s tendency to collect and draw threads between artworks, objects and individuals. “I think it’s just him realizing innately that there’s a history or story happening here that isn’t being captured.” For Truelove, these materials essentially add to the experience of the work. “I’m drawn into the art because of the dialogue,” he says.

While enriching, living this way has also required some concessions. The couple got rid of their dining-room set to make more space for art, and they don’t have a TV in their living space for lack of wall space. “We just have artworks,” Ace says. “That’s our TV really. We discuss and look at the work all the time.” For furniture, they tend toward simple, open shapes that don’t obstruct. A slim standing light fixture is from Mikaza Home and the vintage tubular chrome chair is from Urban Artifacts (both local shops). Display cabinets are essential for protecting works, or are artworks in their own right, such as the painted cabinet by Don McLeay.

But the concessions are the same as you might make for family members. “It’s a home and the artwork makes it a home,” Dickenson says. “When we have gatherings, it’s so important that the works surround us. It’s almost like [the artists] are with us during those gatherings and they’re speaking, even if silently,” Truelove says. In some cases, the artists on the wall are one and the same as the guests in the room. “It’s kind of surreal. There’s Michael Belmore or Rosalie Favell with their work behind them,” Ace says. “So it’s kind of postmodern I guess.”

These days, and into the foreseeable future, it’s also a workspace. Ace, Truelove and Dickenson have designated one wall in the condo for testing groupings of works for the exhibition. And the show, when it launches in 2022, will recreate one of the condo walls within the space of the gallery. Postexhibition, they envision transferring the artwork into public collections, “so it can be enjoyed by Canadians and be taken care of,” Ace says. Even so, Ace and Truelove intend to continue to keep their friends close. “It’s not like we’re going to stop buying artwork,” Ace says.

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