A legacy at the Esker

AnthonyCaro (1024x688)

I have enjoyed a guilty pleasure of late when visiting the Esker Foundation.

About six months ago the Esker staff placed a powerful and handsome sculpture by Anthony Caro entitled Catalope, 1981 outside their main doors.  It brought me much pleasure immediately upon first seeing it.  I knew exactly whose work it was and was so excited on seeing it, that I had to thank the staff for putting it out and I have done so every other time that I have been there since.

It is something that is so remote – we rarely see anything like it in Calgary.

Well. . . sorta.  There are a few others around that have a linear progression from Anthony Caro, but not sure if they are all still on public view.

  • There was a small sculpture garden that used to be discretely placed at the University of Calgary.  It was off to the side, behind the old Library Tower.  It held works by Catherine Burgess, Isla Burns, Alan Reynolds, Ben McLeod and others.  I am guessing, but it is probably about where the Taylor Digital Library is now standing;
  • There is a stately Douglas Bentham outside the main entrance of the Harry Hays Building that is really easy to miss;
  • Then there is the quiet Henry Saxe sculpture discretely located in the lawn between the Harry Hays Building and the river – all presumably from around the same general period as the Caro;
  • More recently there is a squat, compact and sensual Isla Burns from the 1990s that occupies a small alcove on a +15 bridge;
  • Finally there is a recent Ken Macklin in the courtyard of an office tower downtown.

Sir Anthony Caro is a legendary British sculptor and is considered by many to be the greatest British sculptor of his generation.  He had a good mentor as he was Henry Moore’s studio assistant during the 1950s.  He then came to critical notice in the early 1960s at Whitechapel Gallery and his ground-breaking work from that period broke open how sculpture was seen for the remainder of the 20th century.  His influence is still felt today, although rarely recognized – at least in Calgary.

Caro reputation as a pioneer was ground-breaking.  As Will Gompertz, Arts editor at BBC has stated, he ”remov(ed) the plinth in sculpture and instead plac(ed) his work directly on the ground (which) not only changed our relationship with the artwork but the future direction of sculpture itself.” [1.]

Sir Anthony Caro had a significant impact on our neighbours to the north.  He would periodically visit the University of Alberta and provide workshops there and was once a workshop leader at Emma Lake in 1977.  One of the professors at the University of Alberta, Peter Hide was a studio assistant to Sir Anthony Caro prior to accepting a professorship in Edmonton.  Caro’s impact continued to influence Edmonton to the point where it was often referred to in sculptural circles as steel city.

A number of years ago I curated a large non-representational (or pure-abstraction) show of two- and three-dimensional work in prime downtown Calgary real estate.  I leased numerous spaces occupying nearly half the building footprint of Art Central on the +15 level, at market rates.  In the months leading up to the show I travelled widely collecting works and doing studio visits in anticipation of the show.  As a result of this and my personal passion and dedication to show the work I was extremely successful in getting some amazing pieces.  It was the quality of work that a regional art museum of any size would be happy to have for their collection as the works were predominately of those from Western Canada.  It contained a virtual who’s who of abstraction in the region, unless there was compelling reason not to include certain artists, such as geographical exclusivity in representation.

It was a labour of love.

I knew this going in.  I had worked in the Calgary arts scene long enough to know this.  It was definitely not going to be a financial success.

Unfortunately there was no catalogue produced, although I have in my files a listing of all the work that was included.  Regardless of the financial outcome, it was a show that I am extremely proud of doing.  At one of the stops I visited an artist who had a table top work of Sir Anthony Caro’s in his dining room.  It was a stunning work probably a little bit more recent than the work illustrating this post, which is in the lobby just outside of the Esker Foundation doors.

This all is my long-winded way of saying that last week, Sir Anthony Caro passed away.  He was 89.

His influence will definitely be missed. [2.]



[1.] Will Gompertz’ quote is found here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-24654484

[2.] Sir Anthony Caro’s obituary.  http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/oct/24/sir-anthony-caro


Human Weather Vanes

WhitenWeatherVane (1024x683)

This past Thursday I was downtown for most of the day. In the afternoon, I had coffee with a friend and we sought out a place to sit in the hot afternoon sun.  We were soaking up what, based on the weather advisory issued by Environment Canada last night calls for 5-10cm of snow tomorrow, which in turn would indicate that probably was the last non-coat wearing day of the year.

We found a nice coffee shop with sunny, street-level, outdoor seating alongside the building with the handsome and ruggedly elegant Beverly Pepper sculpture outside the front doors, across the street from Bankers Hall.

While sitting there I noticed that within the last week or two construction hoarding has gone up surrounding the series of Colette Whiten and Paul Kipps life-sized sculptures of people walking just outside the doors of the Bankers Hall East Tower.  The series of outdoor pieces are continued inside the building and reside in the cavernous lobby on similar mounts.  They are entitled Weather Vanes and probably work as described, as the sculptures are mounted on poles and are quite flat and made out of what I would assume is copper sheeting which appears to be hammered or shaped in some way.  If nothing else they give the impression that they probably move in the wind as you can see by the photo I took earlier this month.

It would not surprise me if this is the intent to work with the wind.  The building owners of Bankers Hall also placed what I can best describe as giant kitty litter scoops which in my own personal opinion only, are completely out of scale for the confined space on Stephen Avenue Mall between Bankers Hall and TD Square, almost to the point of being oppressive and overbearing [1.].  I am sure that they would be quite appropriate in a different context, but in my opinion, not there.  As I recall, when they were placed around the time the second tower went up, it was indicated in the media that they were intended and designed to break the wind that gusts in that corridor.  Whether they actually do that or not, I have no idea.  But I digress.

The city is very fortunate that we have two major sculptures by Colette Whiten.  As an artist Colette Whiten just won the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts earlier this year, which recognized her achievements over the past number of decades.  As a result of this Award she was included in an exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada between this past March through July.  One of the pieces included in the show entitled Watermark bears a continuation of thought from this work where it is stated she “rais(es) ‘home life’ from the realm of the mundane to that of art.”[2.]  In the Bankers Hall work, she used images of everyday Calgarians which brought together a cross-sampling ranging from mother holding the hand of a child to lunch-time athletes and business people – where, as in Ottawa, she raised the mundane to art.

The other major work of hers in the city, is located at the University of Calgary just outside of the Kinesiology Building near the Olympic Oval and MacEwan Hall.  It was commissioned by TransCanada PipeLines in the time leading up to the 1988 Winter Olympics.  For a brief post-Olympic period of time, it was located in front of City Hall and its short tenure there was full of controversy.

WhitenArch (1024x683)

I exaggerate, but not by much, as this was the case with almost every other piece of public art connected to the Olympics.

One of my early jobs was working in the public relations department at TransCanada PipeLines.  During that time I was fortunate to join the team which planned the move of her sculpture from City Hall to the University of Calgary on the Sunday of ArtWalk in conjunction with ArtCity.  Unfortunately I was unable to take part of the move, (even though I did get the tee-shirt which was destroyed in a bicycle accident a few years later) as I had previously committed to sit a commercial gallery for a couple who observed their religious practice on the day, as they had done in years prior.  If I was to guess the move happened probably in 1992, maybe 1993.  It has certainly found a very good home on campus where it is definitely appreciated and suits the surroundings.

With my short (ok maybe not so short) diversion – I go back to the hoarding and the Colette Whiten sculptures.  This summer I have noticed a lot of construction happening in lobbies and exteriors of buildings in the downtown core.  Why this is happening, I do not know.  Maybe it is an outcome of the flooding during the spring, maybe it is keeping up with the Jones’, maybe it is the economy, maybe it is an awareness that the buildings just need to be updated.  Whatever it is, it does not matter.

Obviously some sort of work is planned for the building lobby, or exterior, or both.  What it is I do not know.

What does intrigue me about office building renovations of late in Calgary, is that more often than not, artworks (and especially publicly situated artworks) are usually the casualty when this happens.

In renovations, the artworks seemingly disappear without a trace, often leaving behind sterile environments without any real personality.  They end up looking a lot like every other corporate lobby (lots of polished stone and glass), which is just slightly different from most others, based on the architect used to design it. [3.]

I have mentioned this before, and will mention it again as an example.  There was a major work by Takao Tanabe from his The Land series from the 1970s.  It was restrained, almost monochromatic and powerful, but yet at the same time it was very meditative.  If I was in the building and had a minute or two, I would stop in and pay tribute.  It was located in the main lobby of the Dome Tower in TD Square.  The building is part of The Core which has been undergoing renovations over the last number of years.  Somewhere along the way it disappeared and was replaced by a wall of polished marble and nothing else.  I am going to put this out there.  If someone reading this knows where it is and if it is currently unloved and under-appreciated in a warehouse – if the owner wants to give it to me, I will be humbled, but very happy to find a good home for it.

I could mention other examples, but I do not want to make this into a really long essay, as it is already long enough.

In closing, if this work by Colette Whiten is to be moved or removed, and I sincerely hope that it does not.  But if it does, it would be nice to find a home where the works will be appreciated – maybe even somewhere it could have an interesting dialogue with Bill McElcheran’s sculpture of two businessmen talking entitled The Conversation located only two blocks away.



[1.] White, Richard. Calgary Herald.  October 26, 2013.  Public art best when it spurs debate. see http://www.calgaryherald.com/opinion/op-ed/White+Public+best+when+spurs+debate/9087316/story.html

[2.] Mallet, Josée-Britanie.  National Gallery of Canada press release dated March 20, 2013: see http://www.gallery.ca/en/about/1431.php

[3.] Krause, Darren.  Calgary Metro.  October 29, 2012.  Unbuilt Calgary.  Maverick mentality should extend to city architecturehttp://metronews.ca/voices/krause-encounters/419984/unbuilt-calgary-maverick-mentality-should-extend-to-city-architecture/

All the Artists Are Here

Today is opening night of Art Toronto.

One of the more interesting news stories to cross my desk this morning is the news story from Canadian Art magazine relating to Art Toronto.  Canadian Art will be providing daily updates as is their custom for the next few days.

The story today talks about the large installation created by Tom Sokoloski and Jeff Lei that is placed just inside the main entrance to Art Toronto entitled All the Artists Are Here.  In this installation we see approximately 1000 photos of artists that are included in the Art Fair.

I am unable to provide any commentary to this work due to lack of time today.  However, this story is very interesting to me and provides a platform for further dialogue.  It also speaks to the changing dynamic in the art world that we have witnessed during the past 20 years.  This has only been accentuated by technology and social media, amongst other societal and economic dynamics.

The news story referenced can be read here – http://www.canadianart.ca/news/2013/10/24/art-toronto-artists/


Reminder. Election date is tomorrow.


We have just over a day before the polls open for the municipal election.

Being an arts based blog we are interested in the arts and providing the support that the arts need to survive and thrive.

Fortunately, we have had lots of opportunity to discuss the arts in Calgary during this election campaign.  Not all campaigns are this fortunate.  Most notably it is because of the big blue ring which happened to be installed near the airport right in the middle of the campaign.  It also got good coverage from all news outlets, both positive and negative, including a number of front page stories.

We very much like the fact that people are talking about art whether they like it or not.

We are also of the opinion that in the arts, all publicity is good.  There is no bad publicity – only opinions that are uneducated or ignorant (as in, lacking knowledge or awareness in general).  These opinions serve to remind us that there is always more work to be done in educating the population at large about how important culture is to the integral fabric of any society, whether historically or contemporary.

With that in mind, a friend of the blog drew attention to one the mayoral candidates (Jon Lord’s) comments on public art which he posted to his personal facebook page, about a week ago.  It is posted above and seemingly provides his personal guidance on how much support should be provided to public art in Calgary and what form it should take (more or less).

He indicated which community a mural by Daniel Weisgerber is located in to support his comments.  Using google maps and a bit of investigative research and sleuthing we were able to see what $800 will get for public art.  Here is the image (or at least the image we suspect is the most likely possibility).


Sadly, the image quality is not very good, so it is somewhat hard to tell exactly what it looks like and we don’t know what type of work the artist does, although it would seem to be a landscape-based composition with grain elevators(?).  Because we have scale based on a vehicle, a doorway, and a person walking down the street, we can guesstimate it is probably around eight feet square and we will use that measurement for our purposes.

The mural is 64 square feet in size, which works out to $12.50 a square foot (all in).  Doing a quick online search we found a local commercial indoor painter that charges $2.00/sq. ft. (labour only).  Whether that is on the low end or the high end, we don’t know, but will assume the lower end as the term “value” was part of the company name.

In the spirit of education, and to speak to that, let’s see what that $800 gets:

  • The commercial interior house painter using the numbers above would charge $128 (plus paint).  Because it is such a small area to be covered, they probably have a base-line minimal charge just to show up on site which covers set-up and take-down, materials, travel and the minimal three hours to pay their employees – so let’s say $250 as a result.
  • An important consideration is that the mural is located outside and would require more work to prepare than inside.
  • The other consideration is the quality of paints.  Artist paints are not inexpensive, and house paint is very cheap by comparison.
  • Then you must consider that the muralist paints to create an image with a brush which involves blending, composition, planning and probably research and preliminary sketches to get the image that is satisfactory to the client; whereas the commercial interior painter simply uses a roller to cover a wall typically using the one colour the client wants, without detail or shading.
  • Commercial painters have a reasonable expectation to have a job most days if their pricing or skills are competitive and they want to work.  Muralists will not have the same demand for their services and it would be sporadic at best, so pricing typically would be higher as a result.

Just a personal observation, based on that alone, it would seem that whomever commissioned this mural probably did not pay enough or the artist did not charge enough.  Nonetheless, it is a moot point.

________________ |_| ________________

There is still time to ask your candidates what their positions are on the issues that matter to you.  Check your candidate’s platforms to see where they stand on things like the arts.  Also be aware of the resources available as some organizations will ask the candidates questions on your behalf.

In this context, it is a proper time to mention ArtsVote Calgary.  They ask all candidates (Mayor, Councillor, public and separate school trustees) common questions with an arts focus.  Not all candidates have responded – Jon Lord being one of them (and for this reason alone, why his comments were included above and discussed).

The questions asked by ArtsVote Calgary of all candidates is as follows:

  1. 1.     If elected, what are some steps that you will take to address the following issues currently affecting the arts in Calgary?
    1. a.     Live arts performances, art exhibitions, and public art displays are largely concentrated in the inner-city and may not be accessible by all Calgarians.
    2. b.     Many young Canadian artists are attracted to life and careers in other municipalities, in part because of the high cost of living of Calgary and lack of affordable housing.
  2. 2.     When travelling as an elected representative or hosting out-of-town visitors, how would you promote the arts scene in Calgary? How would you describe the strengths of Calgary’s arts community?
  3. 3.     How do you engage in, participate in and/or support the arts in Calgary? Please feel free to share an experience in the city at large or in your own constituency.

The results are posted in links provided on this page http://artsvotecalgary.ca/municipal-survey-responses

On a unrelated side note, there is also an excellent overview of the politics in this election.  It is a long read, but gives very interesting and balanced analysis about the Manning Centre/Nenshi dynamic.  Review it here http://brianfsingh.com/2013/10/20/calgarys-civic-election-of-2013-why-did-manning-get-involved/

Please take the time to review.

Get out and vote.

Make your voice heard.


Thanksgiving and reflecting on the arts as career

ThanksgivingDinner (763x1024)

Yesterday, I celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving with a good friend.  It was just the two of us.

This year was unlike any other.  I have always celebrated Thanksgiving with family of some sort, whether it is my own family, the family of those I am in a relationship with, or both.

It was very nice to spend this time with my friend, who like me is an arts professional.  Also, like me, she is on sabbatical (of sorts) from the field and quite possibly may never return to it either.  It is sad really as just the two of us together have a lot of experience and knowledge.  In fact together we have more experience and knowledge than some public institutions have with the sum total of all their staff.

Thanksgiving is a time when family and/or friends can get together to celebrate and reflect upon all the things that we are thankful for.

Even though both of us have had a very difficult and challenging year for many reasons, in conversation, I know that we both have much to be thankful for as well.

I had a long chat with my little sister this afternoon when I was in the middle of spending the afternoon taking in the last of the garden before the snow falls.  Her oldest is in grade 12 and they are starting to think about where he will go to school next year about this time.  Since they live some distance from me, I don’t see them often and when I do it is not a topic of discussion.  He’s my nephew.  I have known him all his life, it doesn’t seem all that long ago when he was still just a baby.  Now he is taller than I am.

Time just travels on – seemingly faster than I thought.

I guess with the conversations I have been having with my friend and the many disappointments and challenges we have both had this year, it got me thinking.  Maybe that, combined with the reader comments that I have seen in the news stories about the respect that many citizens give to the arts in Calgary (and the visual arts in particular) really did get me thinking even more about this.

I look back to when I was a senior in high school and I was a fresh-faced youth, just like my nephew is now.  The world ahead was full of opportunity and possibilities.  Without getting into the gory details, I ended up in the visual arts where for the most part, outside of the first part of my career, I have worked since that time.

The question is if he was interested in pursuing the visual arts as a career, given what I know now, would I encourage him to do it?

I don’t know the answer to that.

One thing is for sure, it would be a very difficult question for me to answer for him.  The other certainty I know, is that the answer would NOT be a resounding yes.


Give a heart to AGC

AGCHeart (1024x683)


The Art Gallery of Calgary just can’t seem to get a break lately.

Like every other scandal-related development at the AGC in the past few years, Fast Forward Weekly broke the story of another lawsuit that has been filed involving the AGC.  This continues still more fallout from the Valerie Cooper fiasco and other related issues.

This is not a new story.

It has only taken a while for this one to develop into a lawsuit.

This issue raised its head publicly at the Art Gallery of Calgary Annual Meeting held in early November 2012.  This issue was deeply divisive and based on this lawsuit, it would appear the issues raised then, were not resolved in the interim.

According to FFWD this morning, the lawsuit alleges, “misappropriation of funds, unjust enrichment, and breach of contract, trust and fiduciary duty.”  Named defendants are the gallery itself, at least one member of the board, one in the executive suite and others.

This after recent comments that were made two weeks ago involving it and MOCA-Calgary.

My heart goes out to the employees of AGC who must still carry on and continue the business of operating the gallery while this contentious issue continues to swirl around causing further disruption on many levels.  I empathise with the staff and can fully understand what they are going through, more than many will ever know.

It is my wish that the AGC will soon be able to move past this lawsuit and focus on the business of doing its business.

October 16 edit:
For more info on the AGC Heart follow this link.


So that is how we determine value? Hmmm.

SunComments (1024x893)

Some days I wonder why I even bother.

Since the Calgary Sun wants to continue discussing art.  I will continue to do the same.  Today they did a double page spread of new public art projects that are planned for delivery or are in progress.

It was just the facts, which I have to hand kudos to the Sun for doing this.  It is the type of information that a newspaper should cover.

Thank you to whomever was responsible.

Of course reading the comments generated from these last number of stories was wasted time that I will never get back.  But I digress.

The comments on average were rather predictable.  However, there were a few gems worth talking about.  This is the part that I wonder why I even bother.  It is like wasted breath.  But here we go nevertheless.

Look at this gem from “harcur”:

  • I believe there are hundreds of good artists in Calgary. They may not be world famous but they would donate their art for cost and the recognition of having it displayed.

Then there is this beauty from “Hollie Spencer”:

  • What about having ACAD students donate art in order to advertise themselves. I’m sure it wouldn’t take too much to find a volunteer willing to have free publicity and donate something creative to our landscape, it’s time to enjoy our local talent and have them contribute to our city’s landscape.

Or we could go with this sparkler compliments of “JT Beams” that even made the paper yesterday (see picture for full quote):

  • There’s probably a couple hundred ACAD students who would be thrilled for a shot at something in the public art space for the cost of their semester’s tuition.

Interesting comments all of them.

Even the first world problem stated in the picture above as stated by Jonathon Waldie is interesting.

I would not want to put words into someone else’s mouth.  But, just so that I am clear, I need to get this straight.  Would it be fair to summarize these previous comments this way?

  • We should get artists to donate their time, work, creative thought and technical skills to make my city look more beautiful. We should do this, because they are artists and we all know artists don’t need money.  Let’s use real money for real work or the $80,000 rusting vehicle I want for myself.  But not art.  Yup, that is it.  Anything else but art.  But if we do have to get some art, let’s not spend money on it.

I may have exaggerated the sentiments ever so slightly.  But only to make a point.

To extend those comments further, I would then propose to each of the people who made these comments and others who share these sentiments to try out the same thing with their lawyer, accountant, banker, employees and/or landlord.  They can take your pick, doesn’t matter to me.  Just remember to change the reasons accordingly, but the end result should be the same – get services rendered for free or next to free.

See what they will have to say in response.  Let me know how it goes.

Why would they consider artists to be any different?

Shouldn’t artists also have a reasonable expectation to put food on their table; have a warm place to live; maybe even take the kids to visit their cousins and grandparents at Thanksgiving.

You know, the usual.

Things the writers above probably all take for granted.