A Banksy mural in Calgary?

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Last month, in early January 2014, Global TV did a news story about a potential Banksy mural under the 10th Street LRT bridge.

I was aware of this news story, so on a reasonably nice day about a month ago I decided to go for a walk in the sunshine and view it. I did not see it then, so thought maybe I had forgotten exactly where it was. I found the video online and reviewed it to confirm its location – which you can view here.  I then went back with a camera a couple weeks ago to confirm whether I was blind or not the first time.

The photo at the top is what I saw on the afternoon of February 18th on the same wall that the Banksky mural was at one time located, as reported by Global TV. Below is a screen shot from the Global TV video.

Banksy-Global-TV-news-video-screen-capture-Jan-2014-

In the news story, there were some opinions which went both ways in the news story. Some said it was a Banksy and others said it was not. I am not even going to speculate whether it was or not.

Either way, it got painted over with a patch of grey paint and part of the large heart and the feet of the person standing are still faintly visible under the grey paint. If it actually was one of Banksy’s works, this would certainly not be the first time other works of his have been painted over, damaged or destroyed as evidenced in this large list.

What is done, is done. It is now water under the bridge. This fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on one’s viewpoint), is the nature of street art and graffiti.

Now (or, more correctly, when this photo was taken) a brand new piece of art had taken up residence on the other side of the same bridge. It is a wheat pasted image. When viewed, it had the appearance as if it probably was a large lithograph. The image itself, possibly is an appropriated image from a gangster (or film noir) movie.

When I found it, there appeared to be no attempts to remove the image. As a result, it must have been recently placed there. It would be curious to know who did this work. I suspect possibly a young artist somehow connected to the Alberta College of Art and Design up the hill, although it is certainly possible that it could be anyone.

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This wheat paste work is an interesting contrast to the Banksy work that was located on the other side of the bridge.

This of course in itself is also rather interesting. This, because of the history of a well-documented and probably one of the most famous Banksy murals at one time located near a tube station in London. It depicted Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta clutching bananas instead of guns from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction movie. It was painted over by London Transport workers in 2007 and was covered by the BBC. The reason given in the BBC story for this action was that “a tough line had to be taken on graffiti because it created an atmosphere of social decay.”

Disregarding the historical narrative of this London mural, and the potential parallels between the two pieces, just having the two Calgary works together would have been a very interesting dialogue. It is unfortunate that both pieces could not have occupied the same wall, at the same time.

  • One work with a sole figure holding a paintbrush looking off to the side at a big colourful heart.
  • The other with a sole figure looking directly at the viewer down the barrel of an old machine gun.
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A previously unknown large mural

Jordi-Bonet-Untitled-Aluminium-Mural-Calgary-Downtown (1024x683)

Last week I had a meeting downtown in a building that I used to work in, back when dinosaurs still ruled the earth. From where I was sitting in the coffee shop, I would occasionally see people entering and exiting a doorway.

Curiosity got the better of me and after my meeting I decided to see where this doorway would lead me. I had been in this building many, many times. I used to do banking in the building which these doors led to. The bank itself, which occupies the main floor, has a meritorious collection of art, including a very fine selection of Nicholas de Grandmaison [1892-1978] pastels of indigenous peoples and it also sponsors a student art competition as well – one which someone I have known for a number of years was a regional winner last month. It is a nice building, but I don’t recall ever seeing any art in the public areas or the exterior of the building.

Given this context, imagine my complete surprise when I entered the +15 level and almost immediately saw a major wall-mounted, cast aluminium, multi-panel mural in a semi-public interior space. This was especially surprising to me as the most current standard reference book published in 1992 (notwithstanding its obvious biases, significant oversights and lack of current content) – Barbara Kwasny and Elaine Peake’s A Second Look At Calgary’s Public Art – makes no mention of this work, even though they mentioned another work by the artist in a different location.

This work, one of the few large murals found in local interior public spaces, especially in the downtown core, is made up of 18 panels approximately 2 feet (60cm) wide and visually would seem to be around 10 feet (305 cm) high (and quite possibly higher). According to sources that I have no reason to doubt, this mural covers 405 sq. feet (37.6 sq. metres).

The artist

Barcelona-born, Québécois artist Jordi Bonet [1932-1979].

As a sculptor, Jordi Bonet overcame much. While still a child, at the age of 12, his father a medical doctor had to amputate the artist’s entire right arm. That he chose to be a sculptor, makes this fact even more remarkable. He studied at a school of art located in Barcelona and subsequently came to Canada in 1954, when he was in his early 20s.

Here in Canada, he established himself as an important voice in post-war visual art both in Canada and internationally. Somewhere along the way he crossed paths with Salvador Dali and his work generally has a more European sensibility than many of his contemporaries who worked in Québec at the same time. He seems to be a bit of an anomaly more than anything else, and as a result probably does not fit easily within the art historical narrative of the time. This, in spite of the fact that he had many significant public, corporate, and private commissions; and his work is found in public and educational buildings (amongst others) both in Canada and around the world. He was also probably quite successful as a result.

Unfortunately he died quite young. In 1971 his son passed away and in 1973 he was diagnosed with leukemia and given six months to live. He passed away in 1979 as a result of his illness.

As a former art dealer, I always loved the research part of the business. I still do. Those who have dealt with me in the past, understand this and appreciate it. I have always had a soft-spot for the underdog, and maybe this is a good example. It was always a difficult way to make a living, but I enjoyed it while I was able. It is unfortunate that circumstances fell as they did, and that I must now make a living doing something that I am not nearly as passionate about as I was when dealing in art. C’est la vie.

I will apologize in advance for the length of this entry (3500+ words). I guess I got carried away.

Context for Bonet’s work

As stated previously, Bonet’s work is a bit of an anomaly. My comments will focus on his sculptural and mural work, rather than his two-dimensional work. I have done this because of the nature of the comparison between the mural that I have photographed above and other comparable works created by the artist.

  1. We know that Bonet did a substantial amount of liturgical and religious works throughout his career. Some of these are absolutely beautiful, but the reality is that Québec in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s was a society that was rapidly changing. We see this in its politics and the Quiet Revolution. This led to things such as the October Crisis and Nationalism. The role of the church also was changing at the same time, while the province was becoming more secular. Les Automatiste was the leading avant-garde artist group in Québec during this time. The publishing of the revolutionary and ground-breaking manifesto Refus Global in 1948 signed by Les Automatiste members, announced the break away from the church, by this group of highly-influential artists, all of whom are well-collected by art institutions both in Canada and elsewhere.
  2. Bonet’s work was often figurative. This, no doubt, partly had something to do with the liturgical nature of some church commissions. It also placed him within a less contemporary and older group of artists that were in the leading edge during in 1930s. These groups, although probably still active (or at least some members were still living and presumably painting in the 1960s and 1970s), initially surrounded Edwin Holgate, namely the Canadian Group of Painters and the Beaver Hall Hill Group.
  3. Bonet’s work often incorporated landscape into the imagery. The avant-garde in Québec during this time, both with Les Automatiste and Les Plasticiens were more interested in pure abstraction – a situation that would largely define significant themes in visual art in Québec during this period. The landscape as a medium, was perceived in the 1970s to be tired and held a connection to the English-Canadian centered Group of Seven who had already passed their prime as an artistic movement. The focus of course was on the new, as the baby-boomers were coming of age. Ironically as a genre it still held relevance to a significant amount of collectors of Canadian art (and artists) and to be fair, it has never completely gone out of style just as is the case with figurative art.
  4. Bonet focused mostly in sculptural work during this period which does not easily encourage comparison with others, by its very nature. Especially when one considers that many of these pieces were commissions that would take extended periods of time to create. Most professional artists in the post-WWII period were often painters or working in a different medium – a situation that is still somewhat relevant.
  5. Bonet died reasonably young. He was still in his 40s.

It is my opinion that these elements as a whole, led Jordi Bonet to be often overlooked by many art historians, curators and collectors. Maybe it is this reason that his work has not been collected by some significant art collecting institutions, as many of his contemporaries have – often in depth. I suspect that it is only a matter of time before this oversight is rectified, and the strength of his work is noticed. A case in point, the National Gallery of Canada has no works by Jordi Bonet in its collection.

The Calgary mural

This work was completed in 1970. This seems to be a very important period in his oeuvre. It was the year after he moved to a new home which fueled his creativity and the year prior to his son passing away.  It is the year prior he completed a significant aluminium and bronze work that stands in the entrance hall of the Bibliothèque Nationale du Québec. It would appear after the Calgary work was installed, that he began work on the 12,000 square foot controversial, and some would say scandalous cement mural for the Louis Fréchette Hall of the Grand Théâtre de Québec which incorporated a quote into the work from the Québécois poet Claude Péloquin which reads as follows – Vous êtes pas écœurés de mourir bande de caves? C’est assez!

Initially the Calgary piece was not located in Calgary. Rather, based on information obtained from the artist’s estate, it was located in a Bank of Montreal branch located on the corner of Rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest and Rue de Bleury in Montréal. There is no longer a BMO branch located at this location.

Where exactly this branch stood I cannot state with certainty. I suspect that it was located on the main floor of this office tower which appears to be partially vacant. This assumption is based on the large round pillars located inside the building and the type of windows both of which are visible in this photo, although it is possible that they are not the same building.

Rue-Sainte-Catherine-Ouest-et-Rue-de-Bleury-Streetview-Sept-2012 (1024x398)

Prior to the opening of the new Ste. Catherine & Bleury branch, a cut-away architectural mock-up was prepared. This mock-up, was used on the invitation announcing the branch relocation and opening. Prominently placed on this mock-up, and located behind the teller’s wicket was a large wall-mounted mural that appears to be the same image as the Calgary mural. Manager D. J. Neville announced that the opening was to occur on Monday, April 27, 1970. In looking at the artist’s website we see a golden coloured work from 1970 that is very similar, but the colour does not seem correct, as the Calgary work is aluminium. I suspect that they both are the same, except that the lighting used in the Montréal branch must have given off a golden hue or alternatively, the source photograph may have yellowed over time. Regardless, another photo provided by the artist’s estate shows the work in situ. Based on the styling of the woman’s dress, hairstyles and furniture it would lend itself to the 1970s . Therefore we can safely assume that the Calgary mural was located in Montréal circa 1970. This also corresponds with the artist’s website which states that he completed a mural under commission for the Bank of Montreal. Here is the photo of this mural in the Montréal branch.

Jordi-Bonet-Bank-of-Montreal-Mural-St-Catherine-et-Bleury-circa-1970 (1024x817)

At some unknown time it made its way to Calgary. Here a bit of speculation is in order. Understand, that this is rank speculation – but possible.

The Calgary Building

The office tower that this mural is presently located at houses the main administrative branch and offices of the Bank of Montreal in Calgary. This building is called First Canadian Centre which relates to a name sometimes used by the Bank. In fact the term “The First Canadian Bank” was prominently used in the original invitation to the opening of the Montréal branch on the opening line.

With that in mind, First Canadian Centre started construction near the tail end of “The Boom”.  The boom came as a result of the 1970s energy crisis; rapid exploration of the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin; technology that allowed this to happen; foreign multi-nationals with capital and knowledge workers; and the resulting requirement for rapidly increased building infrastructure and housing to accommodate all the increased population. The end of the boom more or less corresponded with the introduction of the National Energy Program (NEP). This was a program introduced by the federal Liberal government of the day to ensure energy security by creating a state-owned oil and gas company (Petro-Canada, which later went public and subsequently merged with Suncor). When the boom ended, much blame was placed with the NEP and the political party that introduced it, often failing to recognize that the macro-economic tailspin also came as a result of the 1970s energy crisis whereby production and demand had started to align and world energy pricing had begun to fall. But I digress.

First Canadian Centre located at 350 – 7 Avenue SW began construction on what was proposed to be a two tower building that was scheduled to be the tallest building west of Toronto. Only the first of two towers was built and when completed in 1982 this tower was the tallest building in Calgary at 41 stories. The second tower was to be built upon completion of the first and was scheduled to be 63 stories tall. This never happened. The site for this second building was converted into a “temporary” bland and non-welcoming park-space which has remained vacant for the 30 years since that time.

First Canadian Centre was designed by the architectural firm Bregman + Hamann Architects. The lobby of this building is characterized by soaring angular space with lots of natural light and light granite stone. In my opinion, it is a beautiful space, in fact one of the nicest in the city. The only commercial activity in this building in the public part of the building is and open-concept bank facility which occupies the centre part of the main floor, and is set back from the windows.

Having said that, this building is remarkable for having no visible art on the main floor, to enhance the architecture. Nor are there any sculptural objects in the public spaces surrounding the building.

In a recent walk-through this past week, I did notice a few large Yolanda Van Dyck pastels from the 1970s or 1980s, something like her Prairie Grasses; Musical Note or other related series from that period. These works were visible from the elevator lobby above the cubicles in the closed off back-office part of the bank. Having represented her previously, I think the pastels from this period are some of her best work. During this 1970s and 1980s period she had solo shows all over North America with regular coverage in newspapers and art journals. However, these comments do not suggest that her other work is any less significant. I met up with her at a recent cocktail party and it is unfortunate to hear that she is no longer producing artwork. Instead she is focusing on making a living. This is something that I understand fully – even though it is always sad to hear it from yet another artist once again.

Ironically, and in this context it is worth mentioning, in the Canadian Art magazine blog John Kissick wrote the following yesterday in relation to a piece about competitions in visual art and specifically recognizing the 15th anniversary of the RBC Canadian Painting Competition, ”as a country, it is downright scandalous how poorly we treat our senior artists, many of whom now live in poverty and obscurity, and whose once-significant contributions to Canada’s visual culture are either forgotten or sneered at by the hip young things that run many of our public institutions.” It just goes to prove how tastes change and how fickle they can be. But once again, I digress.

On the same block as First Canadian Centre is what is now called Intact Place, which is a smaller two tower building located at 311 and 321 – 6 Avenue SW. According to the landlord’s website it was built in 1980 at the peak of the boom. I used to work in this building for a number of years. This building never used to have art displayed in the building. It does now. One painting is now located above the each entrance to the lobby between the facing banks of elevators for each tower. If I recall correctly, one has a large painting by David Alexander, it is quite possible that both are works by him. They also used to have a painting in one of the same locations by Brent McIntosh, but I have not seen it for quite a while, possibly for a year or two now.

Where the mural is located

The Bonet mural is located on the +15 level. Both Intact Place and First Canadian Centre connect a very short distance from where this is located. The Kwasny and Peak book published in 1992, makes no mention of any art in First Canadian Centre. This is not surprising given my comments about no art visible on the main floor of both buildings on this block as stated above. I was working part-time weekends in a gallery that was located in Intact Place while keeping a full-time job a few blocks away and also deliberating on the purchase of the gallery I was working at during the year the book was published. I suspect Kwasny and Peake may not have gone upstairs. This is entirely understandable why it was missed.

The mural has been incorporated into the wall. The walls surrounding it have been painted since it was installed. I know this, because there are a few small drips of paint on the mural that match the existing wall colour. This does not necessarily mean much. The wall potentially could have been painted the day before I viewed it. I doubt it, but it is possible.

Getting back to when it was installed. Because of the Bank of Montreal connection, it is possible that it was installed when the Calgary building opened in 1982. This could mean that the branch located at Ste-Catherine and Bleury had a ten-year lease on the space. This would seem a bit on the short-term on a commercial lease for a bank, but it is possible that it was a 25 year lease with a renewal point at ten years when the lease could be broken. Maybe that location never worked out as well as originally planned. If so, this would make sense that it would have been removed from the branch location and sat in storage for a year or so, prior to being shipped to Calgary in time for the building opening in 1982. Especially given that there are regional offices located mere steps away from its present location. This seems to be the most plausible explanation.

Rue-Sainte-Catherine-Ouest-et-Rue-de-Bleury-Streetview#2-Sept-2012

An alternative to the location mentioned at the top and the preceding paragraph, is a second potential location also on the same street corner of Ste-Catherine Ouest and Bleury which I have placed directly above which shows a vacant lot under construction. This is kitty-corner from the first location posted. Was this the former location in Montréal? If so, was the building demolished at the end of the bank tenancy of let’s say 25, 35 or 40 years, which would place it around 1995; 2005 or 2010? If the building was to be demolished, the artwork was subsequently removed and a new location considered. In time, the present location of a contiguous wall that is nearly a half block long (a short block, but still a long expanse) with no artwork on it was proposed and approved. This is another viable possibility.

Either way, I can’t believe that I have never seen this work prior to the last few days. I guess I must have used the other, more visible and actively used +15 entrance to this building when going there.

Other Jordi Bonet works in Calgary

The 1965 Commission

According to the Jordi Bonet website under the list of commissions during 1965 the following is found and described thus:

  • The Calgary Herald, Entrance hall ceramic mural 132 sq.ft.

The Calgary Herald in 1965 was still located in the former Southam Chambers Building which was built in 1912. It is the companion building to what is now the Len Werry Building as both were across from the street from each other and shared a similar Edwardian style. Obviously based on the date 1965, the building owners must have anticipated doing some renovations to the building and updating it. These renovations were significant and occurred in 1967. As can be seen from the following picture which shows a before and after view of the same building which was copied from the Calgary Heritage Initiative Society forum pages which is used for illustrative purposes.

Old-Calgary-Herald-Building-Original-1912-Plus-1967-Renovations-Together

As seen in the picture of the two versions of the Calgary Herald Building the blue bar pointing to the main floor shows where the entrance was located. Presumably the ceramic mural would have been located toward the elevators at the back of the lobby. Presumably the ceramic mural survived the 1967 renovations as they took place within two years of being installed.  There are a number of questions about this work as a result:

  • Was the ceramic mural covered to protect it during the renovations?
  • If covered, was it ever uncovered afterwards?
  • If left covered, was something built in front of the temporary protective wall, thinking that this wall was permanent?
  • Was it was removed when the Herald left the downtown core in 1981 or not?
  • If so, where is it now?
  • Was it removed at some point after the Herald left, either to be donated, sold or reinstalled elsewhere?

This building was probably vacated in 2011 or 2012. It was then slated for demolition beginning in late 2012 or early 2013 and is now a multi-level hole in the ground making way for the parkade that will be placed below the new 56 storey building – the new Brookfield Place Tower One (225 Sixth Avenue SW).

Finally, the biggest question of all:

  • Did it inadvertently, or with intent, get left in the building when demolished and now is landfill?

The 1967 Freestanding Sculpture

According to Kwasny and Peake the Calgary and District Dental Association gifted a sculpture called The Others as a Centennial gift to the City. I could not find any images of it online, or in my own image library, so here is the image from the book.

Jordi-Bonet-Sculpture-The-Others-circa-1967-from-Krasny-and-Peake-book (1024x683)

This image from Kwasny and Peake was taken on location at the Centennial Planetarium. This also was a centennial project. It would therefore seem appropriate that the two be placed together which they were.

With the construction of the west leg of the C-Train within the last couple years, the platform surrounding the Planetarium had to be partially destroyed to accommodate the right-of-way for the train tracks. Presumably as a precautionary measure it appears if this work was removed off that platform at some unknown time.

This is a City owned asset and catalogued as part of the Civic Art Collection. As a result, I suspect it has either been re-situated elsewhere in the city or alternatively is currently in storage waiting to be re-situated.

Conclusion

As seen here, objects we think will belong in certain places will in time change. Having been an art dealer in the past, uses of art work will occasionally change places and sometimes change hands. Occasionally they may on occasion be destroyed as well, sometimes inadvertently and sometimes with intent. Old artworks can also take on a new life elsewhere, as someone’s old hat can be someone’s new exciting find that is just the item they were looking for and perfect for the new situation.

Notes:

Kissick, John. “Painting and Potential: John Kissick on the Art Awards Scene” Canadian Art. February 21, 2014. http://www.canadianart.ca/features/2014/02/21/rbc-painting-competition-at-15/

Kwasny, Barbara and Elaine Peake. A Second Look At Calgary’s Public Art. Calgary, AB: Detselig Enterprises Ltd, 1992

Glenbow Museum and patriotic Canadian art

Glenbow-Change-Is-In-The-Air-Logo

Tonight one of the local commercial galleries (Roberto Ostberg Gallery) opened a show called Oh Canada.  It was a group show of about 30 Calgary artists who were invited by the director of the gallery to submit. Most of the artists invited, did submit and are being shown. In talking to the gallery director last night and a couple artists involved, it features a wide selection of art ranging from photos of the Vimy Ridge Memorial in France which is located on Canadian soil; to an installation of a Canadian living room with Canadian items such as toboggans, toques, flags and a TV hooked up to live coverage of the Olympics; to a painting of a sultry Rob Ford wearing his crown of office, white boxer shorts and black socks posing on a chaise lounge looking like a sexy seductress and everything else in between. This last piece just sounds wrong, and it may very well be. It also hearkens to the Stephen Harper nude portrait that was in the news a few times last year. Because of the notoriety which has recently surrounded Rob Ford right now and the Harper piece I want to see it, just for that experience alone. Having said that, it is quite possible that I may have to wash my eyes out with bleach afterwards – but that is the risk I must take.

Opening at the same time as the Oh Canada show, the Glenbow Museum and the new Contemporary Calgary (located at the former Art Gallery of Calgary location) both unveiled their multi-venue Made in Calgary: The 1990s show curated by Nancy Tousley which I have mentioned a couple times this past week or two.

I attended the Glenbow and Contemporary Calgary shows tonight. It was interesting to revisit some of the approximately 100 pieces that I have not seen since the 1990s when they were originally shown. As expected with Nancy Tousley who was the long-time arts writer for the Herald covering that decade and more, it was a well-curated show. It contained well-selected and representational pieces from artists who made a significant impact in the city during that time.

This all brings me to the Glenbow.

Two days ago, Donna Livingstone the current president of the Glenbow announced that changes are coming to the Glenbow. One of the comments in the press release was that “moving forward Glenbow will position itself as a “new kind of art museum”.” It also made the observation that the Glenbow will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2016.

In the lobby at the Glenbow today, I noticed that all four floors in the architectural drawings on display contained images of art on the wall – and no visible museum artefacts.  This will be a significant change if this is the case.

For much of the past decade (or more), especially prior to Jeff Spalding’s approximately one-year tenure as president of the Glenbow – art was rarely seen – especially from the permanent collection. This, even though the press release astutely states that the Glenbow has the largest art collection in terms of numbers west of Toronto (approximately 33,000 items). The foresight of Glenbow founder, Eric Harvie and his enthusiastic exhortation “to collect like drunken sailors” probably had a lot to do with this fact.

It is interesting in this context to note that the Luxton Museum in Banff which was at one time connected to the Glenbow (and may still be affiliated, even if loosely) had a fire yesterday. To what extent the fire affected the collection is currently unknown. The Luxton houses a large collection of First Nations artefacts. During the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics a major exhibition of First Nations art in a show called The Spirit Sings with many important pieces originating from the Glenbow. Some of those pieces may have been relocated in the past 26 years to the Luxton.  No doubt more information on the fire will be forthcoming in the near future as press reports start appearing, probably on Monday or Tuesday.

This little diversion brings me back to the Oh Canada show

Of course I am now talking about the other Oh Canada show. This one recently ended at Mass MOCA.  It was the largest Canadian group art show of contemporary art held outside of the country’s borders in recent memory. It featured mostly artists that are not well-recognized internationally, but should be. Included in the show was the recently announced representatives for Canada to the Venice Biennale – the artist group BGL (Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère and Nicolas Laverdière) who ironically also showed at Calgary’s Nuit Blanche in September 2012.

Curiously, the other big Canadian contemporary art exhibition with a big, thick catalogue, that was shown in an international setting in little more distant memory was held at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin during 1982/83 and ironically was also called O’Kanada. For some reason I sense a trend here.  Maybe the next one will be a variation on the theme as well – but I digress.

What does this have to do with the Glenbow?

About ten days ago, the Globe and Mail announced that the Mass MOCA show Oh Canada will be coming to Canada.  It would seem that arts writers in Toronto are the only ones on the ball, because one of the venues is going to be the Glenbow. For some reason, this story has not been picked up locally, which is kind of odd as it is a pretty big deal and the news has been out for at least a week. The dates have even been set. It will be opening at the Glenbow about a year from now on January 31, 2015 as reported from Toronto.

The other big related story is that the Glenbow will be partnering with the Illingworth Kerr Gallery at the Alberta College of Art and Design; the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary; and the Esker Foundation to present this very ambitious and large show.

This, in itself shows that the Glenbow is quite serious about raising its art profile. As a friend and appreciator of the visual arts, it is definitely welcome.  This is also evident with the next big travelling exhibition and summer blockbuster Masterworks from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery which will be opening around the May long-weekend.

Interestingly, the partnership with ACAD et al, combined with Glenbow’s recent partnership with Contemporary Calgary (which also was formed through the merger of the Art Gallery of Calgary; the Museum of Contemporary Art – Calgary; and the Institute of Modern and Contemporary Art) to present Made in Calgary: The 1990s shows a change at the Glenbow in terms of relationships with other local institutions. This has been happening elsewhere in the visual arts locally for the past couple of years, so it is nice to see more of it.

It will be interesting to see where this new direction may end up and what changes may come as a result.

The 1988 Calgary Winter Olympic Legacy that never happened

Anne-Patrick-Poirier-1990-Munich-Sculpture-Oculus- Memoriae-Detail-from-Flickr-User-Digital-Cat (681x1024)

Today the Olympics in Sochi begin.

Today I also take a quick look back to the Olympics in Calgary and a major controversy involving public art.

In the years leading up to the Olympics a committee of arts professionals and interested parties was struck to commission an international artist or artists to create a major legacy sculpture for the Olympic Organizing Committee.  It was to stand in the NW corner of the Olympic Plaza across the street from the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer and the Convention Centre. This was to be a gift to the City and its citizens and visitors alike.

Long story short. Parisian artists Anne and Patrick Poirier who are kind of a big deal artists (even then) were successfully chosen to be the artists commissioned to complete this work. The jury made what I believe to be a very smart decision in this regard. Granted, I have not seen their proposal, nor have I seen the competing proposals for this commission. However, having said that, I am aware of some of the short-listed artists and their work.

This quote from Wikipedia describes Anne and Patrick Poirier’s practice (as translated to English from the original entry in the Larrouse Encyclopedia):

  • Their oeuvre has always dealt with themes surrounding memory, archeology, ruins, memento mori, disintegration, loss and remembering. As they articulate it, “we believe that ignorance or the destruction of cultural memory brings in its wake every sort of oblivion, falsehood and excess and that we must, with all the modest means at our disposal, oppose this generalized amnesia and destruction.”

Although I am not aware of what the work proposed for the 1988 Winter Olympics commission looked like, I have extrapolated from various sources the type of work that they were doing at that time. The image reproduced above is a detail of a larger work. It also contains part of a human form – especially the face – in addition to the column seen above. All which paid tribute to Greco-Roman cultural history. It also is somewhat indicative of what the artists were doing during that timeframe and as described would lend itself to an official Olympic site. There is also a similar work, from a similar timeframe, located at 1201 Third Avenue (formerly the Washington Mutual Building) in Seattle. It would therefore seem reasonable that something like this could easily have found a home in Calgary.

Although the commission was agreed to by the committee, it was never completed and ended up being a huge fiasco (let’s just leave it at that). There was a large uproar about this sculpture and I suspect when it was all said and done, probably a few bodies were later found under a bus.  It also occupied a fair bit of ink from columnists and letters to the editor of the day. Ironically, (side note here) I am fascinated given this context, that yet another letter to the editor somehow found its way onto the pages of the Calgary Sun this morning which talks about the Blue Ring.

How apropos.

Around the same time as the Poirier commission, a small, discretely placed, bronze Greek running athlete which is probably an Italian 19th century copy of an antique was generously donated to the City by the Devonian Foundation.  Many have probably walked past many times not knowing it is even there.  It is a very good sculpture for the site (just as the Poirier sculpture probably would have been) and is thoughtfully, well situated.

It would be very interesting to speculate what changes might have happened if the Poirier sculpture commission was actually completed and installed as planned in the heart of downtown in the 26 years that have elapsed since the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Would it have changed anything?

Vending machine art and the ERCB

Bart-Habermiller-Art-Containing-ERCB-Phone-Directory (1024x683)

This past Thursday evening I attended the opening of Bill Rodgers ten-year retrospective at the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary.

While there, I met up with Bart Habermiller.  We eventually got talking about the upcoming 1990s show at the Glenbow Museum that will be curated by Nancy Tousley and will be opening later this week.

I mentioned the 1990s show a couple days ago in conjunction with Shelley Ouellet and the Entomology installation that Shelley has just finished reinstalling at the Glenbow.  This of course got me thinking about collaboration again.

The reason?  Graceland.

Short History of Graceland

Graceland was an interesting project that lasted for about a ten-year period.  It began when Bart was still attending the Alberta College of Art back in 1986 and continued until Grace’s Land (hence the name Graceland) was sold to a developer in 1997.  It was located off Barlow Trail near Peigan Trail which is close to the Road King Truck Stop.  Grace Colton inherited what later became Graceland when her partner passed away.  It was a former private junkyard located in what is now the light-industrial and warehouse district located south of the residential community of Dover.

One of the benefits of Graceland being isolated from much of the city and having few neighbours, is that it was able to operate as a studio/performance space/production space/art venue/sculpture garden and more and had the space to do it all.  It was significant for its annual Art Rodeos held each summer beginning in 1989.  These were held each summer and the Art Rodeos would last well into the night.

Graceland was a highly collaborative environment with lots of material in the area to work with.  Some of the artifacts from Graceland probably are still in existence as before the property closed they held “the yard sale to end all yard sales.”

The Vending Machine

During the summer of 1994 Bart Habermiller installed a vending machine at one of the Glenbow shows.  I suspect it was The End of Modernity show although it is quite possible it was included in the New Alberta Art monthly shows that the Glenbow used to do.  Either way, the vending machine dispensed for the princely sum of $2.00 – a single piece of art – the financial part was a fact that Bart confirmed this past Thursday.  I must have had pocket change when I went to see the show because I purchased a few pieces of art from the vending machine which I still have.

This vending machine (or a similar one) will be re-installed at the Glenbow 1990s show that opens later this week.  It will be installed on the main floor which only serves to further democratize the acquisition of art as no admission is required to buy the art.  Further, the proceeds will go to the Elephant Artist Relief fund.

The Elephant Artist Relief Society is a great organization which was established by artists for artists.  The recent flood only helped to draw awareness that sometimes people need help.  So if you have extra money for a good cause I am sure that EAR would be a worthy recipient.

One of the pieces I purchased in the vending machine is illustrated above.

About the Art

At the time I was still working as a consultant in the oil and gas or financial industries.  Seeing this piece of artwork attracted me, as I recognized the significance of the P. & N. G. Conversation Board.  This very intriguing historical document containing names and 5-digit phone numbers was an integral part of the artwork.

The significance of the P. & N. G. Conversation Board was that it later became what was known for a long time as the Energy and Resource Conservation Board (ERCB).  It is now known as the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) which is a provincial regulatory agency for the petroleum and energy industries.  It is my best guess that this typed document must have dated from the mid to late 1950s.

I knew who Dr. Govier is.  He was very significant to the industry and was significant to the time of modern resource extraction in Alberta.  The others I did not know.

The people

Today, I decided to do some research on who those other people are.  Sadly they are only identified as Mr. or Dr. without any given name or initial attached.  Fortunately the AER recently celebrated its 75th anniversary and there is a book written by one of my former department head’s colleagues and close friends – Gordon Jaremko.  It mentions a few of the names from the pre-internet era.  No doubt many of them have passed away so some information is rather difficult to get on the internet.

ERCB-Chairs-1947-1978-from-page-155-Jaremko-ERCB-History

Mr. McKinnon is Ian N. McKinnon.  He was accountant with a history in government.  He is significant as he was the Chairman of the ERCB between 1949 through 1962.  He was also significant as he served as the first Chairman of the National Energy Board (NEB) on secondment from the ERCB between 1959 to his resignation in 1962 when he assumed the role on a permanent basis.  After his death a Memorial Fellowship was created for students connected to the Schulich School of Engineering program at the University of Calgary studying at the Masters or Ph.D. level in Economics, Engineering or Geology disciplines. (Note 1)  Jaremko stated this about McKinnon:

  • The like-minded Diefenbaker government reacted by enacting its National Oil Policy (NOP) and creating the National Energy Board (NEB). The NOP propped up sales and prices by banning imports from Canada west of Ottawa and reserving the domestic market for Alberta production. The NEB took responsibility for pipelines that cross provincial or international bound­aries. Federal policy followed the Alberta regulatory model, even borrowing ERCB chairman Ian McKinnon to be the NEB’s first chair. (Note 2)

Mr. Goodall is D.P. (Red) Goodall.  He was the Deputy Chairman of the ERCB and served as the Acting Chair of the P&NGCB between 1947 and 1948 when McKinnon was named as the Chair.  There is little information readily available on him although the ERCB has a number of documents and photographs from him in their archives.  However, Dr. Govier described McKinnon in discussion with Jack Peach during August 1981:

  • It wasn’t until considerably later Jack, that, well, following first of all, Ian McKinnon’s resignation from the Alberta board and acceptance of the chairmanship of the National Energy Board. Then Red Goodall was appointed chairman of the Alberta board. Red’s health didn’t stand up very well and he asked to be relieved and then I was asked to take on the chairmanship. I did this for a short while, still commuting from Edmonton. But then in the spring of 1963 I made the decision and left the University of Alberta, with many regrets of course, because I enjoyed my work there too. And by that time I was dean of the faculty of engineering and that was a very challenging position. But I made the decision and moved to Calgary full time. (Note 3)

Dr. Govier is George Wheeler Govier.  He is still living from the sounds of it, although he is close to 100 years of age.  He was inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence last year, which to my mind took them long enough.  There is quite an extensive biography found there.  Here is a small synopsis:

  • George Govier is a well recognized member of the engineering and energy sectors who helped build those key Alberta industries through his longstanding service as a university professor, researcher and respected leader in regulatory development. (Note 4)

Mr. Patrick might be Russ Patrick.  On this I am uncertain.  There is mention of a Russ Patrick in the Jaremko book in conjunction with the ERCB.  If it is the same person, he is described as this:

  • Patrick, whose cabinet portfolios included 16 years with the ERCB (ending along with the Social Credit regime in 1971), described oil sands development as a political hot potato from the get go. (Note 5)
  • A. Russell Patrick was first elected to the Alberta Legislature on August 5, 1952. In the early summer of 1955, in the midst of Alberta’s Jubilee Celebration, he became a Provincial Cabinet Minister with the Social Credit Government. He remained a Cabinet Minister for 16 years until 1971. During his years as Cabinet Minister, A. Russell Patrick was the Minister of Economic Affairs from 1955 to 1959; was appointed Minister of Industry and Tourism in 1959; was Provincial Secretary from 1959 to 1962; was appointed Minister of Mines and Minerals in 1962 and served as Chairman of the Research Council. (Note 6)

There was uncertainty in the Jack Peach oral history transcription about how to spell Mr Baugh’s name. However he is mentioned often by Govier as Ted and his role is described as this:

  • In the late 40’s Ted Baw (sic) and I worked together to develop a technical basis for the regulation of oil production from the point of view of engineering considerations. This was not market pro-rating but it was regulation to ensure that there were not excessive rates of withdrawal that would lead to underground waste. Ted and I were jointly responsible for developing what was called the MPR system. Those letters stand for maximum permissible rate. It was an elementary system to form some reasonably rational basis for regulating oil production. Again, I repeat, unrelated to market demand but related only to technical considerations. Then of course, subsequently, in 1950 it was, the board was called upon to institute a system of prorating oil to market demand. The legislation gave the board the authority to do that but the board did not act on its own until industry came to the board and said, we’re having problems with the voluntary kind of pro-rating production to market demand. You the board, have the statutory authority to do this, would you go ahead and do it. So after consultation with industry we devised a system, this was the first system of pro-ration of oil to market demand in Alberta. That was instituted, I happen to remember that one date, that was December 1950.  (Note 7)

As for Mr. Crockford, I drew a blank and could find no information.

Conclusion

Because this blog is about art, I found this fascinating quote that Govier gave where he talks about the role of business and engineering:

  • Govier taught the ERCB — and leaders in business, the professions, and government — to think big. . . In a 1964 address to the Canadian Natural Gas Processing Association, Govier described the writing on the wall. In his presentation, titled “Avoiding Technical Obsolescence,” he said, “The engineer cannot afford the ivory tower luxury of the scientist who is searching only for scientific truths and facts. The engineer must understand economics, business, government, and government boards. An understanding of history, philosophy, human relations, and social trends is important to him. Music, art, and the theatre must also aid him in the difficult task of understanding man. And he must understand man if he is to use his knowledge and technical skills for the benefit of man.” (Note 8)

It is always interesting to know the back story about a work of art.  This research I conducted today makes me appreciate this work a little bit better.

I am sure something about this piece will show up in the new vending machine at the Glenbow during the 1990s show.  Watch for it.

Notes:

  1. Ian N. McKinnon Memorial Fellowship – Canadian Scholarships, accessed February 1, 2014 http://www.canadian-universities.net/Scholarships/I/Ian-N-McKinnon-Memorial-Fellowship.html
  2. Jaremko, Gordon, Steward : 75 years of Alberta energy regulation, (Edmonton, AB; Energy Resources Conservation Board, 2013), 42
  3. Peach, Jack, and George Govier, Petroleum History Oral History Project Transcript, (unpublished document, deposited with Glenbow Museum archives, August 1981), 4, accessed February 1, 2014, http://www.glenbow.org/collections/search/findingAids/archhtm/extras/piohp/PIOHP_Govier_George.pdf
  4. “George W. Govier OC ScD PEng FCIM LLD (hon) ScD (hon) D.Eng (hon),” Alberta Order of Excellence, accessed February 1, 2014 http://www.lieutenantgovernor.ab.ca/aoe/business/george-govier/
  5. Jaremko, Gordon, ibid, 47
  6. “A. Russell Patrick fonds,” Provincial Archives of Alberta, accessed February 1, 2014, https://hermis.alberta.ca/paa/Details.aspx?ObjectID=PR0119&dv=True&deptID=1
  7. Peach, Jack, and George Govier, ibid, 2.
  8. Jaremko, Gordon, ibid, 17