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.

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