Eighth Avenue Place West Tower art and a related rambling post

Jean-Paul_Riopelle_1959_painting_in_Eighth_Avenue_Place

This past Friday I wandered through Eighth Avenue Place.

For those that don’t know it is one of the more recent buildings to be built in the city. It is a two tower building with interesting architecture (for those that consider a giant glass box interesting). What makes it so, is the top which is intended to allude to mountain peaks. The first tower (east tower) opened probably three or four years ago and the west tower was officially opened this past October 16th, if I recall correctly what one of the security guards told me when I asked a few weeks ago when I first noticed new art being placed on the walls.

As I have probably mentioned previously, the building contains a well-selected collection of art that is visibly displayed in the lobby. In my opinion, and I realize it is a judgement call on my part, it is one of the better publicly viewable collections in an office lobby in the downtown core. Most office buildings in the downtown core have little, if any, publicly viewable art and when it is, it is more often than not – a single piece of sculpture. So it is not that difficult of a judgement to make.

The collection that has been accumulated so far is generally focused on Ontario, Quebec and BC art from the mid-century period. From the perspective of someone who has dealt in art for most of his adult life, I would suggest that the works selected are a good base to build a collection upon for someone looking at a modernist collection. So whomever the art advisor(s) they have used, deserves kudos on their choices.

What has been previously installed in the East Tower lobbies are:

  • Jack Shadbolt painting Wild Grass Suite – Quintet (1979)
  • Jack Bush painting New York 55, (1955)
  • Ray Mead painting Totem (1986)
  • Jean McEwan painting Le Climat Rouge (1957)
  • Jean-Paul Riopelle painting Oliviers (1966)
  • Marcel Ferron painting Chile (1973)

They are just about complete. Each of the elevator lobbies in the west tower now has a work assigned to it. So far they have placed four works which are:

  • a Jack Shadbolt painting from 1959
  • a William Ronald painting from 1955
  • a Jean-Paul Riopelle canvas from 1955 (see picture above)
  • a Marcel Barbeau painting located behind the security desk from what I would speculate dates from circa 2002

There is still one wall remaining (unless something was installed there this weekend. It is located on the north facing wall at the main entrance for 8th Avenue SW, which directly accesses the west tower. Whether it has been selected or not,

I am going to make an unsolicited recommendation, and I understand that it will probably have little (if any) bearing upon the outcome.

My recommendation is that I would strongly suggest acquiring a work by Rita Letendre for that space.

Here is my primary reason why:

In the entire lobby ALL but ONE of the works selected and installed so far, have been created by white, male artists. However the ONE exception is created by a token female artist – Marcelle Ferron. To select another female artist will help remedy this gender imbalance, and will reflect better upon the significant amount of practising artists that are female both living and deceased during the Canadian post-WWII period through to the end of the 20th century that the works selected for the building belong.

Not only was Rita Letendre a woman who held her own in a period of predominately male-centric dominance in the visual arts; she also won major non-gender specific awards in international shows and competitions; and received major commissions at the same time. One of these, the 1964 commission she completed at California State College, Long Beach prompted to move her work into a completely new direction away from the abstract-expressionist influenced work that riffed off work by major artists such as Franz Kline, Clyfford Still and highly influential, but under-rated Canadian/Québécois artist Paul-Émile Bordous (who in my mind should be included as well).

As an aside, before I go any further, I should explain why I made the statement about “male-centric dominance” in the last paragraph. I expect that someone will take exception to my comments. By stating what I did, I mean the period of time prior to 1985, which to my mind is important in this context of work being exhibited. This year of 1985, can be considered a benchmark year to mark when change to the status quo began. It was defined by the Guerilla Girls and the year that this group was formed. Through their vocal feminist activism and as a result of their fomentation, they were subsequently able to draw attention to the gender imbalance in New York City museums and their exhibitions at that time. This resulted in the desired effect of increased influence on future dealings with female artists and opened many doors that were previously closed to them, even though there were artists such Joyce Wieland, Emily Carr, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keefe, Jean Sutherland Boggs and others who were not fully constrained by gender barriers during that male-centric time.

Like Marcelle Ferron, Letendre was closely aligned with the group of artists in Quebec (Riopelle, Barbeau, Ferron, in particular; and McEwan to a lesser extent) that have been previously selected and installed in this building. She also has a connection to Toronto and its artists (such as the Painters 11 members Bush, Mead and Ronald) through her long-standing relationship with Kosso Eloul. Many in Calgary will be familiar with Eloul’s work from the elegantly simple and muscular sculpture standing in front of the former Nova Building (now the Nexen Building) only two blocks away from Eighth Avenue Place which is visible from the C-Train tracks.

In addition to that, Letendre is of aboriginal descent. So to give a major work of hers pride of place, is probably a smart idea.

Here is why.

As any person working in the resource extraction area in Calgary will know, there is a significant amount of oil and gas exploration by Calgary based companies, and pipelines that cross aboriginal communities. Many larger companies will have specialists who deal with aboriginal relationships. In addition, there is a significant amount of potential resulting controversy that goes with these ongoing relationships (think Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project, the Lubicon Cree protest of The Spirit Sings exhibition at the Glenbow and more). Any person who reads or follows recent news will know that aboriginal issues are topical and in some cases need to be addressed.

So the fact that there is very little (if any) art on display in lobbies of Calgary office towers by aboriginal artists of note (and there are many) is extremely surprising. Personally I find this oversight somewhat shocking given this knowledge stated above. But I digress.

But what do I know. I am just an observer of this sort of detail – a direct result of dealing in Canadian art from pre-Confederation to present day for close to two decades. However, if someone reads this and wants a knowledgeable art consultant for a corporate collection that is more than just a one trick pony (like many art consultants and designers) – send me an email and let’s talk. I wasn’t elected as the chair of the civic art collection committee for a number of years without a reason. It would also give me a reason to do something that engages my interest and passion more than the predominately mindless retail banter I am currently engaged in daily which I expect to get laid-off from in exactly eleven days (immediately following Boxing Day, or of I am fortunate have my employment extended until New Year’s Eve).

Calgary-Biennial_courtesy-Brittney-Bear-Hat

On a related side note, I should give a quick shout-out to Brittney Bear Hat and the work of hers that was recently installed on a billboard near the intersection of Glenmore and Blackfoot Trails (see photo above). This work is part of the current iteration of the Calgary Biennial which began a few weeks ago and will continue through to February or March 2015. This is the type of dialogue I would expect to see more of in this city – a dialogue which should be encouraged and supported by both industry and the public at large. This is particularly true and desirable given the close working relationship between oil & gas exploration and current aboriginal issues. I may talk about either this work and/or the Calgary Biennial at a later time. It all depends on my available time personally to do so.

Of note, given this context, I should also draw attention to the recent four-day long Stronger than Stone: (Re)Inventing the Indigenous Monument conference which was held late last month at Alberta College of Art and Design and at Saskatoon’s Mendel Art Gallery.

Ironically, this long-winded deviation was not the reason (or intent) for why I started this post. But now that it has been written, I somewhat like it, and now would like to keep it.

Initially, it was my intention to write about Jack Bush.

I guess I got distracted and got off on to a rambling tangent. Something I am prone to do from time to time. I guess I will have to finish the Jack Bush posting later. I will plan to do it after work this evening, although I know in advance that it will be a very long day of work (probably close to16 hours) for me including outside of the retail job I mentioned earlier, I also will be doing an art install in the regional offices of one the big five Canadian banks later this morning. So it probably won’t help that I was up at 4:00am to write this. I may as a result take an extra few days to do so.

Regardless of which artist is selected for this last remaining space, I am sure that it will be well-selected as have the other works in the past.

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