It is Christmas Day and I am home alone, missing my family, whom I haven’t seen in about a year. But I will soon.
So I figure I might as well pass the time writing something.
A few days ago I attended the inaugural exhibition of the New Edward Gallery which was held in an empty, basement apartment suite that is maybe 400 sq. ft. in size. It was a three-day show that would rarely elicit mention in a written publication of any sort.
The show that was curated (I am assuming) contained an interesting accretion of works by various artists that I know are active in the community (even if it is marginally the case, due to work or family commitments). They are active either as participants or producing artists, but are definitely not “art-stars”. This should not be taken as a slight. For the most part these artists produce work that rarely gets past the gatekeepers that operate the commercial and publicly-funded institutional galleries.
The work that I saw at the inaugural show held at the New Edward Gallery reflected the pluralism that is not only the current art world, but our society at large. The work ranged from traditional figurative nudes, drawings, assemblages, sculpture, photo-based work and installation. This three-day exhibition (which has now ended) serves an important purpose – giving the opportunity for artists to produce work and present it to viewers who may not ever have the opportunity to visit the artist’s studio.
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As a society, no longer are we satisfied with the hegemony that comes with officially-sanctioned leadership that dictates what is important and what we should view. With increasing data mining, computer analytics, predictive choices in our TV viewing and internet surfing; combined with what we watch; and with whom we interact online – it is not surprising that individualism and pluralism is the new societal norm.
This fact of pluralism and individuality is surprising in the current art world on a certain level. This given the preponderance of the generally cheery content-free, powder-coated and mirrored surfaces that more often than not caters to the global collecting class, corporatization of art, and the art fairs that the collectors attend, from whence the “art-stars” are made.
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There is a long tradition in the city of Calgary that the opening of this gallery recalls and reintroduces.
During the course of my multi-year research on visual art-based institutional culture in Calgary, I have found that there are numerous spaces and DIY initiatives that have operated in a similar manner since the 1970s (and probably earlier). It is certainly not a new idea that an artist operate outside of the conventions of officialdom to present their own work and/or their associates that they feel is worthy of merit.
One only has to look to the example of Gustave Courbet in conjunction with his refusal to participate in the French state-sponsored and sanctioned Exposition Universelle in 1855. In response to this exhibition he produced a show of his work in a tent on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
Courbet, although influential was not alone. We also know that Jacques-Louis David self-produced a show of his work in 1799, as well. Others have done this as well, ranging from the Russian Futurists in 1915 in Petrograd to Damien Hirst in London, 1988 along with many, MANY more including our own Wreck City “artist-curators” in 2013.
The concept of artist-curators and alternative art spaces will probably not end soon in Calgary. Of this I can be relatively certain.
Unless local viewers are particularly active in the community or personal friends with some of these artists that showed at the New Edward Gallery between the opening on December 22 and the end of the exhibition run on Christmas Eve, most would never know who these artists are. Each of these artists could be seen at an art exhibition opening; or quietly serving one’s morning coffee; working the cash register at a retail store; occupying yet another faceless cubicle in an office; or as a labourer on a worksite, but yet their practice still continues. This show is evidence of it.
In the interim I will continue to keep my eyes open for more of these type of activities and document them as best I can to compliment my larger research project.
If you as a reader have had a similar type of exhibition space in the past (or plan one in the future). Please send me a message. Or if you have research material such as printed invitations or exhibition lists, etc. to these type of spaces in Calgary, I want to know more.