Oh, Canada exhibition opening tomorrow at four Calgary venues

Oh Canada Calgary invite

This weekend is a big one for the visual arts in Calgary.

There are lots of things going on.

Three big things are happening – 1.) the beginning of Exposure (the month of photography); 2.) the catalogue launch for the Calgary Biennial; and, 3.) the Mass MoCA originated travelling show “Oh, Canada” will also launch.

It is the third item that I want to talk about today.

In 2012, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) hosted what was probably the largest exhibition of contemporary art held outside of the country’s borders in a show called “Oh, Canada.”

O'Kanada 1982 Catalogue Berlin

Of course in this context, those with a long enough view on major exhibitions of contemporary Canadian art will find it rather intriguing to know that in 1982 there was a similarly ambitious, very large survey exhibition held at the Akademie der Kunst, Berlin, Germany. Ironically, it also was called “O’Kanada”. Somewhere in cold storage, I have a large 500 page doorstopper of a catalogue produced for that show. The big difference between the two exhibitions is that the German show discussed a much broader “cultural” context for the arts in Canada, than it would appear that this one does. The 1982 show talked about many things such as dance, theatre, music, architecture and of course the visual arts; whereas the Mass MoCA show has focused on the visual arts.

Regardless, this is probably the largest single visual art exhibition to be held in the city – ever.

That makes it, kind of a big deal.

Of course, any show that is this ambitious and of this nature, should have controversy and/or criticism.

This is as it should be.

If there is none, the show is probably forgettable.

As expected, there will always be the usual questions of why one artist was included, and another not. It is the nature of this type of large survey exhibition. Someone who should be included, almost always gets missed. Because of that, these type of comments are standard fair and are hardly worth mentioning.

However, a statement I have recently read, is a variation on this theme. I only mention it (and it is certainly not a criticism), because it brings into focus why these type of shows are important. They are important if for no other reason, than to get people talking.

This statement came from a person that I know who expressed a concern that this show was curated by,

“an American (who) is surveying Canada . . .

and (she was) not really . . . immersed in the subtleties of our unique cultural identity over decades. . .

(and is) without (full) understanding (of) the nuances of our particular art scene . . .”

It is a comment that on a certain level has an element of validity as most criticisms do.

In response to this I wanted to revisit comments made by the Canadian historian Ramsay Cook (not to be confused with Gordon Ramsay, the cook).

Ramsay Cook, the eminent retired professor of history at York University and general editor of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography had a research interest in Nationalism. As an extension of this he also talked about Regionalism, Canadian Identity, Pluralism and Patriotism.

Together these topics seem to be of interest to current affairs and the person’s comment which were made above. This especially is the case when we consider that as a country we recently celebrated the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812; the 100th anniversary of beginning of WWI; and soon we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation.

These big round number events help define our collective Canadian identity, or in the words of Ramsay Cook the “contemplation of the Canadian navel”. How we react (in part) to these events, will help define how we view ourselves; and how others view us as a collective society.

As a result this is a timely exhibition as we start gearing up for the next big round number event – the sesquicentennial in 2017.

Shortly after the other really big round number event (the 100th anniversary of Confederation in 1967) the University of Toronto Press published Ramsay Cook’s book entitled, The Maple Leaf Forever: Essays on Nationalism and Politics in Canada in 1971. One of the essays included in this publication was entitled “Nationalism in Canada” where Cook argued, “that Canada is far from a homogeneous country. Nationalism by nature tends strongly to centralism and uniformity: Canada is by nature federal, sectional and pluralist”.

In this exhibition we will see that Ramsay Cook’s statement is still valid and true.

All four venues that are collectively hosting the Oh, Canada exhibition (Glenbow Museum, Esker Foundation, Illingworth Kerr Gallery at ACAD, and Nickle Galleries at the U of C) will be opening tomorrow (Saturday, January 31, 2015).

I understand that there will be an Oh, Canada bus which will transport people to each of the venues, starting at the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary.

There will be a large amount of things happening in conjunction with this show and the Glenbow has created a micro-website which is dedicated to this exhibition. In this website, one will find a large amount of information about special events that will occur during the course of the show, both at the participating institutions and elsewhere.

I look forward to seeing the show.

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update on the Col. Walker Park gargoyles

Art_Central_site_2015_January_27 (1024x768)

Sometime ago I wrote about the gargoyles that were located at Col. Walker Park on the +15 level of the future Telus Sky complex site. I suppose I could also say that I wrote about Art Central as well, since it was located adjoining the park and was at that time under demolition.

As seen in the photo above, the gargoyles are no longer attached to the wall and the site is flattened in preparation for redevelopment.

I can report that about two or three weeks ago, I happened to be travelling on the C-Train early one Monday morning when I noticed a scissor-lift was being moved into position to remove the gargoyles. I was working that entire day and the next. By the time was able to return to the site the gargoyles had been removed.

It would appear my initial concerns that the gargoyles would be destroyed in the demolition of the building were unfounded. It would also appear that the gargoyles have been removed for safekeeping.

Presumably we will see them again at some unknown time and place.

For now it would appear that this chapter is now closed.

Art Central has been demolished, the art has been removed, and a new development will start to take its place.

 

Gallery 505 – grand opening tonight

Marion_Nicoll_painting_One_Year_at_Gallery_505_on_2014_November_21 (1024x768)

Discretely placed into the lobby of a small, mid-century, low-rise brick office tower is a new public gallery.

The grand opening will take place this evening (January 22nd), between 5:00-7:00 pm in the lobby of 505 – 8 Avenue SW.

Having said that, this space has been used for this gallery purpose since mid-November 2014. I understand that the exhibitions will rotate on a three month cycle in the future like many public galleries. The location of this space is directly across the street from Holt Renfrew, between Eight Avenue Place and Barcelona Tavern (where the former restaurant Belgo used to be) which is right next door in the same building.

This is the first such “public” gallery that has opened in the city in a long time.

There is nothing to adequately compare this new space to. It does share some similarities to the most recent “public” gallery that has opened in the city – the Esker Foundation. However, on a different level the model between the two, is certainly much different.

Calgary Allied Arts Foundation

In this case the organization behind this new space is a local foundation that began in 1946 at the end of World War II, under a different but related name. It is now operating as it has since the summer of 1959 as the Calgary Allied Arts Foundation.

The Calgary Allied Arts Foundation’s influence in the city has been profound.

  • Full disclosure here: I have been a past board member of this organization. I also co-curated an exhibition held at the Art Gallery of Calgary (now known as Contemporary Calgary) in 2009 to celebrate the foundation’s 50th anniversary. In addition, I was the motivating factor for a new endowment created for the 50th anniversary (called the “Calgary Allied Arts Foundation Civic Art Collection Fund”) which is administered and can be funded through the Calgary Foundation using this page, searching the drop-down menu of all funds for the fund name mentioned above. As a result of the extensive original research I did for the 50th Anniversary show (which in hindsight, I now recognize as not being entirely correct), I saw the necessity of further research and reminded the board of this fact, at numerous times when deemed appropriate at subsequent board meetings. At these times I suggested that a history of this organization should be created. I probably did this often enough that they got tired of hearing that it needed to be done, but in the end it finally stuck. This little fact resulting from my initial research for the AGC show was not fully correct, which led me to personally engage in a significant never-ending rabbit hole of research on Calgary arts organizations that I began in 2011 after my gallery closed. This research is still ongoing on a nearly full-time basis, if and when my sporadic work commitments allow.
  • As a result and for obvious reasons, I am not going to talk much about the organization as a written history is currently being researched, produced and written and should be available near the end of this year.

Notwithstanding my previous comments, CAAF is a volunteer driven organization that I am a huge fan of.

At this time it is entirely funded by generous benefactors who over the past 50+ years have created endowments that allow the foundation to operate. These endowments allow the organization to create value in the community by encouraging those who work in the visual arts through various initiatives that they have undertaken over the years. These initiatives have included things such as funding purchases of public art; purchasing and donating artworks to the Civic Art Collection; establishing artist residencies; funding cultural initiatives such as ArtWeek and ArtWalk; engaging in advisory roles; and much more. As expected with a volunteer board, these initiatives reflect the interests of the board members who are predominately visual arts practitioners and reflect the political and artistic climate of the times.

Needless to say, the Foundation has been around for a very long time. However, for a number of reasons which I could go into at great length, in recent history, it generally keeps a very low profile. This is very unfortunate as it should be known much more than it currently is.

Gallery 505

There is an interesting dialogue at play with this newly formed gallery, that has some interesting roots. It is this, that I would prefer to talk about at this time.

As anyone in the city who has turned on the TV news lately, or talked to anyone working in the oil patch downtown, or read a news headline in the recent months would know, it is obvious that things could be economically better in the city. The headlines are stating things such as this one from the Calgary Herald “Oil services giant Baker Hughes to lay off 7000 workers“; this one from the Globe and Mail “Alberta’s oil woes: typical downturn or end of an era?“. Both of these headlines give a clue as to others.

So reading that a corporation (in Calgary) is willing to underwrite the long-term costs of a new public art gallery at this time is very, very encouraging indeed.

In the distant past, there is a bit of a tradition in Calgary that is being resurrected by this initiative. It is one that I am pleased to see.

Long ago, we had companies such as Shell Canada, Petro-Canada and Gulf Canada Resources, all of whom had dedicated art gallery spaces available to both employees and the public alike. These galleries were all housed within their corporate offices. Other companies such as Esso Resources or Norcen Energy Resources (a company which gifted the large Bill McElcheran sculpture of the standing businessmen standing on Stephen Avenue Mall outside of the Hudson’s Bay Company to the citizens of the City of Calgary in 1981) had full-time staff to manage their collections and produced catalogues of their collections. These gallery spaces were staffed with curators and other related professionals (if required), catalogues were produced, and exhibitions mounted.

Of course these days are long past.

The physical shells of these spaces often still are visible and unless one knows what to look for and has a long enough memory of where they were located, most would not even know what once was located in those spaces. These spaces that once were, have been converted to other uses like office space, etc. and more often than not the collections have been sold or substantially diminished. So seeing art in public spaces like what is found at the neighbouring building to the one that houses Gallery 505Eighth Avenue Place, warms my heart, just a wee little bit every time I wander through the lobby.

This leads me to the single work that is shown above – a large, mature-period, four panel painting by Marion Nicoll entitled One Year, 1971. This was a gift of the Calgary Allied Arts Foundation to the City of Calgary Civic Art Collection two years after it was created in 1973.

The selection of a major work by Marion Nicoll [1909-1985] is a very appropriate choice for the inaugural exhibition in this space.

Having this work and a gallery for CAAF located in the lobby of a mid-century office tower that probably dates to around the same time as the Foundation was formed, is only further icing on the cake.

The selection of this work recognizes her important contribution to the city of Calgary; the visual arts in the surrounding region; and her contributions in the field of education and arts development at the Alberta College of Art and Design and elsewhere in the city. It also recognizes the important financial contribution that both she and her husband Jim Nicoll (also an artist) made to the Calgary Allied Arts Foundation.

As mentioned above, the endowment as bequeathed by Jim and Marion Nicoll provides a significant portion of the operating income for the Foundation.

There is a lot of information about Marion Nicoll available. She stands tall in the art history in the province of Alberta. However, for brevity, I will just touch on a few highlights of her career:

  • She was one of the first students to study at what is now known as the Alberta College of Art and Design graduating in 1933;
  • One of her instructors was J.W.G. (Jock) Macdonald (a very influential artist and member of the Painters 11, who is usually connected to Toronto and occasionally Vancouver, and a recent subject of a recent solo exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery). Jock Macdonald during his one year head of ACAD (or whatever his position was called at the time) was instrumental in helping set a new course for Marion Nicoll. He did this through the introduction of “automatic drawing”. It is from that body of work which she continued throughout her life, usually on a small scale on paper, that her mature work found its voice;
  • Marion Nicoll also probably was the first female instructor at Alberta College of Art and Design. Certainly, without dispute she set the groundwork for future female instructors at the College. Her influence at ACAD where she taught for her entire career, cannot be understated; and,
  • Recognizing her contributions, the Alberta College of Art and Design named the student gallery at the school in her name and honour.

This work is a good example of her paintings that she was doing at the mature period after she had retired from active teaching in 1966. From sources that I believe dependable, it is my understanding that this work has been predominately in storage for the significant majority of the time that it has been housed in the Civic Art Collection. Surprisingly, it was not included in the major retrospective at the Nickle Arts Museum a year or two ago. No doubt this is partly due to its size and the difficulty in finding a space that can adequately display it to best advantage. Now that it has been put on display, I would think it will be more likely that it will now find itself a new home.

Personally, I would like to extend my thanks and appreciation to the donor of the space where we can see works that might otherwise be hidden from view. I look forward to seeing more in this space in the years to come.

Update on the potential Banksy artwork reported on last year

Screen_capture_of_Banksy_type_stencil_graffiti_from_January_2014

About this time last year there was a news story on Global TV about a piece of graffiti that was located on the south side of the Bow River, under the C-Train bridge on the NW line. In that news story, it was speculated that this was a work by Banksy, or alternatively in the manner of Banksy.

I also reported on it in a blog posting about a month later. By that time, it was already painted over. On a related note, about a month ago there was a front-page news story about a certain anonymous “Dr. G.”. According to this story, it claims that he calls the City’s 311 service to make approximately 7800 complaints about graffiti ANNUALLY. Wrap your head around this; he calls the 311 service almost once an hour, 356 days of the year (or every 66 minutes) to complain about graffiti.

Do we have “Dr. G.” to thank that this artwork was covered in a timely manner?

This is a follow up story to that blog posting.

In my sleuthing related to my research focus of art institutions and art spaces in Calgary during the past 100 years, I stumbled across a website which I believe to be that of the artist who did this artwork. From what best I can speculate, the artist who did this work would appear to be based out of Vancouver, British Columbia. Although it is possible that he/she may still have some form of Calgary connection.

The image above is a screen capture of the work that was depicted in the Global TV news story. I was able to find the artist’s website a couple days ago, and it is from there that I was able to copy the image.

There is nothing more to add, except to put the speculation of who did it to bed. We now know with certainty that it was NOT a work by Banksy.

Walking Women, advertising and pop-art

Walking_Woman_signage_Calgary_2015_Jan_03 (1024x768)

Advertising is an interesting field.

But before I get talking about advertising, I want to talk about “pop-art” first.

In the very near future we will be hearing much more about “pop-art” – not that we haven’t heard much before. That comment of course was somewhat tongue in cheek, as there was a recent sale (November 2014) of an Andy Warhol painting of Elvis Presley that sold for US $81.9-million.

Primarily why we will be hearing more about this is because Yale University Press will be releasing a long-anticipated book tomorrow (January 6, 2015) – Thomas Crow’s book The Long March of Pop: Art, Music and Design, 1930-1995. In this book, there will be some discussion surrounding the placement of pop art in relation to folk art and music – especially in the USA. There will be further discussion on pop-art outside of the USA as well, in places such as the UK which is a very important place for discussion surrounding this art historical term. I think this will be a very interesting discussion to have and hopefully expand the dialogue further.

There are currently two exhibitions of note, relating to “pop-art” that are currently on view elsewhere. I am sure that there are more than just two, however these two are located closest to Calgary, for those that are inclined to travel for business or personal pleasure.

  1. The Seattle Art Museum currently has an exhibition that talks about pop and its effect on artists that have produced or are currently working that takes pop art as a point of departure. It ends in little over a week from now.
  2. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Art de Montréal) currently has an exhibition of Andy Warhol`s advertising posters on view. As part of this exhibition two catalogue raisonnés have been produced – one dealing with Andy Warhol’s commissioned posters and the other his commissioned magazine work. I am sure that this would be a very interesting show to view as it probably covers a lot of ground that we don’t often see in a gallery exhibition. This show will continue until mid-March.

This last show of course leads me into advertising – which ties in well with “pop-art” as a general rule. For this reason why I believe that the MMFA/MBAM show mentioned above would be so interesting to see.

All businesses need to do some form of advertising if they want to stay in business. It is a fact of modern life.

Having owned a few businesses myself, I understand the necessity to advertise and create publicity for the business (having worked in corporate public relations beforehand, it was an easy sell). On the other side of the equation, I also understand the futility and frustration that comes with it as well.

It is a damned if you do, and damned if you don’t type of scenario.

This is primarily because measuring advertising effectiveness involves highly subjective criteria. It this way, partly because of how difficult it is to effectively evaluate, quantify and measure value; and measure the sales efficacy of the advertising dollar. In many ways spending money on advertising is always a bit of a crap shoot trying to determine what is going to work most successfully, because the ground is always shifting and what worked in the past does not always work in the future.

One of the oldest and most inexpensive forms of advertising is to simply place a sign outside of the business door – essentially to “hang out a shingle”.

Normally there is not much creativity exercised in these type of things. Outside of the main signage which is attached to the building or storefront, there is the possibility of a sandwich board, maybe some signage in the window, or some other variation on one or both of these themes. It is usually pretty straight-forward.

* * *

Yesterday, I walked past a piece of street advertising placed outside of a business door on Edmonton Trail.

I have passed this sign which is illustrated at the top of the post before. I suspect that it has been standing outside the door of this business for a number of years. How long? I have no idea, but it has been there as long as I can remember in recent memory.

Every time I see it, I think of Michael Snow and his Walking Woman series of paintings, drawings and sculptures dating from the 1960s and 1970s (although I believe he may have done some in the 1980s as well, but not as frequently). They are iconic pieces of Canadian art history – drawing from both conceptual and pop roots in Toronto.

Michael_Snow_Four_1963

The painting above is entitled Four, 1963. It was exhibited (and presumably sold) through Isaacs Gallery in Toronto during the 1960s. Its present location is unknown.

Michael Snow was definitely at the leading edge of artists at that time and has continued to produce work of significance since the 1950s. He is now in mid-80s and his importance is acknowledged by his being named a Companion of the Order of Canada.

I have previously mentioned Michael Snow in conjunction with the large Canada Geese sculpture/installation that he did for the atrium of Eaton Centre in Toronto. Anyone that has visited that building would certainly remember it.

He is one of our more important artists. One that we rarely see exhibited in Western Canada.

Even though it is a hunch on my part. It would seem to be a safe bet to assume that the maker or designer of this sign borrowed heavily from the central image of one of Michael Snow’s paintings or sculptures of a Walking Woman – whether they were aware of his work, or not. Notwithstanding this, the concept of seeing signage that is either unusual and/or creatively exercised is definitely appreciated in this city, as most other signage is generally safe and conservative.

For this sign, it is the idea that counts.