The end of Uptown 7th is nigh

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View of 1st Street C-Train platform and bubbles from 129 – 7 Ave SW / November 14, 2016

Recently, at the beginning of this month, I wrote something about the high possibility that changes to the 100 block of 7th Avenue SW may be coming.

Apparently, those changes are coming sooner than I anticipated.

Last night, as the train I was travelling on stopped at the 1st Street platform I noticed that all four panels of Uptown 7th had a new message on them. It was a message that obviously were meant to read as one. The four panels read:

  •     (Panel 1) Good News! / Good Bye Bye!!
  •   (Panel 2) All of us are getting EVICTED VACATED this FRIDAY NOON.
  •   (Panel 3) As if this city isn’t depressed enough as it is. Six Families . . . Out!
  • (Panel 4) Who’s Kicking us out? It’s the MAN
    •   Below the fourth panel is a series of arrows on the sidewalk pointing toward text on the street directly in front which reads:
  •   (Street text) THE MANNIX FAMILY!!! From Calgary
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Panels 1 & 2 on façade of 125 – 7 Avenue SW / November 14, 2016 at night

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Panels 3 & 4 on façade of 125 – 7 Avenue SW / November 14, 2016 at night

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Text on street and façade in front of 125 – 7 Avenue SW / November 14, 2016 at night

As I was photographing the panels for this posting, I happened upon activity in one of the spaces and as a result had the opportunity to visit with Jonathon Sunstrum and get some background on what has gone down in that block recently. He was able to provide a timeline of recent activity relevant to his continued occupancy:

  • October 03 – Court approval received for the purchase and sale of the buildings
  • October 25 – Sunstrum and other tenants are served with notice to vacate by the new landlord
  • October 27 – due to an error the tenants were “officially served” with notice to vacate and informed that the landlord’s leasing agents would meet them on the following Monday
  •   October 31 – landlord’s leasing agents met with Sunstrum to discuss the exit of their properties
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Johnathon Sunstrum standing in office window at 129 – 7 Avenue SW with bubble machine / November 14, 2016

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Interior of the 127 – 7 Avenue SW space / November 14, 2016

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Interior of 127 – 7 Avenue SW space / November 14, 2016

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Exterior of the 121 and 123 – 7 Avenue SW spaces at night / November 14, 2016

It appears as if my hunch as evidenced by previous blog post was spot on. I even got the timing right. Notwithstanding that, I found that some information in that blog post was not entirely correct. They are as follows:

  • Spelling of Sunstrum’s name (which has been corrected in the previous posting) 
  • Assumption that the 129 space was used as a residence (this is incorrect. The space is used as an office instead)
  • Stuart Block and eviction of “undesirables. (from discussions with Sunstrom last night, November 14, 2016, this occurred during time that Heritage Properties owned the building as indicated. The update is that the building was sold at some later point, possibly around 2012, to corporate interests owned by members of the Mannix family and has remained boarded up as seen in the photo below and owned by that group since that time).

 

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Stuart Block building (113 or 115 – 7 Avenue SW) and a lone female transit customer on 7th Avenue at night / November 14, 2016

It would appear that unless something changes in the next couple days, that the small businesses and the Uptown 7th spaces have been given 21 days to vacate and will need to find new premises, on short notice – one month prior to Christmas.

Their final date of occupancy being this Friday, November 18 vacating no later than 12:00 Noon.

I wonder what impact this will have on perceived safety at this C-Train platform after hours, without having those eyes on the street.

 

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Uptown 7th changes coming?

Uptown 7th Buildings

I have been wanting to write about this space for quite some time. I have always needed a reason to write about it, and now I have found the reason.

The space is Uptown 7th.

Located in the Delamere Block at 125 and 127 – 7 Avenue SW, it is located directly across from the First Street C-Train Station. It can best be described as a bit of an outlier when speaking of art galleries in the city.

The primary face to this project is a J.J. (Jonathon) Sunstrum. Also involved his partner Kayla Shimbashi.

I first met Jonathon when he gave me a tour of the original space shortly after he took it over and I was actively researching art spaces in Calgary for the past 100 years. It was in pretty rough shape then and the space that was predominately used is what is visible from the street now. When he refers to the space, it is usually as an “art gallery under renovations” or some variation thereof. It is for this reason I became interested in the space, and have remained so since that time (partly because I pass it so often).

Sundstrom took possession of the former Express Café space on October 3, 2012 which was located in the 125 space. The Express Café began operations in 1980, and was closed by the Health Board in January 2012. This was the beginning of the Uptown 7 space.

Uptown 7th expanded to include the neighbouring space at 127, probably at some point in either 2013 or 2014. This space is more suitable for art exhibitions as it has better lighting, larger windows, level street access and the floors are probably in better condition.

Who is J.J. (Jonathon) Sunstrum?

I could find very little information available on him.

As a result I had to depend on what he himself provided on his website. In the Uptown 7th website, he has indicated that he previously owned the Powder Horn Saloon in Bragg Creek and the Mountain Pizza and Bistro also of Bragg Creek. As best I can determine the Uptown 7th website was probably created in 2013 and has only had a few minor updates since that time.

In the Uptown 7th website it would appear as if Sundstrom moved to Calgary during 2001. In 2007 he showed that has some local political ambitions by running for Mayor against the incumbent Dave Bronconier. During that election, there were nine candidates running. Sundstrom placed last, receiving 1813 votes (0.86% of the vote).

This was followed in 2013 when nine candidates also ran for the position of Mayor against the incumbent, Naheed Nenshi. Sundstrom placed 8th receiving 775 votes out of 262,577 votes cast.

Programming

The name for the gallery as best I can determine, and it is speculation on my part, is as a derivation of Uptown 17 which was the name of the BRZ for 17th Avenue SW. I suspect it is still in operation, but the focus has definitely changed in the past ten years or so.

I am quite familiar with Uptown 17 (now known as 17th Avenue Retail & Entertainment District) as I was actively involved in conversations with the BRZ as a result of my working in a commercial gallery which was located in the BRZ. We worked closely with the BRZ when it actively supported the visual arts and prior to the time when the approximately 10 (sometimes more, sometimes less) galleries all shared frontage onto the small section of the avenue between 4th and 10th Streets for approximately 20 years (or more?). Now, I think there is only one recently established gallery on the avenue and it does not have street frontage. At one time the BRZ championed the visual arts quite a bit and commissioned respected artists through a yearly(?) open competition to create murals to enliven the street.

Enliven the street it did, as there were some significant artworks created by artists such as Joane Cardinal-Schubert, Alexandra (Sandy) Haeseker, , Bill Laing, Barbara Milne, Gary Olsen, John Snow (destroyed in a fire), Wade Stout and I am quite certain that I am definitely missing others who should be listed.

I found an unattributed image of one of the murals that once was located on 17 Avenue on the internet without any indication of who took the photo. This is a work by Sandy Haeseker from the time when she was working on a large series of prints and paintings of English Sheep Dogs that she did for an extended period of time.

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However in the name of progress many of those artworks were quietly removed, the maquettes were sold off. As an aside I once purchased a Dulcie Foo Fat painting that was a maquette for a mural that was never commissioned, that I subsequently sold. The demise of 17th Avenue as a gallery row occurred around the time when Shopper’s Drug Mart removed an old building located on the corner of 7th Street and 17th Avenue, a building which housed my favourite drinking establishment in those days – the old, dark, and dingy, brick-lined Mercury that had paintings of Brad Harms on the wall. Usually there was a fluctuating number of artist types who would meet every Friday after work and regularly stay from early to quite late in the evening usually ending up getting serenaded by the sounds of Sideshow Sid and his epic collection of vinyl. The death of the gallery strip was followed shortly thereafter by similar action the block west where the Best Buy is currently located. Both of these buildings were not in sympathy with the buildings in the area. In my opinion, it became the death of the strip as a viable place to do business as a small business owner, and now has the personality of a factory outlet by comparison. The ascent of the Red Mile which was also just starting around the time when the entire cultural change of that street became noticeable.

But I digress after this small walk down memory lane.

Back to Uptown 7th.

Somewhere along the way, I recall seeing a defaced Uptown 17 poster/pennant/ flag in the window of the Uptown 7th space. Someone had painted over(?) the #1 in 17 but otherwise everything else was the same. Those flags are not used any more, so I am sure that it was salvaged in some way, probably around the time, or before Uptown 7th became what it is now.

As a gallery, there have been surprisingly few exhibitions. The space which I have attended art exhibitions (the 127 space) is marginal at best. From sources that I believe correct, there is black mold in the interior spaces and the building roof leaks into the spaces below. It is probably unheated and is lit by construction lighting and heated by electrical space heaters. Quite frankly the buildings have been neglected for a number of years (probably decades). I am sure that the conditions predated the beginnings of Uptown 7th.

Sometimes you have to work with what you have. I am trying to be as objective as possible. This no doubt affects the type of shows that can be presented, and to an extent the type of art that will be presented.

The most visible aspects of the programming are the regularly changing messages, quotes and jokes that are placed on the blackboard of the 125 building exterior. The music (usually CKUA) and the large screen TV in the window often plays older movies. All these are seemingly meant to entertain those waiting for the C-Train on the station across the street.

The 127 space, occasionally has exhibitions, events and occasionally features backlit dancers at night that perform Latin dances that are usually out of synch with the music playing outside.

Because of this, I often look at the space as being a performative type of venue whether intended or not. There is a theatrical type of element present in everything that this space does. In so doing it does play to a core cultural attitude for the city.

One cannot deny the importance of theatrical, musical, dance, festivals, entertainment (I include sports here) and how these activities are viewed as core cultural values in the city. This often is done to the exclusion of the visual arts and those small little niche markets mentioned above that can be defined as elitist by some (i.e. chamber music, modern dance, etc.) except for their small core constituencies. Why this is, I do not know.

When there were traditional exhibitions, and the last show was about a year ago in November 2015, they usually featured artists that fell under the radar and are not part of the traditional gallery community. I am aware of a number of the artists who have shown work in the space through just being active in the community and talking to whomever will listen – even though I do not operate a gallery anymore, nor am I really involved. But when I was, I loved given unproven artists a break, even though I didn’t always sell their work and sometimes showing their work cost me more money than it was worth. For many of these artists, just having the chance to show their work is a small success. A career is built upon a series of small successes. Many of those artists have never forgotten me and usually want to chat me up when we cross paths and usually ask when I will get back into the business again.

These shows usually lasted for a couple days to maybe a week in length. They are as follows:

  • Watercolours by 17 year old artist Natalie Slaba – November 2015)
  • Paintings by Mateja Šmic (or alternatively Mateja Schmitz) – October 2015
  • Paintings by Enriquito Selfismo – September 2015 (a Cuban artist that I understand is now living in Florida)
  • Traditional b&w photography by Clarke Kinaschuk – August 2015 (now living in Toronto?)
  • Paintings by Enrique Hernandez (Selfismo?), Yulin Qin and Juyan Chen – June 2015 (Grand Opening event)

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The space with the most amount of activity is the apartment above 129. It is here that Sundstrom and Shimbashi reside (November 15, 2016 edit: This information is incorrect as the space is used as an office instead, as will be discussed further in  an upcoming posting). What we see here is bubbles that are often discharged at random times of day and night from one of the upper storey windows. It creates a bit of a magical effect. While waiting for or riding the C-Train I have heard more than a few times people commenting on this part of the space. I have seen children trying to catch the bubbles, occasionally an adult too.

What benefit does this space provide?

I remember this section of the street from when I was still in high school. Occasionally, after school, I would go downtown with some of my fellow classmates. There was an arcade in one of the spaces, possibly below the residence. I also remember being propositioned to purchase drugs on this section of the street periodically during that high school timeframe as well.

7th-ave-sw-100-block-circa-2006

When Art Central opened, this section of the street definitely was seedy. There is no question about that. It was an area of urban blight. It was a section of downtown that was considered to be unsafe by many people and an area to be avoided.

Around the time that Art Central opened (across the street and other end of the block from Uptown 7th) the C-Train platform was moved from between 1st and 2nd Streets to it’s present location between Centre and 1st Streets. During this time there was a C-Train platform on the south side of the street which was removed and relocated one block to the east where the current Centre Street platform now resides adjoining the Hyatt Hotel and the Calgary Convention Centre.

Approximately when both C-Train platforms were relocated and Art Central opened, Heritage Property Corporation purchased a series of these buildings. For a number of years Heritage Properties tried to create the Seventh Avenue Autopark Inc. which was a driverless, automated parking lot which was to be located directly above these buildings. This would allow the refurbishment and rehabilitation of the buildings similar to what they did in the Lougheed Building around the corner on 1st, which houses the Grand Theatre and buildings that once housed the old Calgary Public Museum.

Stuart Block, 7th Avenue, Calgary

Presumably around the same time, there was a forced eviction of “undesirables” who were residing in the three-storey Stuart Block. It is this building in the photo above. Because so many of the people who used this building as a home lived on the margins of society there was little uproar about the forced eviction. However, This is My City Society in cooperation with the High Performance Rodeo presented a performance which addressed the last days before the eviction as part of the Cultural Capital activities during 2012. The building outside for the most part has been vacant since that time.

This all was taking place around the same time that the York Hotel and the Regis Hotel were getting vacated; the Art Central project was nearing completion; and The Bow building was beginning; the Calgary Convention Centre was expanding and the Hyatt development was happening. There was definitely some over-riding desire to gentrify the few blocks in that area during that time.

7th-ave-autopark-drawing

In the end, numerous attempts were made to City Council to make the auto park project happen. Ultimately, it never got off the ground. No doubt, there was substantial amounts expended to do the engineering reports and other related expenses. Having the buildings mostly vacant, and the few that were occupied were probably barely covering operational costs for the remaining buildings. With the local economy in a tough spot, and the last attempt to make it happen got shot down (again) around the time that the price of oil collapsed in 2014, that probably was the end of the road for the financial viability of this project. In some ways, I am surprised that they lasted as long as they did. As a result, the buildings were placed into receivership (or bankruptcy) as evidenced by the photo at the top of the page.

Legacy of this project

The biggest legacy to this project is public safety. With this project being where it is and activity happening all the time, Uptown 7th has become the eyes on the street. Often we will see Sundstrom on the street doing things like sweeping up cigarette butts and trash. He will be up on the roof shovelling off the snow. He is out there often. By blowing bubbles from an upstairs window the human presence is evident.

By doing these things it has created public safety for C-Train patrons that may not be as noticeable at other downtown C-Train stops.

For illustration, I will use the Centre Street platform located the next block over as an example. Here there is no human presence across the street after hours where the old Regis Hotel (cardboard is currently in the windows), the old Calgarian (now a fitness centre active during the day) and the Legion #1 which are all located in that block. In addition to this there are no C-Train platform entrances to either the Convention Centre or the Hyatt leaving the platform virtually unattended at any point outside of the business and daylight hours in the downtown core. There are a few small businesses that keep their doors locked and a Calgary Transit ticket place that is busy at the end of every month and various points in between. There also is some public art piece of standing people which allows for a place to blend in with the sculptures and rest while taking advantage of the heating vents located below them, where police will often visit at night to check on those who like to hang out there.

When comparing both the Hyatt block and the one located where Uptown 7th is located, there is a significant difference in terms of activity. The Palomino usually has people on the street most evenings at one end of the street. In the middle, they both are the same with unoccupied heritage buildings with Uptown 7th on the other end. The platform of course may change once the Telus Sky project is completed in a couple years, as I understand there will be a residential component to it.

There is a measurable difference in the number of transit customers who wait on the two platforms after hours, using comparable times.

Although the cultural significance of the art gallery is debatable, the appearance of safety that has come with the gallery and the activity surrounding it, is undeniable.

This all brings me to the compelling reason to write about Uptown 7th

I often pass by Uptown 7th at various times of day and night because of the C-Train. I also often read the chalk board messages, just like many others also do.

About three weeks ago, early October (maybe it was late September) there was a message indicating that the buildings may be sold and that they would find out on the following Monday. I paid more attention as a result. Early the following week, I noticed that there was a message indicating that the building had been sold.

By the time I remembered to bring my camera with me, the message had been erased and replaced with another. Nevertheless, we do know that the building indeed has been sold. This is confirmed from the listing agent who has stated this fact on their website.

My assumption is that because it was a judicial sale, possession would take effect as quickly as is reasonably possible. A possession date, that starts at the beginning of the month after receiving court approval would seem like a plausible timeframe.

This means that the possession date could reasonably be expected to occur as soon as today (November 1, 2016).

Therefore, we may see changes to this block in the very near future.

I would also think that something big will happen in terms of development in this block in the near future. It will probably will not happen right away. I would think that with this block of buildings, the purchaser owns enough property on the block, that it is merely just a matter of time before something moves forward and this block will be gentrified.

A number of years ago in 2006, when The Bow building was still in development, Bob van Weegan penned a story in the Calgary Herald, which talked about heritage buildings. This quote which I feel is as relevant now, as it was then, is from that story.

When an old building is sold to developers, that is often bad news for heritage. In some cases, the city or province may provide funding or tax breaks, or use overriding legislative power to preserve a building. But typically when heritage is at stake, there is a negotiation between the developer and public authorities. If a developer is sympathetic and can achieve what he needs on a site without destroying heritage, there is a good chance for a win-win outcome.

I close with this thought to muse upon. Recently, there is an increased city-wide awareness that heritage buildings should be protected (in some way, partly through the Century Homes project which I was happy to be part of). Is it possible that the new project will incorporate the historical buildings in a manner similar to what was done in the Hyatt and Calgary Convention Centre expansion along Stephen Avenue Walk?

8th Avenue Hyatt & Convention Centre facade

My guess is that something like that probably will happen, and it probably will not be a small project either.

I will be watching to see what developments are waiting in the wings.

___

 

Reference (quote):

Bob van Weegan. Calgary Herald. Will EnCana’s twin towers make the most of our heritage?, June 11, 2006.

 

Wreck City Demo Tape thoughts

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A week ago this past Friday (June 19), I attended the opening evening of the newly opened incarnation of Wreck City. I got there late as the last band was packing up. I was only able to see a few things that evening and had to return to see the remainder the following day. Sadly, even though I began writing this on the second day, this project called Demo Tape has now ended.

The last project that this curatorial team called Wreck City was involved with was entitled Phantom Wing. It occurred in the fall of 2013 and I have written at least one or two posts about it. If you are curious, follow the Phantom Wing link to the right.

Phantom Wing (from what I understand) was under the direction of cSPACE (working in collaboration with the curators of the successful original Wreck City project in Sunnyside). I have written a few things about it during the time that the project was running. It was coordinated to kick off the impending demolition stage of the new wing of the King Edward School that is intended to be an arts incubator.

About a month or two ago, the official sod turning event happened at the King Edward School. Two years later (after Phantom Wing), it would appear as if the King Edward School project has finally began the building stage process. As stated optimistically in the press release above, occupancy is scheduled for mid-2016. But given how long it has taken to get to this stage, and with some knowledge of how long construction projects often take, it is my speculation that occupancy will be more likely occur at some point during 2017. But since I am not involved in this project, it is possible that I could be wrong.

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After my little introductory diversion, the curators of Wreck City put the word out in January and in February that they were looking to resurrect the concept once again.

At that stage, they indicated that they were looking for space in the inner city communities. From what I understand there were a number of options that came as a result, which is not surprising given the rapid gentrification and upgrading of older communities in the city. Obviously given that this concept occurred – they found a suitable space.

This event was held in the former Penguin Car Wash overlooking the Elbow River between Fort Calgary and the Esker. It has a fantastic view of downtown Calgary and the mountains behind.

It also has a connection to an art mystery.

Specifically, this mystery involves a series of Rembrandt letters which prove that two recently purchased Rembrandt paintings were indeed forgeries and also involve a murder that was tied to an incident to obtain these letters. Of course, this whole Rembrandt story is a complete fabrication. But it was a small piece of the plot for the movie Silver Streak (1976) featuring Gene Wilder, Jill Clayburgh, Patrick McGoohan and Richard Pryor.

The Penguin Car Wash connection takes place at the bottom of the small hill that the car wash is located upon. The CP railway bridge which crosses the Elbow River and is located directly below the carwash. See next photo, as it is quite possible that this scene was shot from this viewpoint (or nearby).

At the beginning of the third act of Silver Streak, Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor jump from the train into the Elbow River below. I tried to find a clip of the scene, but could not track it down. I guess that means you will have to watch the whole movie instead. It is possible that the Penguin Car Wash is visible in the movie. However, it has been so long since I have seen it, I am uncertain whether it is visible or not.  Now I have to track down a copy and view it again as well.

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After, yet another diversion, back to the Penguin Car Wash and Wreck City’s Demo Tape.

As stated earlier, I visited opening day toward the end of the night. The band that I heard while waiting for the freight train to pass, was already starting to pack up by the time I arrived. As a result, I only got to see some of the installations. However, I came back the following day when it was less busy and saw the remainder when there were less crowds.

It was interesting, however this version, did not have the same amount of buzz around it that I recall from the first iteration. Why that was, I am unsure. Maybe it was a bit more structured, formalized and probably a bit more thoughtful.

These are all good things, that are to be expected as an organization matures and changes.

Midway through the event, the organizers were forecasting that they would get 5000 attendees. Although the final numbers of those who attended have not been released, based on the following comments, a guesstimate can be made that probably somewhere between 2500 and 3000 people most likely attended. This is a solid attendance for an art event with little media support.

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Of course this cannot compare with the approximately 8000+ that attended the original project. We can attribute this variance to any number of reasons, given that both took place over a similar time period. Some of these reasons are:

  • Public transit accessibility – original was two blocks from a C-Train platform vs. Demo Tape had little transit infrastructure nearby and about a kilometre away from the nearest C-Train platform.
  • Time of year – the original event occurred at the end of university/college school term (last week of April) vs. Demo Tape occurred at the end of primary school term and the beginning of summer holidays for many.
  • Cultural awareness – the original event ramped up in the fading days of the year-long Calgary 2012 event when awareness of cultural events was high (with Calgary 2012 receiving seed money and support from organizations such as the federal government’s Department of Heritage, Calgary Arts Development Authority, Calgary Stampede, Calgary Public Library, Calgary Parks and Recreation and others) vs. Demo Tape which depended upon the connection to Sled Island and Wreck City’s own base who attended previous events.
  • Number of artists – original had approximately 150 artists vs. Demo Tape which had approximately 50
  • Cohabitation – to my recollection the original had more cohabitation happening between artists in the same (this is probably the nature of the more intimate nature of the buildings used, where the spaces were smaller and artwork would cross over perceptually even though they were placed in separate spaces in each house) vs. Demo Tape where each artist had more distinctly separated physical spaces for their artwork and larger spaces in general.
  • Newness – the original concept had the perception that it was new (in some ways it was, and for many attendees it was definitely something new. In other important ways it was not. I state this because it was a derivation of a previous project one or more of the curators were involved with a project that occurred in 2011 a few blocks away from the original Wreck City project in the community of West Hillhurst) vs. Demo Tape being the third project by the Wreck City collective after a two-year hiatus.

Were these reasons enough to make a difference?

Maybe. Maybe not.

These will all be factors that the curators will need to figure out when they do their post-event analysis, debriefing and reporting (if they actually do that). Potentially, I am actually doing it for them (or at least giving the curators something to think about).

Audiences can be very fickle and it is hard to determine what the root cause is that will prompt attendance in one case and not the other.

Media

I also have to mention media. Even the news outlets, didn’t get behind this event like they did for the Sunnyside project. During the 10-day run of the project, I believe that only the Calgary Herald actually reported on the project. There also was an interview with a number of the curators on CJSW radio. Both happened on the first day and nothing else happened afterwards.

To be fair, there was certainly coverage leading up to the week leading up to the event, In addition, the media really helped put the word out about the collective’s search for space back in February.

Whatever happened, and why it was not covered as it was previously, I suppose will remain a mystery.

Of course, it is worth mentioning once again, that the visible absence of arts reporting through the vehicle of FastForward Weekly is still noticeable, especially for special events such as this.

This has subsequently made the act of talking about visual arts and exhibitions, somewhat like talking to an audience (that may or may not be there) in a steel drum. I have said it before. I will say it again. Local arts reporting is critically important for an artist’s career and development. It is the same reason why music reporting is important, why theatre coverage is important and sports coverage is important. At the end of the day, they all serve the same type of purpose – to a point.

But, I guess removing visual arts coverage entirely, and/or having said coverage take place from a different geographical location is all done in the name of progress and it is not my call to make. I just try to add my little bit from time to time – and when my own time allows this luxury (since I don’t get paid to write this blog).

The actual event

I must be honest. Although I went, my heart was not overly engaged. The first night I came immediately after work and spent more time talking to people I knew than looking at art. The second day I spent more time relaxing on site and talking to an art teacher who travelled by herself from Madison, Wisconsin to volunteer at the Demo Tape event. I feel bad, because I spent at least an hour or more talking to her – and now I have forgotten her name. She had never visited Canada before, but came with the intent to volunteer, see some scenery, but also to see the two performances of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and a few other groups she wanted to see as part of Sled Island before heading back to Wisconsin. She was a very interesting person to talk to and it was a very enjoyable time.

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There were a number of interesting projects, however overall it gave the appearance of a glorified art school project focusing on installation-based work.

This is understandable, due to the nature of the event. So this is not necessarily a criticism. The majority of work was slated to be destroyed along with the building at the end of the actual event. By that very nature, the works will have an unfinished and raw quality to them. As a result, it will rarely be like something one would see in a gallery setting.

That is both the blessing and curse of this type of event. Expectations potentially can be high, when they shouldn’t be. And the reverse is also true.

As mentioned previously, much of this show had much more conceptual bent than was the case with the two previous iterations – Wreck City (the original) and Phantom Wing. I am unsure why this is the case (and it is certainly not an issue), maybe it was partly curatorial; maybe it was the artist’s interests who applied; maybe it was the nature of a long lead time, with limited amount of time with access to the space; maybe it was just delivery (and how it was perceived); or maybe it was a combination thereof. In the end it doesn’t matter.

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For me, some of the highlights of this event were (and there were certainly more):

J.D. Mersault’s installation/performance/story entitled Forty-Four Fragments for a Car Wash (see http://fortyfourfragments.tumblr.com/).

At first I did not pay much attention to what was going on, when I saw the artist sitting at a desk writing, since it was the first piece I encountered upon entering the site and wanted to head straight in knowing that I only had a limited amount of time.

However, once I realized that this was part of the exhibition, and the more I looked at this work, and thought about it – the more I found it fascinating. It was a multi-disciplinary piece that was not static, but combined elements of durational performance, installation, memory, poetry and more. I was very intrigued by what he was attempting to do.

Obviously, what I encountered on the first night was a work in progress. What intrigued me was the dialogue that the artist had with two works that I was previously familiar with – 1.) John Scott’s piece Trans Am Apocalypse No. 2 (1993) which is in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada; and 2.) Joan Cardinal Schubert’s The Lesson (1989) which was first shown at Articule Gallery in Montreal.

In Cardinal-Schubert’s work (which was included in the Glenbow’s Made in Calgary: The 1990s large group exhibition. In this Made in Calgary show it was recreated and incorporated as part of that exhibition a little over a year ago. In that installation Cardinal-Schubert installed school desks, chalk boards and other related ephemera as it talked about residential school for aboriginal students. There is an image to her work as installed at the Glenbow in 2014 here. Of course, this is timely given the recent release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Report. It however should be stated that Mersault’s work does not have the same political edge that Cardinal -Schubert’s has.

In John Scott’s piece, the artist transcribed and etched the complete Book of Revelations of St. John the Evangelist into the entire surface of a black Trans Am. In JD Mersault’s piece he was in the process of writing the contents of a new book onto a steel desk. This was intended to cover the surface of the desk in a manner similar to John Scott’s piece mentioned above. I am somewhat disappointed that it was only the top surface, and the not the entirety as in the case with Scott’s Trans Am. But I also understand, that it is a time-exhaustive process with only a limited amount of time – so I cannot be too disappointed. This work was being written during the duration of the Demo Tape event in his position as writer-in-residence – a piece entitled Forty-Four Fragments for a Car Wash (see hotlink above) which he would like to publish at the end of the event. I am very intrigued and curious to see where this work will lead.

J_D_Mersault_writing_Wreck_City_Demo_Tape_19_June_2015 (1024x768)

Palmer Olson’s installation My Favourite Buildings. Here the artist deconstructed the office space, catalogued the items; and packed it up. He then attached a packing slip with all the contents of the office listed; provided instructions and renderings, ready for reinstallation elsewhere.

The dialogue involved with this work engaged with the larger concept of gentrification; adaptive re-use of historical spaces; demolition of marginal space; sustainability; and other issues surrounding construction waste as a result of new development (in both greenfield and brownfield areas) which all adds to our landfills.

It is an interesting dialogue to have in the city with all the rapid gentrification (although not to the same extent as was happening even a year ago); and the generally prevailing concept that new is better than old, bigger is better than small.

This dialogue is an important one to have and it lends itself well to this type of project.

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Palmer_Olson_Wreck_City_Demo_Tape_Packing_Slip_detail (1024x768)

Lane Shordee’s and Desiree Nault’s installation With Sprinkles.

This installation which was located directly beside Palmer Olson’s was a two part installation. I hate to use the word beautiful (and maybe even a bit magical), but sometimes these terms fit.

One of the rooms, presumably an office space of some sort was enclosed and it was possible to only look into it. Above this room was a windmill made from materials salvaged from the car wash. Using this windmill, 24 kg of iridescent confetti was ground up and passed through a hand-made sieve and allowed to descent into the room below like snow. Presumably through wind-currents in the room it created this magical space that had a sense of otherworldliness, but yet at the same time was very familiar. Because the photo was taken quite early on the iridescence is not as visible as it would be toward the end of the 10 days.

When I visited the space earlier today to get a photo of the CP Rail bridge, the windmill was still operational. It is visible in a photo that I took on opening day and have placed near the top of this posting. It is somewhat easy to overlook, but you can see it in the image with bicycles in the front and the building behind. It is on top of the building to the left of the sign that states “The Club is Open”

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Lane and Desiree’s installation tied in well with another magical space created by Ben Nixon and Rachelle Quinn entitled Perhaps this Sound.

I was fortunate enough to have been asked to leave (along with everyone else at closing time on opening night) as I was just entering the room where this installation was located. I say fortunate, because had I actually visited it, I might otherwise have missed what made the space interesting.

The following day, on Saturday, I was the only one in that room.

As a result, I was able to interact with the keyboard that was part of the installation and play around with it without feeling pressure to move on. The interactive element, and there were other installations that were interactive and interesting such as The Cave were interesting as well, but in that case, I encountered it with lots of people around. Perhaps the Sound installation appealed to me on a more personal level and the other may have been different if I was the only one there. With the immersive music; the ability to control lights and sounds (somewhat, even though the outcomes may be unpredictable); and the immersive nature of the space with multiple senses being activated was a very enjoyable diversion and short-term escape that I enjoyed.

Install_Detail_Ben_Nixon_Rochelle_Quinn_Wreck_City_Demo_Tape_20_June_2015 (1024x754)

Overall, this iteration was different, and had a more thoughtful feel to it, than was my recollection and perception of the previous two iterations.

* * *

Now that the space is vacant, what is the plan moving forward?

This is something that has not really been talked about to the best of my knowledge.

From sources that I believe to be knowledgeable, the space is slated to be demolished (which is probably common knowledge given the nature of the project).

This is being done to make way for a new residential complex. Unlike most recent constructions of late, this will be built as a rental property. This is potentially an interesting location for a new residential development as recent news has had a fair amount of conversation about the new LRT Green Line expansion.

This all gets back to my initial comments about Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in the movie Silver Streak in a round-about way. Let me explain.

Recently, the federal government made a $2.6 billion announcement of new federal infrastructure funds for transit infrastructure in Toronto made by the current Prime Minister in Toronto, the day before Wreck City Demo Tape opened. No doubt, as the journalists who penned the Globe and Mail story intoned in the opening paragraph, this was timed to create warm fuzzy feelings amongst the voting electorate in the critically important Toronto battleground for the upcoming federal election in mid-October. Cynically, but also recognizing the nature of electoral politics (it is a fair assumption, that each party running wants to form government, or at least that is the theory. Otherwise, why would they run?). To do so they will each make announcements to entice voters to vote for them. Because of that, I am sure there will be further announcements in the near future that will be equally as transparent.

Currently there are 23 ridings which are currently split almost evenly in terms of representation between the three major federal parties (9 CON, 7 NDP, 7 LPC). From what  read as well, the polling for the GTA is very, very tight with only a few percentage points between each party. With the new electoral district redistribution the city of Toronto will get two new ridings (and the province of Ontario as a whole will get half of the 30 new seats), it will make Toronto that much more important, for any political party that wants to form the next government, but I digress. As someone who is very interested in the political process (not so much party politics), and given these facts, to my mind, it made perfect sense that the current government made this new funding announcement in Toronto.

Of course, this prompted Calgary to also get on track (I know, I know – bad pun) to immediately seek it’s share of the newly announced federal transit infrastructure funding for the Green Line expansion and the Green Line North (aka North Central LRT) which is part of the 30-year plan RouteAhead project.

If this expansion moves forward, it will be adjoining or certainly within close proximity to this new residential development. I say this, as my understanding is that the Green Line is proposed to follow (at least in the inner city portion) the current CP Rail line which is located only a few metres from the Demo Tape site (a jumping off site, if you will pardon the lame joke that references the Silver Streak movie).

Of course this new redevelopment may potentially reduce the current view of the downtown core from the Esker Foundation space. This is interesting given the recent Calgary Herald story earlier this month, which talks about the purchase of the former Farmer Jones auto dealership which was located across the side street from the Atlantic Avenue Art Block which houses the Esker to save the view from the gallery.

It is probably doubtful as I have included an image from beside the CP Rail bridge (the Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor jump off site) which shows the Atlantic Avenue Art Block which houses the Esker (the four story building that the rail beside the tracks points to in this photo) and the Demo Tape space (Penguin Car Wash site) to the right of the two trees in the photo below. And ironically the jump-off point is right in the middle of the two.

As with all new higher density developments, it will be interesting to see how the new development changes the nature of the communities of Inglewood and Ramsay.

View_looking_east_above_Elbow_River_toward_Esker_Foundation_and_Penguin_Car_Wash_01_July_2015 (1024x768)

* * *

24 July 2015 @ 12:45MDT edit:

Further to my comments above regarding the GreenLine LRT and RouteAhead expansion, I read with interest that there was a Federal government announcement made this morning with regards tot his project. According to this posting made earlier this morning in the City of Calgary’s news blog, this announcement is the “single largest infrastructure investment in Alberta’s history.” This project will run from the as yet undeveloped community of Keystone Hills in the far north end of the city through to Seton in the deep south which is still undergoing development surrounding the newly established South Calgary medical centre.

Yarn-bombed house in Sunnyside

Yarn_Bombing_project_832_10_Ave_NW_Calgary_May_24_2015

I know that I have been somewhat negligent about posting new stories on this blog, since March. It has certainly not been for lack of ideas of things to write about.

During a six-week portion of that two or three month period, I had a very time sensitive contract with very long hours required. Usually what that meant is that I would wake up, go to work shortly after the sun was up, come home after dark and go to sleep (repeating daily).

So now I have time to write once again – sorta.

The project I want to write about tonight, is something that I mentioned last summer (August 12). In that post, I indicated that this project was to take place last September. It did not occur. However, it was not forgotten, only the timeline moved and came together later. This is what I stated about this project at that time:

An organization I have written about in the past, This is My City Art Society is partnering with the Calgary Homeless Foundation to create an art event. Together they are trying to draw attention to this issue and as part of this, they are going to yarn-bomb the recently purchased house slated for demolition, which is located in a prominent NW location during September.

The wrapping of this house in a giant quilt, is meant to symbolize the warmth and comfort of a home.

In my absence, the yarn-bombing project moved forward and is located at 832 – 10 Street NW (at the bottom of the hill below SAIT and Alberta College of Art and Design, and across the street from Riley Park).

The organizers also involved the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Farmer’s Market. Obviously, a number of knitted or crocheted items were collected at the sale this past week. I am sure that there were other methods of collecting items to wrap the house as well, probably some of which were collected last summer as mentioned in my initial post.

I have no idea, and I could be corrected on this, but I would assume that they would still be very interested in collecting more items for the house. I am sure if someone deposited more squares on the porch of the house, It would be my assumption that the items would eventually find a way onto the side of the building.

Yarn_Bombed_Stairs_at_832_10_Street_NW_Calgary_May_24_2015

Fortunately I have a few friends who have posted photos about the project on my personal facebook. They volunteered to help install quilts onto the house today. The photo at the top came courtesy of one of these people – Georgie. This lovely detail of a stairway (see above) came from yet another – Angela.

The Calgary Homeless Foundation issued a press release about this projecta couple weeks ago. In it they indicted what their plans are for this space, which reads as follows:

CHF has purchased a home that has been slated for demolition; in its place, a brand new, fully accessible apartment building will be built and become home for 25 Calgarians exiting homelessness. . .

Construction of Aurora on the Park was made possible through funding from the Government of Alberta, and local Calgary Home Builder, StreetSide Developments: A Qualico Company, as part of the RESOLVE Campaign

This project involves This is My City Art Society, which is a relatively new organization (formed as one of the legacies of Calgary 2012). The organization serves an often neglected demographic in the city is stated on their website (which is linked above):

This is My City Art Society (TMC) believes that the creative voice of every citizen has value and that we are all richer for having listened.

The work that TMC does not only enriches the lives of the disenfranchised people in its programs, it opens the door for dialogue among all citizens. It builds bridges so that stereotypes can be broken down and common values can be clearly seen and celebrated.

This is My City is a volunteer-run, nonprofit society that brings opportunities for positive creative expression into the lives of some of Calgary’s most marginalized citizens: the homeless and those at risk of homelessness. Professional artist-mentors bring their skills and love of art into the shelters and service agencies year-round and connect with individuals to make music, theatre, and visual art together.

As mentioned in the press release, there will be a public event on June 9th at the wrapped house (which when I say this and I know it is a diversion, I can’t help but think of Cristo and Jeanne-Claude’s Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin 1971-1995) because the concept is similar, although the execution is much different. I suspect however, that this June 9th event will be mostly designed for the media to announce the newly built project which will be called Aurora on the Park, located on the yarn-bombing site.

The address is 832 – 10 Street NW.

* * *

Ironically, and I am going to go on a bit of a detour before I close, this location is probably a block (maybe two) away from the former Wreck City location which occured around this time in 2013, just before the flood. Those that attended the original Wreck City, may recall that one of the artists also quilted a portion of one of the house exteriors. If I recall correctly, the artist then was Suzen Green who also draped the Mario Armengal figures in Mummer’s costumes, which are/were located on the former Calgary Board of Education grounds downtown. In that way these two project relate somewhat, in a rather circuitous route.

I hear through the grapevine that Wreck City after months of attempting to find a location for a reincarnated version of that project, has indeed found a new location about a block and a half away from the Esker Foundation. This event will take place next month, between June 19 – 28. I am sure that we will hear more about it in the near future. Meanwhile, here is a news story that talks more about what their initial plans are for the old Penguin Car Wash overlooking the city and the Elbow River in Inglewood/Ramsay.

update on the Col. Walker Park gargoyles

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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.

 

The potential imminent demise of a cultural legacy

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Yesterday afternoon (Sunday) after visiting my family for the holidays, I happened to be downtown and noticed that active demolition work was being performed on the site adjoining the former Art Central Building – which will soon be known as the new Telus Sky Building site.

It is possible that I did not mention it, but I certainly alluded to it previously, that the external walls of the Art Central Building proper (a.k.a. the old Jubilee Block) were fully demolished a little over a week ago. It took longer than what I originally anticipated it would take. I have also noticed demolition is more active on the weekends than it is during the week. I wish that I could say that the same thing happened when the York Hotel was being demolished when I had an active small business operating across the street from it. That is in the distant past and water under the bridge, now that my business has closed. But I digress.

Now the demolition has begun to move on from the Art Central Building (which is complete) and onward to the adjoining Col. James Walker Park and single level building below.

The Col. James Walker Park was little more than a flat cement surface on the +15 level that housed a small open-air fenced off playground made accessible for children who have care facilities in the neighbouring buildings connected to the +15 network.

One of those nearby buildings that contains children during the workweek is the adjoining Len Werry Building. It will be incorporated into the larger Telus Sky building project. In addition to the offices located above in that building, the Len Werry Building also houses the Calgary Board of Education’s W. H. Cushing Workplace School for grades K-3.

From a press release issued earlier this month, the Calgary Board of Education is now seeking a new partnership for this school. The W. H. Cushing School began operations at this location in 1995 and its current lease ends in July 2016. As a casual observer of these type of things, I would now consider it a safe assumption that if the right opportunity came along, all parties involved probably would seriously contemplate ending the lease prematurely. This is especially true given the amount of construction taking place in the immediate area both now and in the immediate future. As many will know, and I know personally from past experience, this type of activity can be highly disruptive to either a business or learning experience.

Calgary_Herald_Building_And_Lougheed_Building_with_Grand_Theatre

The Len Werry Building has an interesting history. Part of that interesting history is surrounded in confusion. As seen in the photo above the Calgary Herald Building (built circa 1913) has a similar footprint, design and scale to the Len Werry Building. This is especially true, when one considers how the other building later occupied by the Calgary Herald was changed around the same time (see photo below).

Len_Werry_Building_prior_to_C-Train_platform_placed_on_block

In the interim between the two buildings. The Calgary Herald Building was re-purposed and re-used as the Greyhound Bus Terminal which was its use between circa 1947-1971.

We know that there was some modification at the time its use was changed to allow buses to access the interior of the building. I have seen photos of the building when it was used as a Greyhound Bus Terminal and it appears somewhat similar (at least from the exterior facing 7th Avenue and 1st Street SW) to its previous use as the Calgary Herald Building as seen above. As a result, I question how much modification was done to the exterior except where buses entered and/or left. I would expect that there probably were significant modifications to the interior to allow access for buses as well.

One thing that is interesting about the repurposing of this building is that it housed Luke Lindoe’s first major public art commission (1947). We know that it was a portal relief in concrete. According to information that I have in my possession, and dates from when Luke Lindoe was still living, it is understood that this commission was destroyed. Presumably it was destroyed in the building’s demolition, prior to the Len Werry Building being built circa 1973 or 1974.

In an October 1971 news story in the Calgary Herald, it was indicated that the new Len Werry Building would be 10-storeys high and cost $12-million to build. Obviously there was some changes after that time as it would appear that the current building is slightly higher as seen in the photo above.

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

Getting back to the confusion, it increases due to the fact the Calgary Herald later occupied two buildings across the street (the former Southam Chambers Building that was re-clad with marble in the 1970s along with a smaller press building across the alley to the north, as seen in the photo above) both of which were destroyed in either 2012 or 2013. The Southam Chambers Building was built at the same time as the Calgary Herald Building, using the same architect and with the same corporate ownership. Of course anyone that knows much about the newspaper industry would know that the Southam family through their ownership of Southam Newspapers owned the Calgary Herald for a very long time including around 1912 or 1913 when the two buildings were constructed.

The last building that the Calgary Herald occupied downtown resided on the site of the new double-tower Brookfield Place which is now a big hole in the ground. For further reference, Christine Hayes from the Calgary Public Library back in January 2012 wrote this helpful blog post which contains a timeline and photos showing a history of the Calgary Herald and their buildings.

* * *

I guess I have gone on a bit of rambling preamble to the main point of my current post – the terra cotta gargoyles created by English stone carver connected to the Royal Doulton China company, Mark V. Marshall [1879-1912]. Marshall was commissioned by the Southam family to produce these gargoyles I want to talk about further.

To do this properly, we must go back to the period around 1912.

In what was still essentially a frontier town, the population in the City of Calgary had only reached 47,000 at the population height during 1912. It was a time when the city was undergoing rapid growth as evidenced by the formation of the 100,000 Club which anticipated that the population would reach that number by 1915. It was also the year that the Calgary Stampede was recreated in its modern form throwing off the shackles of its Agricultural Fair past dating back to 1886. It was also a time when the focus started in creating a ‘world-class city’ a discussion which continues to the present day.

In that context, there were a couple ideas percolating in the city. One of these was the establishment of public art (a topic that I have written about previously, I probably will write about again, and what I want to talk about now).

I previously have discussed the reproduction of Auguste Kiss’ sculpture Mounted Amazon Attacked by a Panther that was installed in Central Memorial Park (which is still presumed missing); along with Louis Philippe Hébert’s heroic-scaled equestrian commissioned sculpture of an anonymous cavalry officer to commemorate the Boer War which was intended to be paid for by a group led by Major Stanley Jones, but in the end was largely paid for by the City due to unfortunate timing of WWI and drought in the area. Both of these sculptures can make reasonable claims for being the first piece of publicly-situated sculptures in the City.

In the Wikipedia entry that talks about the Hébert sculpture, makes this fabulous claim, “the statue is one and a half times life size, and has been described as one of the four finest equestrian statues in the world.” Although that last part sounds rather intriguing to ponder, interestingly there is no note attributing the source attached. It is a high standard that is claimed, so I would be rather curious to know how the ranking was determined; and what methodology was used to do so. There are some other comments in the same entry that also made me raise an eyebrow as well. To my mind, all these claims as a whole, suggest to me that whomever wrote this part of the entry must be prone to engaging in a bit of world-class thinking, but I digress. All that from trying to remember what the artist’s first name was.

The third public art project in the 1911-1914 period was the gargoyles which I mentioned briefly above.

In the photo at the top of this post which shows the active demolition of the Col. James Walker Park and the one-storey building below shows a series of visible gargoyles.

In the summer of 2013, knowing the ultimate destiny of this park given the news release announcing the Telus Sky development plans, I took photos of the Col. James Walker Park while it was still accessible to the public. Here is a photo of the gargoyles which are attached to the Len Werry Building at that time. In the photo at the top of this post, they still appear to be there.

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These gargoyles are interesting in themselves, but also are a source of some speculation as well.

The gargoyles were originally attached to both the Calgary Herald Building and the Southam Chambers Building. There was a large number of them which decorated the building exteriors. When the Calgary Herald/Greyhound Bus Lines Building was demolished in 1972 (probably) many of them were salvaged. There was speculation that when the Southam Chambers Building exterior was re-clad in Vermont white marble that the gargoyles attached to that building may have been covered over. Like some speculations this has continued to this day. However in a Calgary Herald article written by the then publisher, Frank Swanson on June 04, 1966 in response to inquiries about what is going on at the Herald building, stated the following:

Several people have expressed dismay that the ancient facing had to be eliminated along with the little gargoyles which decorate the front and side of the building. The fact of the matter was that the old facing of brick and terra cotta had become so weather-beaten and had degenerated so badly that it had become a very considerable hazard. Several pieces, up to the size of a football, have actually dropped off the building in the last two or three years, endangering passers-by below.

So it would seem likely to assume that all the gargoyles were removed from both buildings in the 1966-1972 time period. Whether they were all saved is another question altogether.

Regardless of the ultimate destiny of all the gargoyles, we do know that some gargoyles have been saved.

The January 11, 1973 issue of the Calgary Herald published a photo of two of the gargoyles (see Glenbow Archives photo NA-2864-22325 below).

Glenbow_photo_NA-2864-22325

The caption to this photo states:

Carole Garroni, a Calgary Herald newspaper employee, pictured with gargoyles that were removed from the old downtown Greyhound building before it was demolished. The building had once been the home of the Herald newspaper and the gargoyles were caricatures depicting the employees. They were made in England by Royal Doulton. The removal of the Greyhound building made way for the development of a new Alberta Government Telephones building.

One of the two photographed gargoyles, the theatre critic is currently adhered to the wall of the Len Werry Building as seen below. The editor which is the other featured figure in this photo may potentially still be located in the lobby of the Len Werry Building. However, there is still a similar figure, the stenographer which is affixed to the wall like the theatre critic.

We know that there are approximately ten gargoyles (including some ornamental embellishments, which I am going to assume came from one of the two buildings) that have been incorporated into the sandstone exterior of the Alberta Hotel Building at the corner of 8th Avenue and 1st Street SW. These were added at some point after 1973.

When the building was demolished there was a large public outcry about their destiny. Regardless of the outcry, only 240 of the gargoyles were saved. The City of Calgary owns 46 of them. The Glenbow owns a few of the larger gargoyles as well.

In addition there are a few which are located in the Science B Building at the University of Calgary as well and in the Convention Centre. I am sure that there are probably a few others that I am not aware of.

In talking to Frank Hall in the past, I understand that some of them were dispersed through his auction house in the 1970s. They were sold by the City with the proceeds to fund the Historical Preservation Fund for heritage projects. Periodically they still appear. Recently one appeared on eBay and was the subject of a 2007 news story.

And as seen in the photo I took in the summer of 2013 something like 23 are located on the wall of the Len Werry Building at the Col. James Walker Park.

For now the 23 gargoyles are still safe – barely. Although it would appear as if their destiny may very well be the landfill in the very near future, unless some backhoe operator takes compassion upon them. Personally, having witnessed this sort of thing before, I have very little faith in this happening.

The other alternative to their rescue is if someone rallies the cause and draws attention to their potential demise – just like the careers of those who are portrayed on that wall – the theatre critic, the stenographer, the typesetter, B.S.S. the Devil, the Other Architect, and the cleaner that is a union member.

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Then there is this mural from the students from the W.H. Cushing Workplace School which is still located in the Col. James Walker Park as well. The students who created this would be in high school now, maybe in university. They have probably forgotten about this project that probably mentions Y2K, as have their parents.

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.