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.

sandy_haeseker_mural_previously_located_on_uptown_17

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)

image

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.

 

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A tale of two cities . . .

Galleria_Edmonton_from_Metro_2015_May_27

I had to visit Edmonton for the last couple days. While I was getting ready to return, I noticed and picked up one of the local free newspapers – the Edmonton Metro. The story on the front cover looked interesting and I wanted to read what it was all about.

Sure enough it was interesting.

It was interesting enough that the Edmonton Journal also picked up the story and ran it in the front section, if I recall correctly (although not on the front page).

Briefly, the Edmonton news relates to a billion-dollar project called The Galleria (not to be confused with the gift shop and gallery of sorts that shares the same name in Calgary). The Edmonton project yesterday received a city council investment of $7.5 million, not to mention another $50-million that was already raised privately prior to going to City Council. This new project will incorporate a new home for the University of Alberta Art and Design faculty, four new theatres and some mixed use development. It will be located adjoining the new Royal Alberta Museum that is currently under construction. You can read about it here.

Of course when I got back into Calgary, I got onto my computer to see what was going on in Calgary as well.

Imagine my surprise upon my return, to read a number of things going on at the Alberta College of Art and Design both yesterday and today as well. Of course, a certain amount of activity at educational institutions is to be expected as the school year has wound down and administration can focus on infrastructure projects, planning, etc. over the summer.

What is happening at the Alberta College of Art and Design that might relate to the project at the University of Alberta?

Gisele_Amantea_piece_installed_outside_Illingworth_Kerr_Gallery_at_opening_of_Oh_Canada_show_January_2015 (1024x768)

After my preamble, I will now turn over the significant majority of the remainder of this posting to two people. I do this because I was not privy to the discussions around this decision or the email that was sent out. . . and there is always more than one side to a story. Often reality is somewhere in the middle.

The first person that I want to turn the mike over to is a person by the name of Shauna Thompson. The name is familiar, but I don’t know her personally (or at least I don’t believe so). She posted something to the Alberta College of Art and Design facebook page yesterday and suggested that it could be broadcast widely. Her comments relate to an internal email that was circulated by ACAD to the ACAD community. I must assume that it was sent out yesterday. I can only rely upon the comments of someone else who received it however it came about whether it was direct or not. I understand there is some risk in this, because it may not be factually correct, however I will assume that she has some knowledge of what was included.

Without further ado, here is what Shauna Thompson wrote yesterday (May 26) at 16:24. Her full comments can be read here:

In an email sent to staff and students about “key” budget cuts and restructuring, ACAD administration revealed in a bullet point that IKG Director/Curator Wayne Baerwaldt will be “retiring” at the end of June and they have chosen NOT to fill this position.

ACAD claims that the gallery will not close, but instead “[o]ver the next few months we will work with internal groups on a new management model and plan of action aligned to serve the educational goals of students and faculty of the College within our new fiscal reality.” There has been no official press release that I know of; only this surreptitious, post-semester email.

I should state that I am editing along the way. However, I am trying to keep the integrity and intent of what she said as a whole without diminishing it. She continues:

The idea that a contemporary art gallery embedded within an art school should be required to prove why their existence is important is ludicrously out of touch. It’s telling that ACAD has effectively reduced Wayne, the IKG, and everything their presence has brought to the school — AND TO CALGARY — to a bullet point in a memo.

Thompson states a number of things that Illingworth Kerr Gallery does, and adds this:

These are things that we, as a community (and I mean within Calgary and beyond it), need to fight for.

There are a lot of questions that remain about the administration’s ultimate intent, but this is the kind of terrain we shouldn’t give up to disingenuous announcements about “new fiscal realties” (sic). There has been a lot of talk recently about the relevance of post-secondary arts institutions. What does it mean to the students and to the ecology of an art school to operate without a professional contemporary art gallery? What does it mean for an historically culturally isolated city like Calgary to have even less exposure to international contemporary art, artists, and ideas? What does it mean for all of us when a space for research, support, and presentation of visual art is carved up by administrators with barely a whimper? This isn’t the kind of thing we should let slide.

I will be the first to admit that I am certainly not in the loop about what is happening at ACAD and at the IKG. But I am definitely interested in what is going on there. Be that as it may, Thompson’s questions do have some validity as it relates to a public gallery that is embedded in any educational institution of merit.

Students need to be given access to original work as part of their program of study. How they do that, is something that I will not address, nor should I. Art cannot be learned in isolation, regardless of the fact that most art that is made is a product of predominantly solitary studio-based practice by the artist. If the instruction is focused on predominately contemporary practice, the gallery attached to the institution should also focus on contemporary practice and/or work that will inform contemporary art practice to encourage student growth. Galleries in an educational facility serve an important role that cannot be overemphasised.

The day after Thompson wrote her comments, Alberta College of Art and Design then issued a press release (May 27). I will now turn it over to their media specialist JoAnne Reynolds to say her bit about the same situation. In this case, I have included the media release in it’s entirety below, which can also be read here:

Wayne Baerwaldt, The Director of the Illingworth Kerr Gallery (IKG), is retiring at the end of June. We are very grateful to Wayne for his close to a decade of service at ACAD, not just at the gallery, but also in his role as VP Research and Academic Affairs. He brought a discourse and variety to the College with gallery exhibitions that made an impact on the entire artistic community. His support and passion for students and education was certainly evident.

The IKG is not closing. We are fortunate to have such a space within our walls. It remains an important part of the student experience at the college and we are taking this opportunity to review the role it plays in our institution and how it can better serve our community without filling the director’s position.

World-class exhibits will continue to be curated. We have a very robust visiting artist program at the college and the gallery is steadily becoming a destination for incredible art in Calgary. To that end, an internal committee formed (including faculty, staff, students and alumni) and we will create a new operating plan in the next few months.

The quality of the programming will be unaffected. ACAD’s goal is to make it even more inclusive and representative of the variety of programs at the college to help us thrive and support future academic growth.

The IKG is an essential part of the experience at ACAD and there are different ways to structure the curation of the gallery. We have listed three key positions that we hope to put in place by this Fall below:

1. A Curatorial structure overseen by a faculty member appointment assisted by an internal exhibit committee.

2. We will fill a current administrative vacancy to support gallery operations and coordinate visiting artists, scholars and speakers.

3. The Gallery Technician will remain an integral part of the gallery.

Creativity matters now more than ever. We are embarking on a sustainability process to generate ideas and solutions that supports our school, our community and our world. Like most post-secondary institutions, especially those with less than 4,000 students, ensuring the longevity of the college is our top priority.

It is an exciting time at ACAD right now as we are embarking on a visioning process that collectively students, faculty and staff can reimagine… rethink…and redesign how ACAD will look for the next 90 years and beyond.

So there you have it.

From the opening part of the press release, it would appear as if the future plans for the gallery are already in place.

This makes the final two paragraphs somewhat intriguing, especially given the use of the root word “embark” or as used in both paragraphs, “embarking”. If I understand the term correctly it means something to the effect of – to board something (especially as it relates to a plane or boat); to begin, or; to start a new course. I am going to make an assumption that in this case, the third meaning is the intent as used.

I can’t argue with the sentiment of the first paragraph with the highlighted talking point beginning with “creativity matters now more than ever.” In this section it talks about sustainability. Financial stability is necessary for any institution, business or person if they want to survive, no matter how large or small their financial resources are. However, I do find it surprising that a small part of the budget, (the Illingworth Kerr Gallery) as presented here, it would appear to be a mainsail, or at the minimum a jib, of the boat (ACAD) that is being embarked. From what little I know about budgets, it would be a fair assumption to assume that teaching staffing for a degree-granting institution as a whole, should be substantially higher than operations of a small gallery with a staff of less than five (I am assuming), even if staffing is included as a direct cost of its operations.

Of course, I don’t know what was all included in the first email that prompted Thompson’s comments. However being aware of corporate speak, it would seem fair that that there is significantly more financial austerity planned from ACAD, given that she mentioned the Illingworth Kerr Gallery/Wayne Baerwaldt situation as a bullet point amongst other “new fiscal realities.” If so, then the final paragraph may make more sense and it makes me wonder why there was not another press release issued to talk about those items as well.

To my mind, based on the comments made at the beginning of the press release and the course of action suggested in the remainder of the press release, it would be a logical progression that the decision has already been made.

It would also seem like another logical conclusion that there is no “embarking” that needs to take place. If this assumption is true, it then makes me curious about the remainder of the last paragraph and prompts me to ask the question – how involved in the visioning process were the students, faculty and/or staff in this decision? It is something that I have no answer to. Maybe it was done, maybe it was not.

I also have one concern about the future stated plans of IKG as outlined in the press release. It is based strictly on my own observations and experiences, and this could be an exception (there always is one). My concern is that artistic direction by committee typically is much more challenging and problematic than not. As a general rule, it makes programming much more unfocused, inconsistent and uneven as a result. Some would even suggest the result often is mediocrity.

This prompts another curiosity of mine relating to the paragraph with the talking point “The quality of the programming will be unaffected”. It is a question about what was meant by the use of the word “inclusive”. At an educational institution of higher learning in the visual arts, is “inclusive” programming (however that is defined) something that should be aspired to? Or should programming be made so that students can see current work by artists producing at the top of their game; work that may be controversial with the intent of stirring creative juices amongst student (an example would be a work by Chris Burden that was made at ACAD in the 1970s that resulted in bringing out the fire department and made the local news); and/or works from the collection that show significant works that show how we got to where we are now?

Regardless, I can foresee that there is a high likelihood that the issue of artistic programming by committee will need to be addressed at some point, whether during the time of this administration, or next.

No doubt this is a complicated matter, with few simplistic answers.

This brings me full circle, back to the Galleria in Edmonton.

The two cities are approximately 300 km from each other, both within the same provincial jurisdiction. However, the focus between the two projects spearheaded by academic institutions (presumably both facing similar fiscal realities) couldn’t be more different. We see one project has a focus on expansion of a visual arts program with a substantial buy-in from the community at large; whereas the other project seemingly has a contraction of a visual arts program with an unknown quantity of buy-in from the community. My question is, why the disconnect between the two?

It will be interesting to see where these two projects end up. I will definitely be watching both projects with interest.

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.

The demise of Art Central

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What has become a far too common recent situation in the city started again earlier this week – the long-anticipated demolition of Art Central.

It all began this past Monday – November 17.

This demolition is being done to build a new much-larger multi-use complex on its footprint – the 58-storey Telus Sky building.

I noticed that the windows on the second floor, south side had been removed when I rode by on the C-Train early Tuesday morning. By the time I returned around 4:00 later that afternoon to take the photo I have posted above this is what I saw. There also was a small backhoe visible from street-level when I stood outside the Palomino, which was located inside the space that once housed The New Gallery, and prior to that QUAB Gallery.

On a personal level, I also occupied that same space for about three or four months during the time between the occupancy of the two galleries mentioned above. This was a time when I was in transition and also had a very large non-objective exhibition in 2007/2008 that was spread over three spaces on the +15 level – my old space (unit 207), my new space (unit 203) and this larger space (unit 213).

It is sad to see this building come down.

The building held so much promise, dreams and expectations.

For various reasons, the project mostly failed to deliver on much of that hope and expectation which was built into the initial concept.

There were the external factors, some of which were quite large and played a very important role in its ultimate demise. There were challenges and factors that occurred before the building even opened. And of course, there were the internal factors and the nature of the concept, combined with its location.

I would love to talk further about the dreams, expectations, hopes and disappointments of those involved in this space, either as tenants, owners and visitors. They all helped shape the initial concept into what it ultimately became. It would be an interesting story.

Someday I will.

Today however, I will quietly mourn its demise and wait for the appropriate time and place to talk further.

 

The House Coffee Sanctuary and artist groups

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Earlier today I was in the community of Kensington. I stopped in to attend an exhibition opening at The House Coffee Sanctuary.

I periodically stop in at The House for a coffee and pastry as I like to support small independent businesses if I am able. As a previous small business owner, I find that they are the lifeblood of our communities and that they usually reinvest into the communities where they are based, more than do most of the larger multi-national companies. Whenever I do stop in for a coffee, I have always noticed art on the wall. Like many other independent coffee shops and restaurants they feature art to decorate the space and “provide publicity” to artists.

As a former gallerist, I am of two minds about this practice. Others are as well I am very certain, probably for other reasons. I have provided art to these type of places (coffee shops, restaurants, etc.) and have had the art stolen off the wall. As a result, I have had to purchase the stolen art using funds out of my own pocket. Let’s just say that, “once burned, twice shy” would help explain my feelings toward these type of venues as an art exhibition space. It is hard enough to make a living in the arts as it is, I don’t need the additional stresses of financial success (or failure) that comes as a result of someone else’s whims or desires. I am not a big fan as a result. But that is my own personal experience and not everyone else’s. If it works for others – that is great.

* * *

This is something that I have wanted to write about for some time. The whole concept of small artist groups who rarely, if ever, get any mention.

The exhibition I attended today featured members of one of these groups, The Emmaus Fine Art Group.

Chances are most readers of my blog will not know who these members are. That is understandable as there are many societies or artist groups such as this in the city. There is a long tradition of arts organizations such as this which pre-date the first museum that showed art in the city. As a result, these type of groups are part of my research focus.

Some groups are more well- known than others – groups such as the Alberta Society of Artists, the Canadian Federation of Artists, Burns Visual Arts Society, Untitled Art Society, Alberta Printmakers Society, Bee Kingdom . . . the list goes on, and on. Other groups slip under the radar screen for most that are interested in the visual arts, for various reasons. It is certainly not because they are any less worthy.

What are artist societies?

  • These groups can be a very small group of artists or they can be quite large;
  • They can offer free membership or paid;
  • They may provide studio space – or not;
  • A group could be as simple as a few retirees or stay at home moms who paint. They may form a group out of a need, or an excuse to get out of the house, meet their friends for coffee or a glass of wine, and talk about their work, or paint en plain air as a group;
  • They may meet once a week, once a month, once a year or not at all except for board elections;
  • Alternatively, a group could be a formalized society with its own bylaws, non-profit status and space;
  • The group can take whatever form that they choose, and for whatever reason that makes sense to its members.

Regardless of how they are formed or operate, they are all community-building initiatives. They also serve a number of positive purposes such as:

  • Providing a support mechanism for what is usually a solitary pursuit (producing visual art and/or craft-based work);
  • Provide exhibition opportunities that may not otherwise occur;
  • Provide a reason to produce work;
  • Provide a social network with like-minded individuals.

Locally there has been a strong tradition of artist groups, as seen in the example of both the Calgary Allied Arts Centre and the Muttart Public Art Gallery. Unfortunately both of these organizations are no longer with us, but their legacy does continue in the form of the Calgary Allied Arts Foundation and the Art Gallery of Calgary (now Contemporary Calgary) even that history is no longer relevant to current operations.

Emmaus_Fine_Art_Group_installation_at_The_House_2014_Oct_11 (1024x683)

Getting back to the Emmaus Fine Art Group (see photo above). I had the opportunity to find out more about this group with one of the longest standing members of the group, this afternoon – Sharon Graham. She probably has the highest artistic profile of all the members that were included in the current exhibition. Many of her drawings of suspects in court proceedings have been reproduced in newspapers over the years. If memory serves me correct, she also previously exhibited at Art is Vital when they were once located on the second floor of Eau Claire Market, quite a number of years ago.

She helped me with a bit of the history of this group. The House Coffee Sanctuary is where they most frequently exhibit. They have had a loose association with the coffee shop since shortly after it opened for business.

The thing that ties this group together is that members of the group have religious beliefs. All members (from what I understand) self-identify as being Christian.

I have often wondered why this coffee shop is considered a non-profit. So tonight I investigated this claim. From their website, I read that the coffee shop, “was opened by First Alliance Church in November, 2001.”

Knowing this, it then makes sense why the Emmaus group would show in this venue. There is a mutual support network (or a natural synergy) occurring between the two groups – the church/coffee shop; the artists; and/or the artist society or group.

The church (speaking broadly as a much larger institution of individual localized churches, groups, educational institutions and other related religious communities) has long been associated with visual artists and the arts. This is particularly true for the Roman Catholic Church and one has to only think of the Sistine Chapel and the masterworks found there and elsewhere in their churches to understand how true this statement is. However, to my mind, the Protestant faiths as a general rule, tend not to be as supportive of the visual arts. Rarely does one see much religious art in Protestant churches, except for some sects as seen in their stained glass windows. This is particularly true, especially as it relates to religious art.

Why is this?

If I was to speculate, this probably has something to do with Martin Luther, John Calvin (especially) and the Protestant Reformation; and how religious thought and practice has developed over the subsequent 600 years.

We know that at the time of the Reformation, a new Northern Renaissance in painting took root in what was predominately Protestant countries or areas such as Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Scandinavia and Great Britain. This resulted in a demand for paintings that tended more to the secular, taking the form of portraits; history painting; still lifes; and genre paintings. This work from that period, celebrated the agenda of the Protestant movement. Over time, this presumably developed into a fear of idolatry and as interpreted in Protestant faiths that fine art generally is a distraction to religious devotion.

I have attempted to simplify a very complex relationship in religious thought. I have tried to be as respectful of those with different religious belief systems in my simplified interpretation. For those that might feel it is not correct, as the reader interprets it, I apologize in advance.

Nevertheless, given the framework of this exhibition, and the concept of community development in the arts, it is an interesting question and interpretation to ponder.

Regardless of this, I think that this is a good example of how one develops community in the visual arts. It also shows how multiple groups can facilitate artistic growth and career development. This is a necessary ingredient in achieving success as an artist. Generally, an artist’s career does not develop in isolation, even though their practice usually is a solitary pursuit.

Social Justice Art in Calgary

 

Steven_Cottingham_Truck_Window_at_Epcor_Centre_August_to_September_2014

Steven Cottingham‘s show entitled I’ve Committed Sins No God Could Forgive ended on Sunday, September 28, 2014.

I could have written about this during the midst of the exhibition. I chose not too as the second part of the exhibition will take place today. It is this part that I find most interesting.

As you can see from the photo above, the window exhibition is quite simple containing a wooden pallet; two cardboard boxes; six glass vases and spray-painted(?) text. It is the text that gives the key to the second stage of the exhibition. It reads as follows:

On September 30 I will use the entirety of my artist  fee to have flowers (white lilies) delivered to employees of Suncor, Husky and Exxon Mobil.

I suspect many have walked past this exhibition and not given it a second glance.

In many ways this blog post is primarily geared toward the average employee of three significant corporate entities with Canadian and/or International headquarters located in the city – Suncor, Husky and Exxon Mobil. If one looks at the picture above, it will become self-evident why.

* * *

Steven Cottingham is a Calgary artist. He is a relatively recent graduate from the Alberta College of Art and Design. He is also very involved in the Calgary visual art community. He is also writing a book about art and love, which reflects his artistic practice.

Truck, is the gallery that selected the proposal that Cottingham presented for their programming. Because Truck is an artist-run centre, the work is not for sale. This is typical for most public galleries in Canada (and often elsewhere as well). To compensate the artist for the work that they have done, public galleries pay an artist fee. Usually the base amount (some will pay more) has been determined by an organization called CARFAC (which means Canadian Artist Representation and the French equivalent).

This is different from how a commercial gallery works. In a commercial gallery payment usually comes as a result of the sale of the artwork. There are some exceptions, but usually the amount is determined as agreed under contract between the artist and the gallery.

* * *

Cottingham will receive his fee, which was agreed in advance under contract.

Unlike most artists who would typically pay bills (or whatever is their current priority), Cottingham has chosen to disperse this payment in the form of a gift. This gift will be a white lily to random employees of the three companies mentioned above – Suncor, Husky and Exxon Mobil.

Why is Cottingham doing this?

No doubt, this will be the question around the water cooler at these three companies.

I will attempt to explain.

This is an act of social justice art.

This will of course prompt the question, “what is social justice art?”

Lee Bell and Desai Dipti simply defined it as follows:

Social justice art “encompasses a wide range of visual and performing art that aim to raise critical consciousness, build community, and motivate individuals to promote social change.” (Note 1)

As it relates to this show, a key might be found in recent newspaper article from St. John, NB which relates to a recent solo exhibition of Cottingham’s work which was held in Freedericton, NB. There Cottingham has stated that he finds “it . . . increasingly necessary . . . to use art as a way of bringing attention to these areas of inequality, and even discrimination sometimes.” (Note 2)

Of course this leads to the next question, “what type of social change is Cottingham trying to effect?”

First I would like to put some background to this question, before addressing it later.

What is the significance of the white lily?

There seems to be no consistent meaning for the white lily. However, it is imbued with significant religious meaning, consistently. Teleflora states that white lilies signify chastity and virtue. (Note 3) This website then goes to state that they are a “symbol of the Virgin Mary’s purity and her role of Queen of the Angels “. Although it is not stated, surprisingly, other websites frequently mention that white lilies are often associated with Easter which makes sense given the significance stated in relationship to the Virgin Mary in the website.

In a Swerve article this past weekend, Cottingham is reported to have stated that he interprets white lilies as an “empathetic . . . flower of both sympathy and apology.” (Note 4) As a result, this additional interpretation must also be taken into consideration as well.

Why these three companies?

Outside of what was stated at the top, all I have to work with in this regard is what was stated in the Swerve article. Here, Cottingham stated what was stated at the top and continued by saying these three companies are, “companies that I know at least a couple of my friends (which) are employed (at).” (Note 5)

What is the social justice message intended?

In the Swerve article, Cottingham states, “I wanted to start a conversation about the fact that, on one hand, this economy necessitates certain activities that may or may not be morally sound and are definitely controversial and may be shortsighted” (Note 6)

He then follows on to mention three specifics in passing within the same paragraph:

  • Economic self-sufficiency;
  • Destruction of the land; and,
  • Ignoring rights of First Nation peoples

It is safe to assume that this is based on both personal and larger-scale economics and resource development.

This action would appear to be simply about economic disparity and/or resource development. This is an issue that requires further discussion, as we increasingly see in the news of the day.

Social justice art is a form of contemporary art that I suspect we will be seeing more of in the city during the next year. What form that will take, I am uncertain.

Historically, the arts (not all, but certainly the avant-garde) in its many forms (from theatre and dance to the visual arts) holds an important place at the table as artists and their work engage with politics, social justice or change and other issues. These works have not always been popular at the time they were first produced, but over time in some cases have become iconic works in due course (think Picasso‘s Guernica). I am intrigued to see what potentially may be in the works.

 

Notes:

  1. Bell, Lee; Desai Dipti, “Imagining Otherwise: Connecting the Arts and Social Justice to Envision an Act for Change: Special Issue Introduction”. Equity and Excellence in Education 44:3 (August 10, 2011): 287–295
  2. MacNeill, Jon, “Exhibition casts light on social injustices,” [St. John, NB] Here, June 5, 2014, A26.
  3. Teleflora, “Lily: The meaning & significance of lily”, accessed September 28, 2014, http://www.teleflora.com/about-flowers/lily.asp
  4. Roe, Jon, “4 questions with Calgary artist Steven Cottingham” [Calgary Herald] Swerve, September 26, 2014, 30
  5. Roe, Jon, “4 questions with Calgary artist Steven Cottingham”
  6. Roe, Jon, “4 questions with Calgary artist Steven Cottingham”

New art installed on the 5th Avenue SW underpass

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Recently I wrote about the Burns Visual Arts Society and their 35th anniversary.

As I was doing preparatory research for what I wrote, I encountered a news story that talked about the Neilson Building, and the space crisis for a number of arts organizations that were evicted to accommodate new buildings in 1996. One of those organizations mentioned was The New Gallery which returned back to its original home it had 20 years prior. The building they returned to was a small two-story commercial building facing 9th Avenue between 4th and 5th Streets, directly behind what was once Penny Lane Mall. If I was to guess it stood about where the East Lobby for the Eighth Avenue Place now is. Long story short, they stayed at that location for approximately 10 years. Most of those years I served as the treasurer for TNG. In turn as is often expected in Calgary for arts organizations, the building sold and they once again were evicted. It is all in the name of progress. It is the reality more often than not and just the way it is.

TNG has in turn occupied three different spaces, each time moving for the same reason significant renovations planned for each of the buildings they occupied – first it was Eau Claire Market (they had two different spaces there); then it was Art Central and now they are in Chinatown.

In addition Penny Lane Mall at various times housed commercial galleries, art exhibitions, pop-up galleries and artist studios over the years. In some ways it was a bit of a dead mall, but that was what sometimes made it possible for these organizations to survive. Underutilized commercial or retail spaces are an important part of the ecology for visual artists and arts organizations.

* * *

After my circuitous and rambling pre-amble . . .

The building that rose from the rubble of these two buildings (and others), is now known as Eighth Avenue Place.

There is a bit of an acknowledgement of the history of what once stood on the footprint of the current building location. It is a nice touch. Sadly so much of the knowledge of our city’s built history has been lost over the years. It is found on the +15 level near where SQ Commons once stood. It was in the midst of where the Art Forum Gallery Association‘s initial show which featured a retrospective exhibition of work by Alberta College of Art and Design instructor Dave Casey, the opening of which was held in October 2013.

It is a very interesting building with intriguing architecture. It is more unique than most in the city. I have intended to write about it for quite some time. I just have never got around to it.

A few days ago (Monday, September 22), I noticed that workmen with masonry drills and scissor lifts were installing large illustrated signs on the cement walls on the 5th Street SW underpass – a place where there has never been any signage or artwork previously (except for maybe the occasional piece of graffiti). This underpass is below the railway tracks between 9th and 10th Avenues. I continued on my merry way, but noticed artwork had been installed upon the large plywood or MDF panels, similar to what was done on the construction hoarding when the west tower of Eighth Avenue Place was being built last year.

At the time I thought the use of artwork on the construction hoarding to be a great way to promote Alberta artists and artworks.

I still do.

Of course this was rather fascinating for me to see, as only a month or two ago I wrote about the temporary chalk figures installed in conjunction with Beakerhead on the 4th Street underpass (on the other side of the block). They were  there earlier this week, but have subsequently been painted over by Friday evening, September 26.

Recently, like within the year type of recent, the West Tower to the two tower Eighth Avenue Place was being built. The exterior construction of the second tower is now complete and the new portion of the complex is in the process of being populated with new office workers.

One of the interesting things that the building ownership group did when constructing the second tower was install construction hoarding around the site. That in itself is not all that interesting, but rather what they did with it was. As described in a small double-fold brochure produced by Hines Canada Management Co., ULC (I would assume was produced primarily for tenants) entitled Images of the Alberta Landscape: Sustainability, Art and Architecture, the area is described as follows:

Beginning on Eighth Avenue, following south on Fifth Street and then east along the busy downtown thoroughfare of Ninth Avenue, a continuous stream of art images engage the eye. Enlarged and reproduced on the construction hoarding at Eighth Avenue Place, this outdoor display of original works of Alberta art is a first for the city. A unique affirmation of Eighth Avenue Place’s commitment to Canadian art.

When this first went up probably about two years ago I was very excited to see some familiar works, some of which I had handled in a gallery sales situation previously. One of the works (a Helen Mackie print) I had even used for the print invitation to a solo exhibition of her work. It was truly a wonderful thing that the property owners (presumably) and/or property managers did to draw awareness to Alberta art. It is my wish that more situations would continue. The visual arts is a very challenging place to gain traction and positive awareness in this city. So any little piece of assistance, however small it may be, is greatly appreciated – not that I am working in that field anymore. This of course relates directly to my previous comment. In all there probably was somewhere in the range of 50-100 images used, with a template of the artists, titles and acknowledgement of collection (if applicable) found on each wall for reference.

The choice of selecting Alberta landscape based art was spot on, as it lent itself to the architecture of the building which features an irregular roofline on each of the two towers. This no doubt was meant to mirror the physical attributes of mountain peaks in an architectural manner. The external architecture and the external design of the construction hoarding worked well together.

I am uncertain exactly when this happened, but if memory serves me correct, the hoarding was removed at some point in the last couple months (maybe around Stampede?). I thought I had photos of the installation. After review, apparently I do not, nor could I find photos online. I would have been nice to have this for comparison purposes.

This rambling conversation leads me to the current installation on the 5th Street SW underpass.

As I looked at the works, I noticed a strong resemblance to those that I recall seeing on the Eighth Avenue Place construction hoarding last winter. In fact as seen in the photo below, four of the sixteen works are illustrated in the small brochure I have in my possession – Annora Brown, E.J. Hughes, Ron Moppett, and Walter J. Phillips.

8th_Avenue_Place_Images_of_the_Alberta_Landscape_brochure_2013 (1024x785)

This leads me to believe that those involved in putting up the construction hoarding at Eight Avenue Place, somehow must be involved in this as well. It would sense as it is practically across the street from where these images once stood.

My curiosity is, what is the connection?

There is a new development called Place Ten which is located between the 4th and 5th Street SW underpasses, facing 10th Avenue (as seen in the picture below with the base of Eighth Avenue Place the primary building complex directly behind the construction site. That would make this new construction site as being bounded by two sets of artwork- the Beakerhead art on one side and the Eighth Avenue Place art on the other.

Place_Ten_under_construction_and_Eighth_Avenue_Place_behind_2014_Sept_23 (1024x683)

Is this the connection? Are both projects owned by the same ownership group?

The 16 artworks by 14 artists whose work is reproduced on the signage placed on the 5th Street SW underpass are:

  • Barbara Ballachey [1945 – ] Butte Two, 1981 oil on canvas (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Annora Brown [1899 – 1987] Foothills Village, n.d. oil on canvas (Glenbow Museum, Calgary)
  • Michael Cameron [1955 – ] Searching for Elvis, 2012 oil on canvas (Elevation Gallery, Canmore)
  • O.N. (Rick) de Grandmaison [1932 – 1985] Grey Road, 1983 oil on canvas board (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Dulcie Foo Fat [1946 – ] Lake O’Hara Shoreline, 2006 (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Roland Gissing [1895 – 1967] Clouds over the Prairie near Cardston, circa 1925 oil on canvas (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Edward J. (E.J.) Hughes [1913 – 2007] Calgary, Alberta, 1955 watercolour on paper (Glenbow Museum, Calgary)
  • Illingworth Kerr [1905 – 1989] Ranch Below Yellow Hills, 1971 oil on canvas board (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Illingworth Kerr [1905 – 1989] Turner Valley Nocturne, 1986 oil on canvas (Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton)
  • Illingworth Kerr [1905 – 1989] Young Antelope, n.d. linocut on paper (Edge Gallery, Canmore)
  • Janet Mitchell [1912 – 1998] People of the Street #24, 1971 watercolour on paper (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Ron Moppett [1945 – ] MoonWaterTree, 2010 alkyd, oil on linen and wood (TrepanierBaer Gallery)
  • Walter J. Phillips [1884 – 1963] Mountain Torrent, 1926 colour woodblock on paper (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • John Snow [1911 – 2004] Near Bragg Creek, 1979 stone lithograph on paper (Collector’s Gallery, Calgary)
  • Jack (J.B.) Taylor [1917 – 1970] Lake McArthur No. 7, 1963 oil on canvas (Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
  • Doug Williamson [1974 –] Not by Our Wisdom, 2011 oil on linen (Edge Gallery, Canmore)

These type of selections always will involve a certain amount of second guessing. It is the nature of a curatorial project such as this, and is as predictable as death and taxes. The questions almost always are: 1.) why did they include these artists, and 2.) who did they miss?

As a result, I will try to keep my comments in this regard to a minimum.

  1. Of course the most obvious question is why was Illingworth Kerr selected three times and someone like Marion Nicoll whose work is included in the brochure photo I have included above, not included at all?
  2. The other interesting question is why was E.J. Hughes included? E.J. Hughes hardly can be called an Alberta artist. He had very little connection to Alberta outside of a short training period on one of the military bases, prior to being dispatched to serve overseas with the Princess Patricia’s (or the PPCLI) during WWII. Having said this, I am of the opinion that he is definitely an important artist worthy of inclusion in a Canadian landscape survey show.

An aside regarding the Hughes watercolour

I have often wondered and this is probably a rhetorical question more than anything else.

  • Was this painting produced as a result of Hughes potentially being on holidays in Calgary during 1955?
  • If so, did he attend the internationally travelling exhibition put together by Seagram’s entitled Views of Canada when it was on display at the old Calgary Allied Arts Centre (just down the street from where it is currently installed) in 1955?
  • I wonder this, because A.C. Leighton (another Alberta artist who should be included) painted a very similar view of the Calgary skyline dated 1951 which is in the collection of the McCord Museum in Montreal. Recently many of the works were brought out of storage and re-circulated a few years ago. One of the stops in this most recent tour, was the Kamloops Art Gallery in which they illustrated the Leighton painting in this essay. As one can see from the two photos I have placed below for comparison purposes they are both taken from almost the exact same viewpoint on Rotary Park at the top of the Centre Street Bridge.

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(The Hughes watercolour above)

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(the Leighton painting above)

Notwithstanding my comments about Hughes stated above, the work shows how others from elsewhere have interpreted the Alberta landscape.

Summary:

This situation was relatively common from the pre-Confederation era with early explorer/artists such as Paul Kane and William G.R. Hind (along with often forgotten anonymous aboriginal artists who produced petroglyphs and carved effigies found at places such as Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park and other traditional Native hunting grounds) until about the 1960s or 1970s when the provincial art scene could be considered to have begun its “coming of age” as evidenced by the Made in Calgary series of exhibitions hosted by the Glenbow – the final installment “the 2000s” which opened half the show last night at the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary and the main portion of the show which opens tomorrow at the Glenbow.

It could be argued that half the artists featured came from elsewhere (Foo Fat, Gissing, Hughes, Kerr, Moppett, Phillips and Taylor). This has not stopped their impact upon the art history of the province. This is evident from the place both Kerr and Phillips have, since both artists have public galleries named after them at the Alberta College of Art and Design (Kerr) or the Banff Centre (Phillips), recognizing their individual significant contributions to the province.

* * *

Addendum and Correction (2014 October 11)

In the body of this posting I indicated uncertainty about how these works ended up on the wall of the underpass. Quite by accident, when I was looking for something else, I stumbled upon something that helped solve this for me.

The mystery has been solved.

In a news release issued by the City on September 23, it was reported that this is part of the City of Calgary’s Underpass Enhancement Program which is a component of the Calgary Centre City Plan (2007). Elsewhere, it was disclosed that:

In early 2014, the Eighth Avenue Place Ownership Group offered the City of Calgary the gift of a number of graphic art panels that previously adorned the construction hoarding on their site.

In the news release from September 23, it is stated that this was done for the following reason(s):

The Centre City Underpass Enhancement Program is being implemented to achieve one of the objectives of the Centre City Plan: to make the Centre City a ‘walkable place that is safe, secure, accessible, legible, interesting and enjoyable for pedestrians’.

I believe that it does do this. It is also increases awareness and introduces an educational component regarding art from the region in a public setting. This is an important thing that is necessary to grow cultural awareness of the visual arts in the city.

For that I applaud this initiative.