Alberta Craft Council Gallery opening soon in Calgary

Alberta Craft Gallery open soon sign

Earlier tonight, Tuesday March 21, I visited the not quite open, King Edward School Arts Incubator in the residential community of South Calgary.

Although some tenants have moved in, or are in the process of moving in, the building itself is still a work in progress. It is not fully occupied, and/or because of that it is generally not open to the public. There is still visible drywall mud, unpainted walls, unfinished fixturing, and small bits and pieces that show that there is still much to do.

Having said that. there is limited access to the building this week, which I plan to post about as soon as I am able considering my work commitments. 

However, the reason for this post, is to inform others that the Alberta Craft Council is finally coming to Calgary.

They have been trying to get the right place for I would think, probably at least a decade, or certainly getting close to it, if not. I am going from memory here, I believe they even signed a lease on a space about five years ago, and then it fell through. For whatever reason, the right space has been out of reach, until now.

Whenever I make a trip to Edmonton, if I am able, I try to make a point of visiting their place just off Jasper Avenue near the Legislature Buildings. There is always interesting things to view and wonderful (and usually affordable) gifts for oneself and  others.

I am quite excited to see that they now will soon have a presence in Calgary. This should be considered a positive step for those making crafts in the city It will bring an awareness of craft that is presently missing for the most part. It should also be a positive step for patrons as well, who until now have only had a small selection of craft-based work to chose from.

I am sure that I will write more once they are open.

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.

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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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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.

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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.

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* * *

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.

A tale of two cities . . .

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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?

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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.

One year anniversary of this blog, with review

Surprises_found_when_digging_in_the_garden_18_August_2013 (1024x683)

Today is the blog’s one year anniversary.

In my original post the discussion centred on digging out rocks from what was to become a new garden. I talked about hard work and finding interesting things amongst the rubble. So it seems appropriate that I revisit the same image from a year ago.

I closed out my first post with this:

That is one of the things I want to do with this blog – search amongst the rocky ground of our cultural landscape and find interesting things.

I think I have done that.

Now, a bit of history

The primary reason why I created this blog back then was that I had just applied for a job. In my mind, it had my name all over it. The only weakness that I perceived was that depending on who interviewed me, there possibly could be an assumption that my skill sets were focussed on the commercial gallery world only and not enough knowledge outside of that small word – whether this was correct or not.

However, I knew this assumption was wrong, as would anyone else who had dealt with, or talked with me previously to any extent. Those people would know that my interests are actually quite broad and encompassing.

Regardless, the end result was that I did not even receive acknowledgement of my application – much less an interview. Stuff happens and I am not complaining. However, my interest the subject carried the blog forward nevertheless and it still does.

I still don’t have that job in the arts community, but as seen here my interest still remains. Sometimes being an informed outsider is more interesting, because one can reflect my interests and as a result there is no axe to grind.

I will however continue to carry on with my blog when time allows, as I have done since that time.

* * *

As I look back on this past year there have been some very interesting developments in the cultural landscape in Calgary, not to mention exciting programming which various places have done that I am not even going to talk about.

Some of these things I talked about during the past year. Others I did not.

In some cases I now wish that I did.

Either way, I mention the interesting developments below, and depending on how things go for the upcoming year I may even talk about them this time around.

We have seen the following cultural items between August 2013 and August 2014 (and I am sure that I am missing something – probably significant. So forgive me in advance:

  • Of course it is necessary to mention (as it was the big story locally for the year) that during June 2013, many artists and arts organizations were affected by the flooding in the city. This time last year (two months after the fact) things were starting to get back to normal. I probably mentioned it before, I spent the month of July 2013 for the most part in High River helping those who live there, to get back on their feet again. This is something that is quite close to my heart as a result.
  • Calgary Opera started its initial summer outdoor opera festival in conjunction with East Village. It is called Opera in the Village.
  • A new arts facility opened in Forest Lawn last August. It is a partnership between Calgary Arts Development Authority and the International Avenue BRZ, which is called Art Box on 17E.
  • Beakerhead, after a soft opening and trial-run in 2012 and held its first full-scale event last September.
  • Nuit Blanche had its initial and highly successful iteration in September 2012. It was originally envisioned to be an annual event. However, for reasons unknown, this was changed to become a biennial event at some point during the spring or summer of 2013. To meet programming obligations that a few public galleries and organizations had made for the Nuit Blanche weekend in September 2013, a new festival was formed to fulfill these commitments called Intersite Visual Arts Festival.
  • In September to kick off Beakerhead, Calgary Mini Maker Faire had its first event
  • ArtWalk limped along to celebrate its 30th year. In this city that is quite an achievement. I made a post about it, but for whatever reason it was never published and has been saved as a draft only. I only realized this fact much after the fact. Maybe if and when my blog gets published, I will include it.
  • Also in September, the folks at cSpace Projects initiated a similar type of follow-on event to the highly successful Wreck City event held in the spring of 2013, calling upon many of the same people involved. This project they called Phantom Wing.
  • The New Gallery moved from its location in Art Central to its new location in the heart of Chinatown.
  • The old Seafood Market building which was a vacant building since 2004 was used as artist spaces for a two-year period between 2010 -2012. In the summer/fall of 2013 it was finally demolished at some unknown point. Although it was already scheduled for demolition, it probably was affected by the flood as many buildings in the area were. The demolition occurred to make way for a new condo development in the East Village.
  • A new public art gallery using a different model was introduced called the Art Forum Gallery Association. The two key personnel were previously closely affiliated with the Triangle Gallery of Visual Art and are doing what made that organization successful, keeping its costs down and its options open. One was a former president of the board, Michael Rae and the other was a former director, Jacek Malec.
  • The Blue Ring sculpture by inges idee was unveiled in the midst of the city election. Remarkably, it has remained a topic of discussion and occasional subject of a letter to the editor since that time. I guess in a way it will most likely bear a striking resemblance to the Peace Bridge situation. If I was to speculate, I would expect to soon see it in use in tourist advertising for the city, just like the Peace Bridge now is. Maybe that will be what it takes for it to grow on people, hearing how wonderful it is from people in other parts of the world.
  • Demolition began on the King Edward School to make way for the new arts incubator that cSpace is developing in the community of South Calgary.
  • The chapter at the Art Gallery of Calgary which involved the Valerie Cooper fiasco finally came to a close in November, when she was sentenced to a year in jail for her actions. What that means is with good behavior, she should be released at any time now, if not already.
  • Calgary Arts Development Authority and Studio C both move out of the lower floor of Art Central. Both organizations now occupy separate spaces on the same floor of the Burns Building connected to the Calgary Centre for Performing Arts.
  • The Firefighters Museum of Calgary put its collection into storage in late 2013 and is available by appointment only until it reopens sometime in the next year or so in renovated premises.
  • For the second time in approximately a decade, the Institute of Modern and Contemporary Art (IMCA); the Triangle Gallery of Visual Arts (aka MOCA-Calgary); and the Art Gallery of Calgary (AGC) all tried to hookup and jump into bed with each other. This was something that they originally tried to do when I was sitting on the board of the Triangle. This time, unlike the previous occasion the result was a successful consummation and marriage. The new organization is now called Contemporary Calgary.
  • The former vacant building which at one time housed the former Calgary Planetarium; Calgary Science Centre; The Children’s Museum; and TELUS World of Science was put up out to tender by the City which owns it (or owned it), for use as a cultural or heritage space. The successful applicant was Creative Calgary.
  • The amazing sculpture by Dennis Oppenheim’s Device to Root Out Evil was quietly removed after the end of its five-year lease in January 2014. It was situated on the Dominion Bridge Building grounds with much fanfare during Jeff Spalding’s tenure as head of the Glenbow Museum during June 2008. This relocation to Calgary, was partly a direct result of NIMBYism and the surrounding controversy that occurred during its two and a half year residency near Coal Harbour in Vancouver. Of course this whole situation is highly ironic. I have confidence in how smart my readers are, so I don’t need to fully explain where the irony originates, however I find it peculiar that inges idee was commissioned and created a popular new sculpture in the general vicinity of Coal Harbour. It was installed about a year after the Oppenheim piece left for Calgary. This only further illustrates how fickle tastes can be when it comes to public art and how these tastes can vary widely from city to city.
  • In the absence of the Oppenheim piece at the Dominion Bridge compound, a new programming space called Passage was developed and has shown a rotating schedule of exhibitions, usually video, installation or sculpture. Having heard quite a bit about it before it was operational, I believe that it is exposed somewhat to the elements which limits the type of work that can be shown.
  • Stride Gallery which was deeply affected by the flood, spent most of the fall and winter temporarily sharing space with Truck Gallery. In the early part of 2014, they moved back to the space next door to where they used to be, on the other side of the railway tracks two blocks away from City Hall, on Macleod Trail.
  • Back in the summer of 2012 a new organization called Gorilla House Live Art held its first art battle. It continued hosting weekly art battles until around January when they were informed by their landlord that the building they occupied was destined to be converted into a sushi restaurant. Recently, the building was surrounded by metal protective fencing. Presumably this means some sort of development will be taking place soon. Whether the Gorilla House will be resurrected remains to be seen. If it does, I am sure I will write about it.
  • A small and ambitious pop-up gallery space was introduced into the community of Bridgeland called the Tiny Gallery in early 2014. It is unique for its use of a stand-alone gallery space that occupies the footprint of a postal box.
  • After years of uncertainty, the former York Hotel which was originally intended to be incorporated into a purpose-built cultural space, the façade of which was put into storage in 2008, was finally put on indefinite hold. In that news story, the space it was to occupy will now be used as an open plaza instead. Various anchor tenants were proposed for this space from the time it was originally proposed as part of The Bow development, most notably the Portrait Gallery of Canada. The Portrait Gallery, like the York Hotel, also was put into abeyance by the Federal Government which made the announcement via a news release issued late on Friday, Nov. 7, 2008.
  • The old King Edward Hotel (aka the King Eddie) had the sign and bricks removed from its site. Presumably, and it is my understanding that they will become part of the architectural design, once the exciting new National Music Centre building is built on its site and the site across the street. Both sides are doing structural work above grade.
  • Alberta College of Art and Design, after years of trying, finally received approval to offer its first graduate degree program, a Master of Fine Arts in Craft Media beginning in 2015.
  • After a couple years of consultation the #YYCArtPlan came to fruition which resulted in a new Public Art Policy and a document called Leading a Creative Life
  • The last tenant at Art Central finally left at the end of June. The building was closed probably around the time Stampede happened, which corresponds to the time when the announcement that the space would be redeveloped as the new Telus Sky building which was made during Stampede 2013.
  • The Calgary Centre for Performing Arts expanded the amount of display windows for the visual arts, creating new display windows for both the Alberta Craft Council and the University of Calgary. I hear a rumour from a usually reliable source that there might be another new window on the way. From past experience with all rumours, it usually best to wait until the announcement is made to know with certainty if the rumour is actually either truth or fabrication. If it is true, I am sure I will write about it.
  • Alberta Printmakers Society moved to a new location about a week ago. I plan to write something about this in the near future.

As can be seen above, this was an exciting year for the arts in Calgary.

Palais_Idéal_May_2014_from_Wikipedia

To return to the concept of building a rocky environment – just as I dicussed a year ago.

In that regard, I am reminded of the French postman, Ferdinand Cheval [1836-1924] who spent thirty-three years building Le Palais idéal in Hauterives.

He is someone I feel a special affinity to in this regard. His work was championed by the Surrealists more or less after he had died. I hope that is not the case with me. I hope that my passion and building in the arts community will be recognized while I can feel appreciated and that my work was worth all the trouble.

Cheval built a beautiful naïve palace one stone at a time. Every day for thirty-three years, he brought home at least one stone that he found in his day to day work.

In time his pockets were not enough to carry what he found. So he brought a basket to carry the stones.

When that was not enough, he used a wheelbarrow.

It is my hope that this blog will be like that beautiful structure Le Palais idéal.

My craft-based art proposal for the Western Showcase

Calgary_Stampede_Western_Showcase_Craft-Area_Overview_2014_July (1024x683)

Yesterday, I talked about Yvonne Mullock’s hooked rug and its unveiling at the Esker Foundation.

In that post I indicated that I wanted to continue this discussion as it relates to the Calgary Stampede Western Showcase. This also is a continuation of my previous post from about a week ago that relates to the Artist Ranch Project.

As any reader of this blog can easily figure out I have shown my current minor obsession on craft as art. I am interested (and have been for quite some time) in the dialogue between, at what point does craft end and fine art begin.

* * *

There are all sorts of issues surrounding this dialogue such as, but not limited to:

  1. the necessity of artists to perfect their craft;
  2. craft as a viable medium for artists to explore;
  3. what role art can have in craft production;
  4. the role of language and the use of the term “craft” in art; and
  5. does the term “craft” actually inhibit growth and dialogue in art production and collections.

With this out of the way and as background to this discussion, I can now move forward.

* * *

In my blog post from last Friday (see link provided above), I proposed that the Stampede seriously consider working collaboratively with the Alberta Craft Council in Edmonton in the Western Showcase.

In my opinion, this could be a very good collaboration as the Alberta Craft Council has connections to a significant number of professional craftspersons active in Alberta (and being a provincial organization would be involved in networks nationally and internationally); has a large exhibition space with active programming in Edmonton; and has explored possibilities over the past number of years with intent to set up a separate location in Calgary as well. For whatever reason none of those attempts to set up a space in Calgary has come to fruition. Things now seem to be moving forward as they have a soft agreement in place that they will occupy a space of some sort in the new King Edward School arts incubator that cSPACE Projects is moving forward on. It will probably be ready for occupancy barring any delays sometime in 2016.

Overview of the two organizations:

From its website Alberta Craft Council is described as follows:

The Alberta Craft Council is the Provincial Arts Service Organization that develops, promotes and advocates for fine craft in Alberta. Since 1980, the ACC has promoted craft in Alberta through exhibitions, publications, marketing ventures, education, awareness projects and information services to its membership and to the general public. The ACC has a dual role: to support contemporary and heritage crafts as significant art forms that contribute to Alberta’s culture; and to develop a craft sector of creative, skilled, viable and sustainable craftspeople, studio, businesses and networks.

Now the Stampede. The Western Showcase component has been described on their website as follows:

Western Showcase is recognized as one of the major destination areas of the Stampede. We are a vibrant group of nearly 200 volunteers showcasing our Western Heritage and Values. Western Showcase, located in Halls D and E of the BMO Centre at Stampede Park, showcases art, entertainment, presentations and exhibitions that depict our Western Lifestyle.

It would appear that this is how the two organizations envision themselves and what they do.

Now to expand my argument for this proposal:

In a previous post, I indicated in passing that that there is a Western Lifestyles Creative Arts & Crafts Competition. I didn’t call it by that name at that time, but this is what it actually is called. They have 14 categories in which competitions are held.

They are listed below, and I have only included the open division, which most adults would compete in. They are: 1.) knitting; 2.) crocheting & tatting; 3.) needlework & stitchery; 4.) quilting; 5.) paper crafts & calligraphy; 6.) assorted handicrafts; 7.) ceramics & decorative painting; 8.) rugs & weaving; 9.) wood working; 10.) dolls & toys; 11.) framed paintings; 12.) framed drawings; 13.) sugar art & cake decorating; and 14.) eco art.

As one can see from the list above many of these categories lie parallel to many professional artist’s practice. With blurring of boundaries in contemporary visual art practice and production, it is a fair assumption to say that all of the categories above are fair game for most artists to explore.

With that in mind, I thought it is worth investigating the rules for the competition. In the 2014 booklet containing the rules & regulations of this competition, I could only find one section (the last one) which addresses the inclusion of a professional artist or artisan from participating. It is as follows:

19. Participants in the Western Art Show will not be allowed to enter pieces for competition in the Creative Arts and Crafts Competition. . .

In my eyes, this would seem to be a fair rule. Here are some photo selections from the competition that are relevant:

Calgary_Stampede_Rugs_Section_Winner_2014_July (1024x683)

Calgary_Stampede_Eco_Art_Window_Display_July_2014 (1024x683)

Calgary_Stampede_Eco_Art_Winner_2014_July (1024x683)

Moving on to the Sales Salons

As I was wandering through the sales salon I very surprised to see some large ceramic vessels in one of the booths. I have included a photo of the booth and it shows work by Robert Behr from Montana who from his website, appears to travel the circuit of other festival events similar to the Western Showcase in California, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.

From this it would appear as if craft is not an issue in the Sales Salon and as a comment made by Sherri Zickefoose yesterday on a previous post (see link above) she indicated that this may be due to no other artists applying. This is a reasonable assumption to make.

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Moving on to the Art Auction

I have attended many of these sales over the years. Although I don’t have the catalogues close at hand to reference, however I do have them available should I need to. I do not recall seeing any craft included into the sale. Having said that there is this interesting thing that sometimes happens prior to the sale where they have a Quickdraw event. I can`t remember what it is called. As part of that in the past I recall seeing a sculptor on more than one year working with clay to create a sculpture. I can’t remember what they do with it, but I suspect it is either sold or cast at a later date.

Unfortunately I am unable to attend tonight as the job that I once was working full-time at has now cut my hours to only six hours a week over two days. As a result I am looking for new work. However, the hours that I must work this week are the exact same hours as the auction, tonight. I can`t even get a photo if they do something like this tonight.

Further to this, some time ago (I could be corrected, but I believe it was held between 2007-2010) there was an auction called Pavilion: Contemporary Art Auction. I attended all the sales and have the catalogues somewhere. It was held in September in the Victoria Pavilion in the old Agricultural Building. It was held in cooperation with Christie’s (the auction house) and eight commercial galleries – Jessica Bradley Art + Projects, Masters Gallery Ltd., Newzones, Paul Kuhn Gallery, Skew Gallery, Susan Whitney Gallery, TrépanierBaer Contemporary Art and Virginia Christopher Fine Art.

During the 2008 sale one of the pieces was a work by Shary Boyle. She is kind of a big deal as she the following year won the Gershon Iskowitz Prize in 2009 and later went on to represent Canada in the Venice Biennale in 2013. The piece which was specifically commissioned for this sale was described by Nancy Tousley in the Calgary Herald as follows:

(Shary Boyle`s work) is represented in the Pavilion catalogue by a lace-draped porcelain figurine of a woman, with a bloody stump of a neck. She daintily holds her severed head in her lady-figurine hands.

It sold for $12,000.

Unfortunately the Pavilion sale was not to be, and only three sales were conducted. It was subsequently cancelled on the eve of the fourth annual sale. In this sale there was a definite interest in exploring contemporary art and new media, including craft-based work.

Moving on the Artist Ranch Project

Instead of repeating myself I would suggest that if the reader is interested in reading more, to visit my previous post (see link provided at the top).

However to add to this discussion I have included an image of a work by Wanda Ellerback from this year`s iteration of the Artist Ranch Project for reference. Here she is creating a work that uses craft, while creating a fine art object.

Wanda_Ellerback_sculpture_for_Stampede_Artist_Ranch_Project_2014 (1024x683)

 

The Guilds and Cabins

In the Western Showcase is a cabin which is daily staffed with volunteer members of various guilds. One of the guilds is the Chinook Guild of Fibre Arts. Here they show how the crafts that they work with are done. Sometimes, depending on the guild, they will show children and other interested parties how to do these crafts. This is part of an educational initiative to keep these skills from becoming obsolete. It also harkens back to pioneer culture and especially as it relates to women as many of these activities are of a domestic nature or things that have relevance inside the home.

Calgary_Stampede_Western_Lifestyles_List_of_Participating_Guilds_2014_July (1024x683)

In my most recent post from yesterday, I mentioned work by Yvonne Mullock and the Chinook Guild of Fibre Arts (see link provided at the top of this post). It will become readily obvious why I wanted to include them in this dialogue.

They produced a large hooked rug for the Esker Foundation. It is now currently being shown in the gallery as art.

As an aside the current exhibition at the Esker is very interesting and in the context of this discussion should be seen by all members of the Western Showcase Committee. Two artists, Beth Stuart and Cynthia Girard (who worked in collaboration with artists David Altmejd, Julie Doucet, Groupe d`action en cinéma Épopée, Henry Kleine and Noémi McComber) who produced work that uses a number of craft-based media in the work that is on display (I think immediately of quilts, needlework and eco art). Not only that it is presented in such a way that it could almost be dropped right into the middle of the Western Showcase and look like it was intended to be there. If it was to be included, it would certainly create an active discussion. But I digress.

Yesterday, I walked past The Women’s Centre. As I passed, I was invited in to enjoy a Stampede Lunch and BBQ by a lady standing on the step outside the main doors. Once I was in the space I noticed a number of quilts hanging on the walls surrounding the office. This then gave me the opportunity to talk to one of the staff members and inquire if these were any connection to the quilts that I had seen in a window display at the Epcor Centre for Performing Arts a couple months earlier. It was not the case, but it was an enlightening conversation nevertheless.

The quilts I referenced were made as a collaboration with some women that took part in a workshop connected to The Women’s Centre in cooperation with two artists (Cat Schick and Linda Hawke) connected to This is My City Art Society.

This project was a very fascinating collaboration. With the assistance of a Calgary 2012 grant the two artists led a workshop at The Women’s Centre, which answers calls to approximately 60,000 calls annually for basic needs from clients, the vast majority who are dealing with issues of poverty. This workshop was based on the theme of sleep and dreams and it is possible to read more about it here. Much of the work that was included was very powerful. I have included two small details from two separate quilts included in this art exhibition for reference below. Like the other collaboration that I have mentioned above (the Esker collaboration) The Women`s Centre collaboration, likewise crossed boundaries between untrained people and professional artists.

This_is_My_City_Womens_Centre_Dream_Quilt_Detail_one_January_2014 (1024x683)

For reference, the detail text from the above quilt states the following:

Sometimes when I should / be asleep, my mind is wide awake. Things I / need to do tomorrow nag at me, great / burdensome lists of thing, each with its own / list of associated details. On really bad nights / the shadowy corners of my life come into sharp / focus. I think about how I would relive / regrettable moments, fix mistakes. I replay / words I have said and haven’t said to people / alive and dead. My internal temperature / is thrown out of whack and I have too many / covers – then too few. I consider getting up but / usually don’t, afraid I’ll disturb some else’s / sleep.

This_is_My_City_Womens_Centre_Dream_Quilt_Detail_two_January_2014 (1024x683)

The detail from the second states the following:

A hawk flew into my dream,

down into my ruined house,

right through walls that weren’t there

and grazed my head.

The bird had a message for me,

but I was protected from

hearing it,

by the orange sunhat,

I wore in those days.

Synopsis and Conclusion

As we can see from the example of The Women’s Centre + This is My City collaboration craft engages viewers and practitioners on a very fundamental and structural level. When one looks at our Western ancestors we know that craft in some cases for survival, comfort or luxury. At some point in each of our family’s existence someone had to know how to darn a pair of socks, make and bead a pair of moccasins, knit a draft snake, hammer out a horseshoe, create a wedding band and set the stone, and make a ceramic plate – or be able to pay someone to do it for them.

We have determined that ALL sections of the Western Showcase have expressed some interest in showing craft as art up to a certain threshold. However there appears to be only very little of it shown at any one time.

There are probably reasons for this. From the vantage point of an interested observer and non-active participant, I would assume that the largest reason for this is a general lack of awareness that craft is a possibility to be shown in the Western Showcase. In other words, for whatever reason, the committee has not connected on some level with this specific audience.

For this reason I proposed that some initiative be created to allow craftspersons to participate in the Western Showcase. The province (and by extension, the larger region of Western Canada and the Northwestern USA) have some significant and important centres of craft production. This is a perfect venue to showcase this important cultural legacy.

The Stampede as a larger entity, has also shown that they are open to cooperative initiatives. I think of the partnerships that they have formed with corporate entities in terms of naming rights and funding for things such as the SAM Centre, the Youth Campus and its partnership with the Calgary Arts Academy along with the new Enmax partnership to relocate the Indian Village.

The Alberta Craft Council has also shown the same. About a month ago the ACC followed the lead of other organizations such as Stride, Truck, The New Gallery, Marion Nicoll Gallery, Untitled Art Society and the Alberta Printmakers Society in having a window in the Epcor Centre for Performing Arts. This is a new, purpose-built space that was constructed in the +15 corridor along with another newly built space for the University of Calgary Department of Art students between Jack Singer Concert Hall and the Martha Cohen Theatre. In this space the ACC, like the others, have begun regular programming of craft-based, fine art or installation-based artwork rotating on a monthly schedule.

In the local area there are isolated pockets of support for craft-based artwork. Unfortunately much of these opportunities are geared more to selling of pots and functional craft, with occasional art-based opportunities available outside of this narrow focus.

What I would like to propose is something like the Artist Ranch Project which I think is an amazing project. Like this, I would propose a thematic residency of some sort. The Western Showcase I propose to work in collaboration with the Alberta Craft Council to develop a new concept that will benefit artists and artisans who are interested in exploring craft-based opportunities further with a show at the end during the ten-days of Stampede.

I have no idea how this should unfold, but I would be very interested in seeing something like this happen. I am also very excited about what it could look like.

I have done my part, now I am passing off the baton to someone else, whoever that may be.

an interesting print – Thomas Worthington Whittredge / L. Hunt signed

Thomas-Worthington-Whittredge-attributed-and-L-Hunt-print-of-thatched-roof-barn-sheep-and-sailing-ship (1024x711)

Grab a beverage if you decide to read this. I warn you in advance, this will be a long one.

I spent all day working on this between dealing with clients and attending a panel discussion. I want to get this out before I go to bed, so will proofread it tomorrow. Then I ended up getting interrupted all day.

* * *

I have had this lithograph for quite some time now. It comes from an estate and when I got it I was quite candid in saying it would probably need to be reframed, as the plaster had been chipped off the frame in places. Quite frankly the frame looks a bit long in the tooth. This was something that they agreed with.

It is an attractive piece and I accepted it on its own merits. It is in generally good condition although it does have one small place where foxing is evident in the sky. This is to be expected as the backing is not acid free. It is also not matted and is behind old glass.

I received it shortly before I resigned from Image 54 and as a result, it sat in a box in my ex-girlfriend’s spare bedroom for the remaining two and a half years that we were together. When we separated, it was moved to a gallery shelf waiting in the queue to get reframed. Sadly, it was generally ignored as a result. There was always something more pressing that come through the gallery as a result of an active exhibition schedule.

I finally put it up about a week ago because it is a nice piece. During that time, it has consistently attracted attention, especially from those who grew up in the Netherlands. There was a familiarity to the image that appealed to them and they would usually tell me why and leave without buying it, for whatever reason.

Enough of the preamble

This work is signed in pencil. I read the signature as L. Hunt.

So who is L. Hunt?

That is a good question. Hunt is a relatively common name. In my search to find out more about who this Hunt artist might be, I kept coming up against a blank wall.

This work has two signatures. The one in pencil and the other in the plate. This is somewhat unusual, but not unheard of, especially with older works.

The other signature in the plate is better known – W. Whittredge.

Thomas Worthington Whittredge is an artist of significant note.

He is often associated with the American art movement called the Hudson River School. The Hudson River School was a group of New York City based artists who painted landscapes actively during the period from approximately 1850 through until around 1880.

Hudson River School

This art movement was highly influential and its impact on North American art production is still felt today. Through the artists connected to the Hudson River School the early views of the vast wild, unexplored and virgin wilderness of Western North America and Niagara Falls helped define how these areas were viewed.

This movement also had a significant influence in Canada. Cornelius Van Horne who was at one time the superintendent of the Chicago and Alton Railway, later became the president of Canadian Pacific Railway.

Van Horne (an artist in his own right) and/or the Canadian Pacific Railway actively commissioned artists during the 1880s until around the early 1900s to paint the landscape of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. As the Hudson River School had currency with artists at that time, there is often a certain awareness of this movement in how they portrayed the opening of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and how it was viewed to audiences elsewhere.

This Hudson River School influence is still relevant in current artistic production in Canada. We see this in artists as diverse as Jeff Spalding’s paintings of Niagara Falls; Shelley Ouellet’s installation based on a painting of Lake Louise by Frederic M. Bell-Smith exhibited at the Nickle Arts Museum a few years ago; and the aboriginal artist Kent Monkman amongst others. In David Liss’ Fall 2005 feature article for Canadian Art he states the following about Kent Monkman:

The Toronto artist Kent Monkman has recently been gaining acclaim for beautifully painted, ornately framed canvases of sublime landscapes that recall early colonial artists such as Cornelius Krieghoff and Paul Kane and the Hudson River School. Set within backdrops of majestic mountains, steep cliffs and expansive valleys are exquisitely detailed, diminutive human figures, dressed in the attire we associate with that period of history. Cowboys, Indians and soldiers appear engaged in the kinds of activities that most of us in North America were taught took place upon contact between the first settlers and Aboriginals. . .On closer scrutiny, however, it becomes clear that Monkman’s figures are engaged in encounters of an entirely different sort.

Thomas Worthington Whittredge [1820-1910]

After my minor deviation I must get back to Worthington Whittredge.

Whittredge was born in Springfield, Ohio and lived there until he moved to nearby Cincinnati at the age of 17. In Cincinnati he worked as an apprentice house and sign painter. He then went on to operate a daguerreotype store in Indianapolis.

In 1843 he decided to take up the career of an artist, came into contact with, and was influenced by the prominent American artist Thomas Cole [1801-1848] who influenced a generation of artists who became known as the Hudson River School. The year after Thomas Cole’s death, Whittredge travelled to Düsseldorf, Germany to further his studies at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf.

As a bit of a diversion (because of course no path is entirely straight, all the time) we know that Whittredge stopped in France on his way to Düsseldorf. We know this because William H. Gerdts wrote in the notes to his essay The American Artists in Grez which is found in the book Out of Context: American Artists Abroad where he states the following:

Thomas Hicks probably also was in Barbizon in 1849 while studying with Thomas Couture in Paris, for he displayed A Cottage in Barbison (sic) . . . in New York in 1850, perhaps the earliest exhibition of a Barbizon scene by an American artist. Worthington Whittredge of Cincinnati, on his way to Düsseldorf in 1849 stopped in Barbizon . . . but only recalled meeting Virgile Narcisse Díaz de la Peña.

Getting back to the Kunstakademie, this fact is significant as the Academy had a profound effect on artists connected to the American Hudson River School. The Kunstakademie was also closely aligned with the German Romantic Movement from the early to mid-1800s. The German Romantic Movement (or German Romanticism) was rooted in the Sturm und Drang movement from the 1700s. The instructors at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf had taken this concept further by the time Whittredge began his studies. By this time they had begun to advocate for plein air painting which had taken root in France with the Barbizon School and the artists connected to it who regularly painted the landscapes in the Forest of Fontainbleu. This Barbizon School influence (in particular plein-air painting) also played into the new Hudson River School artists.

In Düsseldorf, Whittredge met Emanuel Leutze [1816-1868] and modeled for him as one of the characters in Leutze’s heroic-scaled painting that is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection entitled Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1850. On this note, and a bit of a digression, another artist connected to the Nazarenes and director of the Acakemie in Düsseldorf, Wilhelm von Schadow [German, 1789-1862] also modelled for the Leutze painting in the Met collection. There is an interesting story relating to von Schadow here in the Globe and Mail from earlier this month. The Globe article primarily talks about repatriation of a painting to the Max Stern estate, but it is worth reading in this context as it relates to the discussion about the connection between the Hudson River painters and the German Romantic tradition in Düsseldorf.

During his time in Düsseldorf he lived for about a year with Andreas Achenbach [German, 1815-1910] who was an influential painter connected to the school. Whittredge went on to become one of the teachers at the school and one of his students was future Hudson River (and Rocky Mountain School) painter Albert Bierstadt [1830-1902]. They obviously stayed in touch as the two of them spent the summer of 1856 sketching in Switzerland together. That fall both Whittredge and Bierstadt moved to Rome where they were joined by fellow Hudson River School artists Sanford Robinson Gifford [1883-1880] and William Stanley Haseltine [1835-1900].

From some sources it is potentially quite possible that all four of these artists travelled together as a group from Düsseldorf, spending the summer together sketching in Switzerland. They then moved together and established themselves in Rome. Please Note: This paragraph has some speculation in it and requires further research, to confirm correctness, although for our purposes it is not material to this piece.

From Rome, Whittredge moved back to the USA around the same time as the others in 1859. Upon arriving in New York City he joined Gifford and Haseltine who had left Rome the year prior. All four were back together in the newly-built studio building, the first studio building in America which opened in 1858 and was conceived with visual artists in mind – 10th Street Studio Building located at 51 West 10th Street. This building was designed by the young American architect Russell Morris Hunt [1827-1895] who had just finished overseeing the major renovation of the Louvre for Napoleon III. This building housed a virtual who’s who of American artists during the time it was used as a studio building.

As Tom Miller wrote about this building:

The building was without question the most famous studio building in America. On October 10, 1887 The Evening World described it succinctly.  “The Studio Building, West Tenth Street, is a painter’s Bohemia. The studios are working places, without much bric-a-brac, or tapestries, or old carved wood.”

Whittredge quickly established himself into the fabric of New York City’s artistic community. In 1860, the year after he arrived in NYC, he was elected to the National Academy of Design and two years later in 1862 he became a full member.

Not only was he a member of the National Academy of Design, but he later served as the president of the National Academy between 1874 and 1877. This was an interesting period as the year after he assumed the presidency, the National Academy opened the doors to its first permanent home at the corner of 23rd Avenue and Park Avenue South in New York City. It was subsequently demolished and is now an office tower.

William Morris Hunt [1824-1879]

One of the artists to study in Düsseldorf around the same time as Whittredge was another American artist William Morris Hunt.

William Morris Hunt after attending Harvard College for three years left his studies shortly after his father had passed away. In 1844, he, along with his wealthy mother and three other brothers went to the south of France and later moved to Paris so that they could get a European education. This was followed by his attending the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1845. No doubt at this time William M. Hunt came into contact with Whittredge who was still studying there.

Dissatisfied, William Morris Hunt left the Düsseldorf Academy at the end of his first year of studies.

The following year William Morris Hunt was in Paris. There, he became a student of Thomas Couture [French, 1815-1879] between 1846 to 1852. Thomas Couture according to a page in the National Gallery of Canada website was “one of the most celebrated painters in Paris during his lifetime and was renowned for his bold technique and sensational subject matter.”

During this time W.M. Hunt subsequently fell under the influence of Jean-François Millet [French, 1814-1875]. This resulted in him moving to the Barbizon to continue his studies with Millet.

William Morris Hunt returned to the USA in 1854, presumably to Vermont where his roots were. Two years later he settled in Newport, Rhode Island where he taught art and in 1862 settled permanently in Boston. He continued to teach in Boston. He taught not just painting, but also lithography as well. He was a life-long proponent of art and artists from the Barbizon School and Millet’s work in particular. He was a collector of Millet’s paintings and sadly a number of them were destroyed in a fire that burned his Boston studio to the ground.

He died off the coast of New Hampshire. There is some speculation that this may have been a result of suicide.

Nathan Flint Baker [1820-1891]

Nathan Flint Baker was born in Cincinnati. He started working in clay around 1840. His family sent him to Italy with letters of introduction, two years later in 1842. He was to study with the neo-classical sculptor Hiram Powers [1805-1873] in Florence and other sculptors in Rome. He stayed in Italy until about 1846 when he returned to Cincinnati. He produced a sculpture of John James Audubon [1785-1851] which he exhibited at the National Academy in NYC in 1847. In the same year, he also produced a major eight foot high marble sculpture of Cincinnatus for the Cincinnati City Hall. This work became the object of neglect and vandalism and was subsequently moved to storage. It was rediscovered in 1928, but its present location is believed to still be unknown.

In 1845, the German artist, Emanuel Leutze painted a portrait of Nathan Flint Baker. This work is in the collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Nathan Flint Baker returned to Italy and there appears to be two different versions of this story; 1.) he was previously living in Italy; or 2.) he planned to meet up with a family friend in Italy to travel to the Middle East. Either way, it doesn’t matter, he was known to be in Rome during the Spring of 1851. He spent the next two years travelling with his family friend throughout Europe and the Middle East.

During this two year period he was one of the early photographers of the Middle East, including places such as Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and the Holy Land. These photographs are very important and very rare. Most are in institutional collections such as the Library of Congress.

After this trip he returned to Cincinnati. It is noted that a local newspaper, as quoted in the Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900 book, stated that in July 1853 that “he had washed his hands of art altogether, having, he declares, almost forgotten how to hold a chisel.” Outside of a few trips to Italy, (one trip being between 1859 and 1861) he lived out the remainder of his life in Cincinnati. He did produce some work, but his production was significantly reduced.

Leavitt Hunt [1831-1907]

William Morris Hunt had a younger brother Leavitt Hunt. Like William Morris Hunt he also went to the south of France with his mother in 1844 and received a European education.

Leavitt was a scholar. He attended Harvard Latin School, then attended a Swiss boarding school, followed by earning a law degree from the University of Heidelberg in Germany and military training in Switzerland. He later in his life returned to Harvard University and received a second law degree.

In 1851, he met up with a family friend in Italy. The family friend was Nathan Flint Baker. Together they travelled in Europe and like Baker is considered to be one of the early photographers of the Middle East, including places such as Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and the Holy Land. Generally the two of them are considered to be the first American photographers of the Middle East.

In Will Stapp’s entry titled Hunt, Leavitt (1831-1907) and Baker, Nathan Flint (c. 1822-1891), American Photographers found in the Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, he states the following:

Only a handful of Hunt’s and Baker’s prints have appeared on the market, and they are amongst the rarest and most desirable early American paper print photographs.

Most of his photographic images are held in institutional collections, primarily the George Eastman House, the American Architectural Foundation and the Library of Congress. He is known for his early views of the Middle East, including the first known photographic image of a Middle Eastern woman.

After his “grand tour” with Baker it seems that neither one of them showed any interest in the photographic medium. He returned to the United States and began his legal practice in New York City.

Will Stapp once again describes Leavitt’s professional practice from the same source cited earlier:

He practiced law in New York until the Civil War broke out, when he enlisted as a lieutenant in a New York regiment; he served on General Heinzelman’s staff, and was brevetted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel for gallantry in the Battle of Mulvern Hill. Invalided out of service in 1862, he returned to his law practice in New York, but retired to Weatherfield, Vermont in 1867, after his wife inherited her father’s estate there. Hunt spent the remainder of his life as a gentleman farmer, living in a house filled with exotic souvenirs of his travels.

His father-in-law William Jarvis [1770-1859] was a diplomat, financier and merchant who imported Merino sheep from Spain. After moving to the inherited farm he purchased another nearby farm where he became particularly interested in rare breeds of Dutch cattle and propagating white pine forests.

He did however maintain a life-long interest in art and wrote poetry. He also was an inventor with a number of patents to his name.

Russell Morris Hunt [1827-1895]

Russell Morris Hunt has already made an appearance in this tale I write. He was the third brother to William Morris Hunt. He was an architect and like his brothers received a European training.

He plays a very minor but interesting supporting role in this story. This is outside of his role as the architect of the 10th Street Studio Building in NYC where Worthington Whittredge had a studio.

Having said that, he did have another role to play which was to accompany both his brother Leavitt Hunt and Nathan Flint Baker on their trip down the Nile in 1853. On this trip, like some other architects he produced artwork. These were included in an exhibition held at the Octagon Museum in Washington, DC in 1999. These works were included with the photos Leavitt Hunt and Nathan Flint Baker had taken in 1853.

Conclusion

We can see that Worthington Whittredge was definitely aware of the four sons of Jonathan Hunt [1787-1832]. It is quite possible that he knew them all. Three of the four from this prominent Vermont family are listed above. The fourth was a medical doctor who lived in Paris. .

I must admit that I am overly familiar with many of these artists, outside of reputation, names and a general awareness. They are outside of my usual scope of dealing in Canadian art. How close were they to each other? Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t.

The first major question is a three-part one:

  • 1.) Is this an original subject matter for the print; or 2.) is it a print produced after a known painting by Whittredge; and 3.) regardless of which of the two options above is true, what significance did L. Hunt have as part of the process?

Notwithstanding the fundamental question of authorship, based on the above noted timelines and situations that we can safely infer two reasonably certain assumptions as being highly possible, namely that:

  • All five main individuals (Whittredge, three of the four Hunt brothers, and Baker) must have crossed paths with each other at some point.
  • We can assume that all five primary individuals probably had some dealings with each other in some capacity, somewhere along the way. As is always the case, some will be closer than others.

Based on these reasonably safe assumptions we will extend this further and ask some questions with no answers given. They are:

  • Did Whittredge and Baker know each other in Cincinnati?
  • It would seem possible that Whittredge and Baker may have crossed paths in Düsseldorf when Leutze painted Baker in 1845. It is also quite possible that Leutze may have painted the portrait in Italy during 1845 instead. Either way, it would seem likely that each other’s name would have come up in conversation. Did they actually meet in that year?
  • Did all five of these main individuals meet in Rome during 1851 at the beginning of the Middle Eastern photographic or at the end of the photographic tour in 1853?
  • Given how close the Netherlands is to Düsseldorf, did Whittredge produce any work in Holland?
  • Is this a Dutch scene?
  • We know from publicly available artworks that Whittredge painted a number of images of the Newport, Rhode Island area. Were these produced during the two year period that William Morris Hunt lived there. If so, did they cross paths with each other there?
  • Given that Leavitt Hunt raised Dutch cattle, and being a gentleman farmer, did he try to re-create a Dutch farm on his property?
  • We know that Leavitt’s father-in-law imported Merino sheep. Is it possible that this print was based on a painting of the father-in-law’s property?
  • How close were Whittredge and William Morris Hunt to each other?
  • Did one of the Hunt brothers collect Whittredge’s paintings?

There are so many questions involved with this work. These are just a small sampling of some that come to mind as a result of what I have written above.

The biggest question of all

We know that William Morris Hunt taught lithography. We also know that Leavitt Hunt must have been a tinkerer because of the patents he held for inventions of farm equipment.

Was the L. Hunt in this print Leavitt Hunt?

Making an assumption that it is possible yes, did William Morris Hunt teach his little brother Leavitt how to produce a lithograph? If so did he use one of Worthington Whittridge’s paintings (possibly of his farm or a work he owned) as subject?

Solar Flare Installation Stephen Avenue Walk

Solar-Flare-Installation-Stephen-Avenue-Walk-Dec-10-2013 (683x1024) Tonight I was walking downtown along Stephen Avenue Mall in front of the Art Gallery of Calgary quite late. It was fortuitous timing as three artists (Caitlind r.c. Brown, Lane Shordee and Ivan Ostapenko) were in the midst of installing the new Solar Flare light installation, which was commissioned by the Calgary Downtown BRZ.  Moments after I arrived, they wheeled away the lift.  Fortunately, I was able to get in a few pictures of the installation when the new installation was not fully installed and before they moved the lift to park it one of which I used above. The Roots The roots of this solar-powered installation were formed during the first Calgary Nuit Blanche which occurred during Calgary 2012 and was originally proposed as an annual event.  Now it appears to be a biannual event as it did not happen this past year and was replaced the newly formed Intersite Visual Arts Festival that occurred on the same weekend as Nuit Blanche should have happened.  All this contains some speculation on my part, so here goes.  No doubt this happened (in part) so that public institutions which must plan their programming far in advance could fulfill their obligations to the contracted artists during what they previously expected would be the weekend of Nuit Blanche .  But I digress. During the 2012 Nuit Blanche event one of the most interesting events was an installation that contained both burnt-out and live incandescent light bulbs.  These bulbs were all connected to hanging pulls that turned the lights on and off.  It was in the form of a large cloud and it magical.  People loved it and it became an internet sensation – and rightfully so.  From my recollection when I attended the night of Nuit Blanche, it could best be described as enchanting. The images spread quickly.  In fact, months later there was a show at an art gallery in Moscow of a new version of this cloud that no doubt came partly as a result of images that were picked up off the internet.  This new work was constructed in Russia.  A number of months later a smaller commission was completed at what I believe is a gay bar or club in Chicago.  As was the case in Russia and Calgary, this newly formed cloud (truth be told – clouds, as there were more than one cloud installed in this club) also met with success. Phantom Wing Fast forward to the recent Phantom Wing project at cSPACE King Edward School.  The artists involved with the Nuit Blanche Cloud also formed the Phantom Wing signage for that event as well.  The signage subsequently also was modified somewhat and used for the Phantom Wing website. Once the Phantom Wing project had barely wrapped up, they were off to recover the Russian cloud and then re-install it in the heart of Prague, Czech Republic alongside the Vlatava river.  This was for an event similar to Nuit Blanche and probably was as captivating as it was at each other location it has been shown at. Sometimes the history behind something is important.  This is one of those cases.  It is very interesting seeing where this light installation by Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett came from as it might otherwise be easily missed due to the location and the temporary nature of its installation during the next few months. Events There also will be an artist talk with Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett which will take place at the Art Gallery of Calgary on Thursday, December 19, 2013 at 6:00pm. Smart move on the part of the Calgary Downtown BRZ on commissioning this work.  If you are downtown at some point between now and early February check it out.