Looking back to Burns Visual Arts Society 15th anniversary

Burns_Visual_Arts_Society_15_year_anniversary_listing (small)

Infrequently, I venture into my personal archives held in my home, which contain significant amounts of documents, ephemera and research materials which have been collected for a major research project. These boxes predominantly relate to the visual arts in Calgary (and to a lesser extent Alberta and elsewhere).

Today was one of those days.

In my spelunking, I came across an interesting document which corresponds with the 15th anniversary celebration of the Burns Visual Arts Society. This document stated that there was an open studio and reception that I am sure that I attended. It was held on Saturday, 24 September 1994 at their old address in 4th and 5th floors of the Neilson Block on Stephen Avenue Walk (the building is now incorporated into the Hyatt and the Telus Convention Centre façade) across from the Glenbow.

No doubt this open house was also held in conjunction with the annual ArtWalk and/or ArtWeek festivals. I am not sure if ArtWeek had begun by 1994, or whether it was still part of the ArtWalk festival and had not yet been calved off to create its own separate organization. Regardless, it is a moot point. Sadly, when I look at both festivals, they are at best, merely a shadow of their former selves in terms of community engagement, involvement and programming. On that note, I made an off-the-cuff assumption that ArtWalk was dead to a former colleague who works in one of the commercial galleries last fall, and I was corrected. ArtWalk it is not. dead However, we both agreed that it is treading water – badly – and might need a set of paddles from a defibrillator to get going again. But I digress.

Last September, in 2014, the BVAS held an exhibition across the way from its present location to celebrate its 35th anniversary. I wrote something about both the exhibition and BVAS at that time. I believe that I may have mentioned some former members of the Society that were not previously known, if not here, definitely in person.

This is an interesting document (see detail photo above), as it gives a snapshot of who maintained studios in the BVAS space approximately 20 years ago.

As I have done before, this may help the BVAS create a better history of the organization, with members that were not previously known.

Fortunately this document has a listing of all the members who were part of the Society at that time. Unfortunately, only the last name is listed, so there will be a certain amount of speculation on my part as to who these members were. Some I can be quite certain about; some I can speculate on (in some cases with reasonable certainty and others without); and some I will not know at all. Fortunately BVAS has a listing of some former members on their website, This helped in some cases, and if the artist is listed there, I will place an asterisk beside their name.

Please note, there may be mistakes as there was no punctuation to separate the names, so I have had to speculate in a few cases. Also note, I have listed the names in the order they are placed on the card, which is not always in alphabetical order.

 

So without further ado, here are the 104 former members, who presumably maintained a studio in the space at that time:

  • Billie AVERY *
  • Jill ARMSTRONG *
  • ATTOE
  • (Thayre?) ANGLISS
  • Kevin BAER *
  • Dawn BRAWLEY *
  • Tivador BOTE *
  • BALTGALIS (might this be Karen BALTGAILIS?)
  • BAXTER (might this be Louise Chance BAXTER?)
  • BEST
  • Martin BENNET(T) *
  • (Susan and/or Kim?) BRUCE *
  • CASTEL
  • BAJAC
  • Mary CARWARDINE *
  • David CHENEY *
  • (David and/or Elizabeth) CLARK *
  • Quentin CARON (?)
  • Richard COLE *
  • Brian COOLEY *
  • Laurel CORMACK *
  • Jody CORNER *
  • DEMOOY (is this Caroline DeMOBY who is listed on BVAS site?) *
  • Mark DICEY *
  • Laura DICKSON *
  • Irene DUFTY (should this read DUFFY?) *
  • Yolanda (Van) DYCK *
  • Almut DALE *
  • Greg EDMONSON *
  • Kyra FISHER *
  • Doug FARRIES *
  • FAIR
  • Suzanne FRANKS *
  • Paul GARNET (should the name read GARNETT?)
  • Bill GARDNER *
  • Vera GREENWOOD *
  • Wayne GILES *
  • GRAF
  • Myrna HARVEY *
  • HADDON
  • Geoffrey HUNTER *
  • Nelson HENDRIKS *
  • Helen HADALA
  • Brian HOHNER *
  • HOWIE
  • HUNTING
  • Peter IVENS *
  • Isabelle (Hunt-)JOHNSON *
  • Mark JOSLIN *
  • JOHNSON
  • Sarah JOHN *
  • Lorna KINSELLA *
  • Pam KING *
  • Ron KANASHIRO *
  • KENNEDY
  • Don KOTTMANN *
  • Paul KUHN (?)
  • Kathy LESON *
  • Katherine LAKEMAN *
  • Laura MILLARD *
  • Rob MILTHORP *
  • Ron MOPPETT *
  • MUNRO
  • McCLURE
  • Mychael MAIER *
  • MECHAN (should this read Brian MEEHAN?) *
  • David MORE *
  • McKAE (should this have read Geoff McKAY?) *
  • Sharon NEUFELD *
  • Arthur NISHAMURA *
  • Bruce PUHACH *
  • Evan PENNY *
  • Laura POPE (?)
  • Leslie PINTER *
  • PATTERSON
  • PRIEL
  • REES
  • MANRENSA
  • Debra RUSHFELD *
  • Elsbeth RODGER *
  • Bill RODGERS *
  • Rob RENPENNING *
  • Sandra SAWATSKY *
  • Noboru SAWAI *
  • Helen SEBELIUS
  • Jeffrey SPALDING
  • Maeve SPAIN *
  • SILVA
  • Morgan(?) SMITH *
  • Peter STINSON *
  • Janine SAMUELSON *
  • SAHULD
  • Robert STOWELL *
  • Gary TUCKER (?)
  • Jim TINIOS *
  • Bev TOSH *
  • WILSON
  • Norman WHITE *
  • Louise WILLIAMSON *
  • Candice WEIR *
  • Tim WESTBURY (?)
  • WOODLOCK (might this be Carole WOODLOCK?)
  • Elmer XAVIER *
  • Robin YAGER (note correct spelling) *

If someone can fill in the blanks, I am sure either the BVAS and/or myself would be very appreciative of this information.

Advertisements

Wreck City Demo Tape thoughts

Demo_Tape_sign_19_June_2015 (1024x768)

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.

Wreck_City_Demo_Tape_site_19_June-2015_evening (1024x768)

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.

C_P_Rail_bridge_over_Elbow_River_where_Gene_Wilder_and_Richard_Pryor_jumped_in_Silver_Streak_from_Penguin_Carwash_looking_toward_Fort_Calgary_2015_July_01 (1024x768)

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.

WreckCityUpdate21June2015

WreckCityUpdate24June2015

WreckCityUpdate26June2015

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.

Wreck_City_Demo_Tape_volunteer_and_Art_Trailer_20_June_2015 (1024x759)

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.

Peter_Redecopp_Wash_Out_Sign_for_Wreck_City_Demo_Tape_at_Sunset (1024x768)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J_D_Mersault_writing_Wreck_City_Demo_Tape_19_June_2015 (1024x768)

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

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

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

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

Palmer_Olson_Wreck_City_Demo_Tape_Instruction_Guide (1024x794)

Palmer_Olson_Wreck_City_Demo_Tape_Packing_Slip_detail (1024x768)

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

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

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

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

Install_Detail_Lane_Shordee_Desiree_Naught_Wreck_City_Demo_Tape_20_June_2015 (1024x768)

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

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

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

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

Install_Detail_Ben_Nixon_Rochelle_Quinn_Wreck_City_Demo_Tape_20_June_2015 (1024x754)

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View_looking_east_above_Elbow_River_toward_Esker_Foundation_and_Penguin_Car_Wash_01_July_2015 (1024x768)

* * *

24 July 2015 @ 12:45MDT edit:

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

Oh, Canada exhibition opening tomorrow at four Calgary venues

Oh Canada Calgary invite

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

There are lots of things going on.

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

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

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

O'Kanada 1982 Catalogue Berlin

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

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

That makes it, kind of a big deal.

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

This is as it should be.

If there is none, the show is probably forgettable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look forward to seeing the show.

The potential imminent demise of a cultural legacy

Col_James_Walker_Park_and_Art_Central_demolition_site_2014_Dec_28 (1024x766)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary_Herald_Building_And_Lougheed_Building_with_Grand_Theatre

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

Len_Werry_Building_prior_to_C-Train_platform_placed_on_block

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Col_James_Walker_Park_Calgary_Sept_2013 (1024x683)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glenbow_photo_NA-2864-22325

The caption to this photo states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

W_H_Cushing_School_Mural_Mu_Life_in_Year_2000 (1024x682)

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

Collaboration in Calgary arts community (with a potential new participant)

 

 

Ciara_Phillips_Haight_Gallery_WE_2013

Tomorrow, the trustees of the Tate Britain will announce the winner of the 2014 Turner Prize. One of the four nominees is Canadian-born printmaker – Ciara Phillips.

Normally, an event that is taking place half-way around the world would be a non-event for this blog. However, I believe it is timely for discussion in Calgary, regardless of whether she wins or not.

For those who do not know, I am a former gallerist that operated a member gallery of the Art Dealers Association of Canada which dealt primarily with printmaking and prints. As a result, I have a very deep appreciation and understanding of the printmaking process, even though I am not a printmaker myself. For whatever reason, the printmaking medium, gets very little respect and appreciation in the city. It has been that way for a very long time, which is surprising given the strong printmaking tradition in the city and that there is an amazing collection of block prints (in particular) which is housed at the Glenbow. This all is quite unfortunate situation that I can only hope will change in time.

Secretly, (well maybe not so secretly anymore) I am pulling for her to win. I do see that she probably is somewhat of a longshot, although definitely in the running. In the UK, there is an interesting phenomenon in that people make wagers, and bookies make books on the outcomes of major cultural prizes, along with the usual horse races, football games and boxing matches. The Turner Prize is no exception.

When I checked a few minutes ago the average odds at the time of retrieval, the consensus order of payout (or from most-likely to least-likely) as determined by a survey of various bookies, is as follows:

  • Duncan Campbell is the favourite, a win would payout £7 for every £4 bet (1.75x);
  • A Ciara Phillips win would payout £11 for every £4 bet (2.75x);
  • A James Richards win would payout £3 for every £1 bet (3.0x);
  • A Tris Vonna-Mitchell win would payout £7 for every £2 bet (3.5x).

If only people cared that much on the visual arts in this city that they would bet on and for artists. If we did, we would probably have a civic art gallery and actually support the visual arts and its artists – but I digress.

Getting back to business.

Ciara Phillips was nominated for an exhibition that she held during 2013 at The Showroom, London that ended one year ago today (November 30). The exhibition was described as follows, and I will quote at length (there is substantially more, if you feel so inclined) to help put this posting into context for those in Calgary who may not click on the hotlink and to understand the timeliness. Here is what The Showroom had to say about this exhibition:

Workshop (2010–ongoing) is a new installation made up of multiple screenprints on newsprint and large-scale works on cotton. This new work sets an attitude for a two-month temporary print studio that will take place in the gallery over the course of the exhibition.

Throughout October and November (2013) Phillips will be collaborating with invited artists, designers, and local women’s groups (many of whom have ongoing relationships with The Showroom) to produce new screenprints. Guests will bring their different knowledge and experiences of working collectively to the Workshop, whose structure is open for development as the project progresses. These new collaborations will initiate conversations and actions that aren’t contained within specific disciplines of art, community action, design or activism. By making prints in these new collaborative groupings, Phillips will explore the potential of ‘making together’ as a way of negotiating ideas and generating discussions around experimental and wider uses of print.

We know that Ciara Phillips showed in Calgary previously and I was fortunate enough to have seen the group show which she was included in, during the summer of 2013 at the short-lived Haight Gallery (which has subsequently closed, probably right after the group show ended). The photo above was from that show, and the same exhibition was also shown in January 2014 at Edmonton’s Latitude 53 – an artist run centre.

Now to get to the core of the matter.

Why is this relevant to Calgary?

As seen above, we know that Ciara Phillips has shown in Calgary. We also know that there is a significant artistic exchange that occurs between Glasgow (where she currently lives) and Calgary. I could easily rattle off a good sampling of names without too much difficulty.

We also have seen a significant increase in collaboration in the city’s institutional culture. Here are some examples:

  • Earlier this year it was announced that Calgary will host the MassMOCA produced Oh, Canada show which will open in January 2015. This will be a collaborative exhibition spread between Glenbow, Esker, Nickle, and the Illingworth Kerr galleries.
  • Not so long ago Contemporary Calgary co-hosted a portion of the Made in Calgary: The 1990s show and the Nickle currently is co-hosting the Glenbow’s Made in Calgary: The 2000s show.
  • We can also reference the initial Nuit Blanche show in 2012 where they informally collaborated with MOCA Calgary (now Contemporary Calgary).
  • Then there was the partnership between the Calgary Stampede and MOCA Calgary for a 1912/2012 focused show during the summer of 2012.
  • We can also talk about the long-standing (maybe 15-20 year long) relationship between the Centre for Performing Arts and mostly artist run centres in the six +15 window spaces which has recently been expanded to also include the Alberta Craft Council, Tiny Gallery and the University of Calgary. There may be more in the works as I see construction happening in the same general area.

Even other organizations outside of the visual arts like the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra is getting in on the act with a performance which involved students in the MADT program at the Alberta College of Art and Design in their performance last night of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila.

Beakerhead is yet another fine example where it was set up to explore where collaboration can exist between the engineering and science communities with the visual arts.

I know that I have only touched upon a few partnerships, but as seen above it is an increasingly important part of the cultural landscape that is developing in the city for various reasons. It is probably a good thing.

In a recent interview in the Ottawa Citizen where she is quoted as saying, “I think it (the Turner Prize) has drawn a lot more attention to my work, and there have been some really nice outcomes of that, especially invitations to make future exhibitions in Sweden and Canada.” This was also repeated a few days later (earlier this week) in a recent interview with Canadian Art magazine.

Alberta Printmakers Society is one such organization that could potentially host this show in their new facility. Although, having said that, I would think the gallery space might be a bit on the small side.

From a personal observation, A/P has become much more active recently and has shown a willingness to program potentially controversial exhibitions such as the recent Joscelyn Gardner show which ended yesterday, entitled bringing down the flowers. . . I attended the opening of Gardner’s show this past October 24th and had a good discussion with her while I was there. It was my intention to write something about it, but due to other more pressing circumstances, I was unable to find the time to do so. It was a very strong show and it dealt with issues that should have a higher visibility and dialogue in this country. Certainly, more so than what is currently the case. I may still, even though it is too late to see the show at the Artist Proof Gallery.

Given this as background, and understand that this is complete and unsubstantiated speculation as an outsider, does that mean we may potentially see Caira Phillip’s Workshop (2010 – ongoing) make an appearance in Calgary in the near future?

Maybe there is a partnership with A/P and another organization such as the Esker, Illingworth Kerr Gallery, the Banff Centre or potentially Contemporary Calgary or the Glenbow in the works?

Let’s hope so.

*  *  *

December 1, 2014 edit

I checked the news to find out who won the Turner Prize this year. The winner was Duncan Campbell. It is not surprising given that the film he was nominated for was previously shown at the most recent Venice Biennale.

It doesn’t change anything about collaboration, which was the primary focus of this posting. Of course that possibility of a Canadian show for Ciara Phillips is still out there and I think that it would be awesome if it took place in Calgary.

New art installed on the 5th Avenue SW underpass

5th_Avenue_underpass_art_installation_detail_Moppett_Kerr_Brown_Cameron_2014_Sept_24 (1024x683)

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

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

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

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

* * *

After my circuitous and rambling pre-amble . . .

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

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

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

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

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

I still do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8th_Avenue_Place_Images_of_the_Alberta_Landscape_brochure_2013 (1024x785)

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

My curiosity is, what is the connection?

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

Place_Ten_under_construction_and_Eighth_Avenue_Place_behind_2014_Sept_23 (1024x683)

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

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

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

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

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

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

An aside regarding the Hughes watercolour

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

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

E_J_Hughes_Calgary_1955_image_on_5th_Avenue_SW_underpass_2014_Sept_23 (1024x683)

(The Hughes watercolour above)

A_C_Leighton_Calgary_1951_from_McCord_Museum (1024x721)

(the Leighton painting above)

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

Summary:

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

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

* * *

Addendum and Correction (2014 October 11)

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

The mystery has been solved.

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

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

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

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

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

For that I applaud this initiative.

Yup, it is Still Burning

Dominion_Bridge_Passage_opening_for_Burns_Visual_Arts_Society_Sept_18_2014 (1024x683)

Last night, I attended the opening of the 35th anniversary show of the Burn’s Visual Arts Society (BVAS) exhibition held at Passage. The space where it was held, literally is as described, a passage between two buildings in the old Dominion Bridge building complex in Ramsay.

This is an event that I have looked forward to for about a month, when I first heard that it was in the works.

Whenever I have been able, I have made best efforts to attend the Burns open house. It only happens once a year, and more often than not I usually had to work which always made it difficult to attend.

This year the open house will be next weekend. That is the weekend which corresponds with Alberta Culture Days and ArtWalk (which amazingly within the last year has come back from the nearly dead). The same can’t be said for ArtCity, which went from a yearly event, to a biennial event, until last I heard it was registering a flatline.

The Burns Visual Arts Society has an interesting story. It is a story few know about.

The organization should be known more as many of the past members of the Society have gone on to great artistic success both here and elsewhere. As you can see by the incomplete list of past members below there have been some important artists who had studios in the BVAS that achieved a certain level of critical success such as Martin Bennett, Dennis Burton, Mark Dicey, Greg Edmonson, Marjan Eggermont, Marianne Gerlinger, Mark Joslin, Ron Moppet, Arthur Nishimura, Evan Penny, Bill Rodgers, Noboru Sawai, Jeff Spalding, Bev Tosh and Peter von Tiesenhausen.

Burns_Visual_Arts_Society_list_of_members_since_1979 (1024x683)

I must admit there is not much available to work with in terms of public information about the Burns Visual Arts Society. In some ways this is to be expected as most visual artists quietly produce work in the confines of their studios – with little fanfare. It is a solitary career for the most part.

When there is information, it is usually in conjunction with the individual artist’s work being produced, sometimes years after the fact when an exhibition is mounted and the artist acknowledges the contribution that the society did to enable and provide a supportive environment to create the work. Even then there is little discussion about the place where the art was produced, but rather about the artist him or herself. Fortunately, I have an amazing library as it relates to art from the region and have worked in the business and attended numerous exhibitions and networked with artists and administrators with amazing regularity in Calgary for a very, very long time. . .

This is a milestone exhibition.

The BVAS has reached it 35 year anniversary. From what one of the didactic panels stated, the BVAS is “Canada’s oldest continual art studio cooperative.”

This is something definitely worth celebrating.

This fact alone shows how difficult it is to keep an organization such as this going. It is an amazing feat that this cooperative society has survived this long in Calgary.

No doubt it also speaks to the 175+ artists who been involved in the organization over the past 35 years. The numbers alone would indicate that each artist stays for over five years on average. Some have stayed longer. Artists such as Bev Tosh, Louise Williamson and Cecelia Gossen have maintained studios at BVAS for substantial periods of time and in so doing have been the glue that holds the organization and in so doing have provided the stability allowing the organization to flourish.

So a catalogue is definitely in order and is available from BVAS for $20.

I am glad to see that it happened. And in colour too.

I must hand it to curator Colleen Sharpe who wrote an essay for the catalogue. In talking to her last night she indicated that the catalogue was only put together in two weeks. From the significant amount of research I have done in this area over the past couple years, I know this for a factas I have stated above, there is not much material to work with to create a history for BVAS. So as a result, she must be commended that she was able to create as much as she did.

Having worked with Colleen before, I knew that the show would be well-curated before I even got there. Colleen does a good job in what she does. I am one of her biggest fans – maybe even her biggest.

BVAS_Still_Burning_invite_Sept_2014

History

What is stated below is a bit more history on the Burns Visual Arts Society.

This is all primarily new information and is not in the essay.

On Thursday, December 28th, 1978, midway between Christmas and New Years Eve, the tenants in the Burns Building were evicted by the landlord and told to vacate their spaces by January 31st, 1979.

This was not surprising news as only a month earlier, the Globe and Mail reported `that “the city is assembling the four city blocks, bounded by 7th and 9th avenues and 1st and 3rd streets SE, to hold a new city hall, a centre for the performing arts, and possibly some commercial development.” This area incorporates the geographical area incorporating what is now known as Olympic Plaza, the Calgary Centre for Performing Arts and City Hall.

In 1979, building permits were forecast at the end of January to be $1.3-billion. The city was in the midst of the great boom that ended in 1980-81.

The Burns Building was in a seedy area at the time. Across the street also facing Macleod Trail stood the Queen’s Hotel along with neighbouring Alexandra Hotel which were part of what was a seedy part of town, what was once called Whiskey Row. Both of these hotels were subsequently demolished to make way for the new City Hall Building and the Centre For Performing Arts. Initially, this was all part of Mayor Ross Alger’s planned $234-million Civic Centre project and was the subject of a November 29, 1979 plebiscite to approve the project. That first project was defeated by 1841 votes. This controversial project, of course, was partly responsible for bringing former CTV News, City Hall reporter, Ralph Klein to the mayoral seat in 1980. The end result was that the project still went ahead a couple years later, only that it changed somewhat.

This all was background.

There were a number of artists who maintained studios in the Burns Building.

The Burns Visual Arts Society was formed as a result of the December 1978 eviction with artist Bill Rodgers acting as spokesman for the group. The City at that time was largely unsympathetic to the artist`s plight as evidenced by Alderman Barb Scott‘s comments where she bluntly stated that the Burns Building was private property and the artists should not come to the City for help with relocation. However in Barb Scott’s defence, she did indicate that with little more than 30-days notice “there (was) no need (to) vacat(e) for several months”.

It was in this context that artists such as Evan Penny, Laura Pope, Wayne Giles, Bill Rodgers and others established the Burns Visual Arts Society as a cooperative in 1979 – 35 years ago.

Ironically, as a side note, and this more of a happenstance than anything else, earlier this year Calgary Arts Development Authority and Studio C both relocated to the Burns Building. So the arts now live again in the Burns Building as this has almost come full circle.

The next home for the BVAS was on the fourth and fifth floor of the five-storey Neilson Block located at 118 – 8 Avenue SE just over a block away from its former home. During that time, the Neilson Block definitely was a visual arts friendly building. The Off Centre Centre (now known as The New Gallery) was also located in this building on the third floor for a number of years. Also there was a hair salon (the name of which I forget) on the second floor that also regularly featured artists and openings.

This building with its close proximity across the pedestrian mall from the Glenbow Museum, was operated as normal until it was sold in 1995 with plans for redevelopment were announced. This resulted in changes starting to happen. The society remained there until they were forced to relocate in 1998 as a result of the new Telus Convention Centre and Hyatt Hotel construction and redevelopment which affected the entire block that the Neilson Block stood on. The building façade has been retained and incorporated into the design of the new part of what was then known as the Calgary Convention Centre.

It was at this time that the BVAS moved to its present location 828 – 24 Avenue SE in the community of Ramsay, where it is still located. It is situated almost directly across the street from where the art space Passage, where the exhibition Still Burning is hosted, on the site of the old Dominion Bridge Building.

This site where the exhibition is held is notable for being the site where Dennis Oppenheim‘s controversial sculpture Device to Root Out Evil was located between 2008 until it was quietly removed in January of this year at the end of its five-year lease. In addition, it is notable for housing a number of artist studios, production shops and was the original home of NewZones, a commercial gallery, before they moved to their present location on 11th Avenue SW.

Passage_Gallery_Burns_Visual_Arts_Society_Still_Burning_exhibition_Sept_18_2014 (1024x683)

Overall this is a good show. It is well worth a visit.

I am glad to see that they acknowledged the current 20 members of the Studio Collective. They also tipped a hat and acknowledged the contributions and memory of former members who are no longer involved or have passed away. They did this by including a major dress piece by long-term member Elizabeth Clark who passed away suddenly on March 10, 2008 as a gesture of tribute and by including recent studio artist Graham Page who also passed away suddenly from pancreatic cancer this past summer on July 6, 2014.

Make sure you include a visit as part of the East Side Studio Crawl which was initiated by a couple of BVAS members Cecelia Gossen and Celia Meade in 2003 which was based loosely on a similar successful initiative that was held in Vancouver around the time that it was established. This event will take place this weekend on September 20.