Art Central / Telus Sky next steps

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Recently as I walked along the C-Train platform adjoining Art Central and the Len Weary Building, I noticed a building permit sign out front.  Here it is.

Information extracted from the sign would indicate that the re-development is covered under Bylaw# 5D2014 and those who might be affected should make written submission to the City Clerk’s office by no later than 2014 January 02.  This will be followed by a hearing in City Council chambers on 2014 January 13.

Of course this makes me wonder, whatever will happen to the W.H. Cushing Workplace School located in the Len Weary Building? Where will the children go? And, where will the school re-locate?

This development, as expected, appears to be moving forward.

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Requiem for Art Central

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Last week I walked past Art Central.  I noticed the signs on the door indicating that effective today, the +15 will be closed to all foot traffic between it and adjoining buildings.

It is a bittersweet day for me – ironically falling on Remembrance Day.  Like when a long-standing relationship draws to a close – one remembers both the good times and the bad.

I used to have a space in Art Central.  Truth be told, I had four or five of them over the years.

This is my story.

Sometime around 2001-2003 the leasing agent for Art Central came to visit both the owner of the gallery I once worked at, along with myself.  He was looking for established galleries to anchor the development.  After his presentation and others I attended in that timeframe, along with discussions with other dealers who were located close by, it became clear that it the location was not suited for a gallery and probably why no pre-existing and established commercial galleries ever a space.  Of course, there was Rob and myself but we both had pre-existing histories with galleries, but started afresh when we opened in Art Central.

The concept itself was very interesting, but as they say in real estate it is all about location, location, location.

Unfortunately, Art Central never had that.

I attended the grand opening of Art Central in conjunction with the grand opening of ArtCity probably in 2005.  There was no power to the building except as hooked up to a generator which gave a rawness to the building which was rather edgy.  The downside was once the party starting to roll, the music was shut off and we all got kicked out early for whatever reason.

Once the building was open in late 2005, I would often visit the First Thursday celebrations with my then new girlfriend.  She had never been exposed to cultural activities or galleries before we hooked up and this was a good introduction for her.  During the three and a half years we were together I was able to introduce her to other cultural experiences, something I took great pleasure in doing.

During this time, I was also running another gallery.  When things started rapidly going south at that gallery in March of 2007, I had to look for new space.  It was during a time when the overheated commercial real estate market had vacancy rates of less than ½ of 1%.  My choices for retail space were extremely limited.

For about week I would drop her off at her job downtown, park the car and then go to Art Central to see what the traffic patterns were like in the early morning prior to opening the old gallery in anticipation of signing a lease.  The foot traffic was very good as the C-Train station was just outside the door and it was still cool outside, so lots of people passed through.

Without getting into the gory details, I moved from a 3000 sq. ft. retail storefront space on one of the best streets for art galleries to a 300 sq. ft. space on the +15 level and was open for business two days later.  On one of the first days I overheard a short conversation during the afternoon foot traffic rush hour which sadly defined the remainder of my time in that building.   Two guys that I assumed were co-workers saw each other on the central stairwell.  One said to the other something to the effect of “I’ll race you and see who gets out of the building faster.”  Like relationships, sometimes when you start on the wrong foot, it influences everything else to come.

I have described my gallery as similar to a corner store on the 401.  Sometimes people need a drink or a bag of chips.  Most of the time they don’t and zoom right past without a second glance.

At first sales were okay.  But then the York Hotel came down across the street the next summer and the construction of the Bow Building and the huge underground parking lot with all the dust and noise only affected business even more.  The construction of the Bow was the beginning of the slow death of Art Central.

I left the building just before the current owners purchased it.  All I can say is that I am glad I left when I did.

Toward the end, tenant turnover was very high.  There were very few occupants in the Art Loop in the basement.  First Thursdays were nothing like they used to be and for the last couple years the basement had their lights turned off and the only activity was the music and a few small openings.

I am sure that by the time I left, the many accumulated disappointments and unmet expectations during my nearly five years there, only served to acknowledge that this chapter of my life had ended.

I look back on my time in Art Central with bittersweet memories.  I did some amazing shows there that few noticed and I met top drawer people.

When I left, I took the summer off and then started on a new passion – trying to figure out why this city is so weird when it comes to the visual arts.  After nearly two decades of running galleries and siting on boards and being actively involved in the community, I don’t believe that I am any closer to figuring out what makes this city tick when it comes to the visual arts.  Maybe I never will.

Art Central was a great concept that failed to deliver.  I am glad that I was part of it.

To an old friend.  Goodbye.

A quiet performance

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Long ago, probably in late 2010 or early 2011, I first encountered the performance artist Stephen G. A. Mueller.

It was a time of personal crises and substantial upheaval occurring in my life.  At the time I spent a fair amount of time in the area around Art Central where The New Gallery was then located.  The artist they featured during that time was Stephen Mueller.

The New Gallery show was entitled Please Dont Go.  Briefly the show involved a durational performance where Mueller would occupy an illuminated glass box made out of one-way mirrors (reflecting inwards), which he resided in for six hours a day, five days a week for the duration of the exhibition.  There he would repeatedly create the phrase “I miss you” in Braille on a long strip of paper, then meticulously cut out the braille dots and with a pair of tweezers place each dot in the Braille sequence into its own small individual, unmarked petri dish.  And repeat.  There is a review and image of his show at The New Gallery which is available online (see http://www.canadianart.ca/reviews/2011/01/06/stephen_mueller/).

At times there were just the two of us sharing the same physical space of the gallery – he working, and myself as a voyeur, most likely with coffee in hand while taking a break from my own work.  This act of watching Mueller work, somehow was a grounding and meditative experience that allowed me to quiet my own mind and focus amidst the angst-filled period of my life at that time.

I never forgot it.

Fast forward three years.

Earlier this month, on September 13, Untitled Art Society opened a show of Mueller’s work entitled Starting Over in their Satellite Gallery.

Like at The New Gallery, this show is of a durational performance.  The difference is that here, it is presented as a pair of videos which is a record of the private performance.  The performance took place over an uninterrupted period of 55 hours, 16 minutes and 39 seconds of time (Friday, June 17, 2011 at 10:34:34 EDT – Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 17:51:13 EDT).  The artist has described the performance during this timeframe, and the contents of the two videos, as this:

  • During that period, I manually extracted every beard hair from my face, one hair at a time, using a pair of surgical tweezers.  Each hair was then placed into a specimen jar.  Immediately following, two photographs were taken remotely: one of the front of my head and one of the back.

This video performance recently, and in the near future, will also be presented at a number of artist-run centres across the country.  This Untitled Art Society show is located in their Satellite Gallery space, located at 343 – 11 Avenue SW and will continue until October 19th .

Once again, Mueller just completed a new durational performance.

This time the performance was at Phantom Wing located at the King Edward School which began on Friday, September 27, 2013 at 20:00 MDT and ended on Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 20:00 MDT.

During this performance, entitled A Place for Us Before You Go the artist walked around the exterior of the school, going counter-clockwise, walking continuously with the fingertips of his left hand maintaining physical contact with the building, or objects attached to it (i.e. fences, railings, trees or shrubs) during this 24-hour period.  By the time I arrived and took this photo near the north entrance around 16:00 MDT Saturday afternoon, the circuit the artist had taken alongside the building was evidenced by a noticeable pathway.  This was created by compressing the grass where he had walked many times in the hours beforehand and in time will disappear.

In this 24-hour performance period, he did not wear any timepiece.  By doing this, the artist was talking about how in the name of progress “we no longer recognize time and space, yet our bodies remain instruments for recording them”.

As with the other two works mentioned previously, this work also deals with important issues that are worth talking about and opening a dialogue surrounding them.  It is my hope that some evidence of this performance will remain, outside of the physical indentation of the ground caused by his walking on it.  I am very intrigued to see what will come from it.

New space for The New Gallery

Tonight The New Gallery – Calgary’s oldest Artist Run Centre will open its new location.

By the end of July, The New Gallery left its location in Art Central.  They have since spent the past month and a half upgrading and getting their new location in Chinatown exhibition ready.  The new gallery space is located in an area that got hit hard during the June flood, but it is uncertain if their building was affected or not.

The staff and board must have seen the writing on the wall for Art Central.  It was a good decision for The New Gallery, as Telus, along with the Art Central ownership group made a major announcement around the time they left.  The announcement was that the Art Central building will be destroyed to make way for a new office/residential development called Telus Sky.  It will be designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) based out of Copenhagen and New York and is scheduled to be open in 2017.

I have seen the renderings and it looks like a very interesting building and will create an interesting dialogue with the Norman Foster designed Bow Building and the new Brookfield Place building that is now only a hole in the ground — as the Telus Sky complex will be located in the middle.  Development seemingly has already started at the other end of the block.  Within days of the announcement, construction hoarding went up surrounding the Telus-owned Len Werry building which is part of the same Telus Sky development.

New Location:

The New Gallery is now located at 208 Centre Street SE.  It is on the main floor in the first building at the bottom of the Centre Street Bridge.  In this photo taken yesterday it is the unit with the ladder in the window.

The opening begins at 5:00pm tonight and features Sam Blanchard in a show entitled Older & Overwhelmed.  It is a show that “examines the trials and tribulations that constitute a day in the life of the “everyman”.”