Back to the 80s


Tonight the third iteration in a five-part series focusing on individual decades in Calgary opens at the Glenbow Museum.  The first in the series was the 1960s.  Tonight’s decade of focus is the 1980s.

This was an interesting decade in Calgary with the boom which began in the mid-1970s through the beginning of the decade which helped define the modern architecture of the city, along with the subsequent bust also at the beginning of the decade.  The decade closed out with the 1988 Winter Olympics being hosted here and the subsequent awareness that the city was now a player on the world stage, regardless of a few arts related SNAFUs that happened around that time.

I had the opportunity to have a sneak peak yesterday to the part of the main part of show which opens tonight, but only viewed the second floor of the exhibition which is split between the second and fourth floors.  There also will be a continuation of the 1980s exhibition to be held at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) which will open on the 21st.

In the works that I saw yesterday there are some excellent examples of works from artists who made a huge impact during this decade.  Compared to the 1970s show which ended last month the big difference is how large the work shown was scaled up from previous decades represented.  No doubt this had some connection to the large corporate edifices that were built during the boom, but also reflected the larger scale works which were a continuation of the color-field and formalist theories from the 1970s and the influence of Clement Greenberg, even though his impact in Calgary was negligible at best – as compared to Edmonton only a short distance away, where there was a definite Greenberg influence during this same period.

Some highlights:

One of the works that did show some Greenbergian influence was a work by Harold Feist who was on faculty at the Alberta College of Art and Design when his now famous musician daughter, Leslie Feist was born.  A very strong Ron Moppett multi-panel piece that probably stretches 10 metres or more with a red line that ties the panels together on a quiet and restrained background from the early ‘80s.  This was a very nice contrast to another work of similar scale from late in the decade from the Glenbow collection.  The small painted Mark Dicey construction from the Nickle Museum was very strong, surprising given the quietness of almost monochromatic work.  It was nice to revisit a couple of Iain Baxter& paintings of apple trees with polaroid apples affixed to the canvas.  They were included in a solo show of his works from about two years ago also at the Glenbow.  The conceptual roots in these important works (even though there were also a few pieces also selected as produced by Baxter&’s N.E. Thing Co. in Ron Moppett’s curated 1970s show), will be no doubt referenced (but not directly) in Nancy Tousley’s curated iteration of works from the 1990s that will open in the winter 2014.  The quietness of Takeo Tanabe’s large “The Land” paintings was evident in the two selected works.  They, like the Feist work show some awareness of Greenberg and his theories.  This made me wonder whatever happened to the magnificent Tanabe probably three metre square painting from the same series, that used to reside in the lobby of the Dome Tower for a long time.  It was removed in the renovations a few years back and has been replaced by a stone wall that matches the rest of the lobby and the lobby now is so much more clinical as a result (but I digress).  It was also nice to see one of Marianne Gerlinger’s still life paintings that referenced the influential American 19th century painter William Merritt Chase.  This painting was a large two metre square painting of a watermelon and knife, but yet had staining to the side that referenced Chase’s paintings of dead fish (a subject that Gerlinger also referenced in the 1980s although none were selected for this show).  Of course the two works of double self-portraits by Chris Cran must be mentioned.  These are some of the most important works Cran has done and the fact that they are almost all located in public art collections speaks to this statement.  The fact that the Glenbow chose to use one of these paintings Self-Portrait Watching a Man about to Shoot Himself in the Foot, 1985 (illustrated above) shows the sense of irony and humour that make this series of works so important.  Of course I would be remiss not to mention John Will.  It was nice to see the long narrow text based painting along with one of his lithographs from the Great Moments in Sport series.  As a professor emeritus of printmaking at the University of Calgary this work is probably very important as it would be one his first attempts to transition from a purely printmaking practice to one that almost exclusively painting now..

This show is well-worth visiting as will be the upcoming exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) on the 21st.  In talking to the sculptor Katie Ohe yesterday she indicated that the third of three works from a series she worked on during the 1970s and 1980s will be located at MOCA.  Most people will know this series from her sculpture entitled the Zipper located in the Sciences Building lobby at the University of Calgary.  They will recognize it, as quoted in the U of C Gauntlet, through the “mesmerizing turning of the “Zipper” (it) is said to bring peace to the students, allowing them to concentrate on the ever-important studies or test writing that takes place in the classrooms adjacent.”

As expected from a curated show by Jeffrey Spalding, this show was well conceived, thoughtfully selected and well-placed.

The show will continue until January 5th and while there one might as well see the very rare chance to see a large group of landscapes by the great German expressionist Otto Dix who is shown alongside Canadian Group of Seven painter A.Y. Jackson which is located in the next gallery to the 1980s show which is also on until January 5th.