A legacy at the Esker

AnthonyCaro (1024x688)

I have enjoyed a guilty pleasure of late when visiting the Esker Foundation.

About six months ago the Esker staff placed a powerful and handsome sculpture by Anthony Caro entitled Catalope, 1981 outside their main doors.  It brought me much pleasure immediately upon first seeing it.  I knew exactly whose work it was and was so excited on seeing it, that I had to thank the staff for putting it out and I have done so every other time that I have been there since.

It is something that is so remote – we rarely see anything like it in Calgary.

Well. . . sorta.  There are a few others around that have a linear progression from Anthony Caro, but not sure if they are all still on public view.

  • There was a small sculpture garden that used to be discretely placed at the University of Calgary.  It was off to the side, behind the old Library Tower.  It held works by Catherine Burgess, Isla Burns, Alan Reynolds, Ben McLeod and others.  I am guessing, but it is probably about where the Taylor Digital Library is now standing;
  • There is a stately Douglas Bentham outside the main entrance of the Harry Hays Building that is really easy to miss;
  • Then there is the quiet Henry Saxe sculpture discretely located in the lawn between the Harry Hays Building and the river – all presumably from around the same general period as the Caro;
  • More recently there is a squat, compact and sensual Isla Burns from the 1990s that occupies a small alcove on a +15 bridge;
  • Finally there is a recent Ken Macklin in the courtyard of an office tower downtown.

Sir Anthony Caro is a legendary British sculptor and is considered by many to be the greatest British sculptor of his generation.  He had a good mentor as he was Henry Moore’s studio assistant during the 1950s.  He then came to critical notice in the early 1960s at Whitechapel Gallery and his ground-breaking work from that period broke open how sculpture was seen for the remainder of the 20th century.  His influence is still felt today, although rarely recognized – at least in Calgary.

Caro reputation as a pioneer was ground-breaking.  As Will Gompertz, Arts editor at BBC has stated, he ”remov(ed) the plinth in sculpture and instead plac(ed) his work directly on the ground (which) not only changed our relationship with the artwork but the future direction of sculpture itself.” [1.]

Sir Anthony Caro had a significant impact on our neighbours to the north.  He would periodically visit the University of Alberta and provide workshops there and was once a workshop leader at Emma Lake in 1977.  One of the professors at the University of Alberta, Peter Hide was a studio assistant to Sir Anthony Caro prior to accepting a professorship in Edmonton.  Caro’s impact continued to influence Edmonton to the point where it was often referred to in sculptural circles as steel city.

A number of years ago I curated a large non-representational (or pure-abstraction) show of two- and three-dimensional work in prime downtown Calgary real estate.  I leased numerous spaces occupying nearly half the building footprint of Art Central on the +15 level, at market rates.  In the months leading up to the show I travelled widely collecting works and doing studio visits in anticipation of the show.  As a result of this and my personal passion and dedication to show the work I was extremely successful in getting some amazing pieces.  It was the quality of work that a regional art museum of any size would be happy to have for their collection as the works were predominately of those from Western Canada.  It contained a virtual who’s who of abstraction in the region, unless there was compelling reason not to include certain artists, such as geographical exclusivity in representation.

It was a labour of love.

I knew this going in.  I had worked in the Calgary arts scene long enough to know this.  It was definitely not going to be a financial success.

Unfortunately there was no catalogue produced, although I have in my files a listing of all the work that was included.  Regardless of the financial outcome, it was a show that I am extremely proud of doing.  At one of the stops I visited an artist who had a table top work of Sir Anthony Caro’s in his dining room.  It was a stunning work probably a little bit more recent than the work illustrating this post, which is in the lobby just outside of the Esker Foundation doors.

This all is my long-winded way of saying that last week, Sir Anthony Caro passed away.  He was 89.

His influence will definitely be missed. [2.]

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Notes:

[1.] Will Gompertz’ quote is found here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-24654484

[2.] Sir Anthony Caro’s obituary.  http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/oct/24/sir-anthony-caro

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More questions than answers

UofCMotto (1024x683)

I see the Edmonton Journal picked up a story yesterday that surfaced during the middle of last week. First a bit of background. The current dean of the arts department Lesley Cormack sent a memo informing faculty that “effective immediately, I am asking (the registrar) to begin suspending admission to the following (20) programs or concentrations” in the humanities. She then went on to request that “arguments against these recommended suspensions should be made, in writing, to the Dean, by September 3rd.” See the full memorandum here http://artssquared.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/memorandum-from-dean-of-arts-16aug2013.pdf

Then according to the article covering the same story in yesterday’s Edmonton Journal – see http://www.edmontonjournal.com/entertainment/Simons+Between+rock+arts+place+Proposed+program+cuts/8808713/story.html we read the following:
“The timing is far from ideal. Classes start in less than a month.
And many academics and university administrators — including, as it happens, the dean of arts herself — are on vacation. The situation leaves professors scrambling. Incoming and returning students wondering whether the courses and programs in which they’ve enrolled will have any future or if they should change majors now, before they end up headed down a dead-end road.”

Seriously? The Dean drops this bomb and then goes on vacation? But I digress.

Nor am I am not even going to touch on the recent news as of late yesterday afternoon that the province is investigating the University of Alberta finances as per the attached update from the chair of the Board of Governors http://www.ualbertablog.ca/2013/08/board-chair-cip-response-received-key.html as it is an administrative matter and not germane to my comments.

* * * * *

This situation is somewhat reminiscent of the highly publicized local situation that elicited front page coverage in Calgary for a while.  It also is an issue that both Mount Royal University and the University of Calgary had to deal with, just after the school term ended this past spring. Both universities (as did other local educational institutions) took the budget cuts announced by the province on the chin. Which programmes were the losers? One could probably figure that out by doing a simple online search – but similar to what is happening at the University of Alberta now, it largely was the humanities and arts.

Clearly there are issues that need to be addressed. Hard decisions must also be made. There are no easy solutions.

Having said that, this prompts the question, why does it appear that the arts and humanities typically are the first programs to get axed when funding cuts are announced? Are they extraneous programs that should only be funded when times are good?

The follow-on question is – at the undergraduate level should students be more interested in getting a liberal arts education or a technical education?

The American Council for Education wrote about this matter just last year (see http://www.acenet.edu/the-presidency/columns-and-features/Pages/Myth-A-Liberal-Arts-Education-Is-Becoming-Irrelevant.aspx). Here Clare T. Christ, president of Smith College in Northampton, MA states:
“Yet, judging the value of a liberal arts education, even with a purely economic calculus, shows it to be more relevant than ever before. It is no longer news that career trajectories are varied and multiple; that our professional pursuits have distinct chapters over the course of our lives; and that, especially for women, the ability to step off and back on the career track during childbearing years is critical to advancement. Flexibility, creativity, critical thinking, and strong communication skills (particularly writing) are at the core of liberal arts education and critical to success today and in the future. It’s not surprising that a recent survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities shows that more than three-quarters of employers would recommend an education with this emphasis to a young person they know.”

Also this past Spring the American Academy of Arts and Sciences wrote a report entitled The Heart of the Matter (as found here http://www.humanitiescommission.org/_pdf/hss_report.pdf). In this report they set forth three goals.
1. Educate Americans in the knowledge, skills, and understanding they will need to thrive in a twenty-first-century democracy;
2. Foster a society that is innovative, competitive, and strong;
3. Equip the nation for leadership in an interconnected world.

Just today in the Washington Post an article was publishing about the importance of changing the current vogue of a STEM-based educational stream that has been popular since the 1990s into a more balanced STEAM-based educational stream instead – see the story http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/therootdc/the-smartest-summer-ever-full-steam-ahead/2013/08/21/8c5399ac-0a63-11e3-8974-f97ab3b3c677_story.html

We must ask both ourselves as taxpayers and voters a few questions – do we want technical universities that teach its students to do skills, or do we want our students to be capable of thinking, creativity and communicating information in a world that is rapidly changing? Where the skills one learns early in one’s career are not the same that they will use when they retire? What skill sets will still remain relevant during that timeframe? And, is cutting these programs now something we will regret doing in a few years?

To borrow from the paragraph copied above in the Edmonton Journal – which educational stream is the “real” dead-end road? The “liberal arts” or a technical education.