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Dick Averns
Calgary
July 13, 2009

As legions of rodeo-types troop around town for The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, a.k.a. the Calgary Stampede, it’s hard not to think of Canadian culture. Bull-riding, calf-roping, the Indian Village (yes, it’s really called that) and prairie oysters (calves’ testicles served à la carte) all contribute to a performative promotion and preservation of western heritage. But if that’s not your cup-of-tea, there is a host of free pancake breakfasts and the Western Art Show: although, as I haven’t forked out the fourteen bucks stampede entry, I will instead start off with what I’ll call the Greatest Indoor Show in Calgary. Sit back for the bumper summer digest.



The Countess of Wessex arrives at the official opening of the Military Museums & Founders’ Gallery

Opened on June 6th, by Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex, Calgary’s newest A-grade art gallery is the four thousand square foot Founders’ Gallery at The Military Museums. Funded with significant private donations plus support from the Department of National Defence and the cooperation of TMM stakeholders, this is a considerable achievement for Calgary: apparently still the only city in North America of more than a million people that has no major civic art gallery (more on this later). The first major show at the FG (you can guess from the acronym why it wasn’t called the Founders’ Art Gallery) is Art in the Service of War: The Emergent Group of Seven, an impressive curatorial undertaking of art and artifact by Colleen Sharpe.



A.Y. Jackson, Gas Attack, 1918, oil on canvas

Building on a thesis proposed by Laura Brandon, curator and art historian at the Canadian War Museum, that the iconographic landscape style of the Group of Seven was formed not in Canada’s wilderness frontiers but instead on the wild frontlines of the Great War, Sharpe’s exhibit includes additional indicators of formative Canadian identity. However, not all works present a picture of pride in battlefield nation building. For instance, A.Y. Jackson’s Gas Attack paints an unexpected reflection, particularly when read in conjunction with the artist’s notes: "I went with Augustus John one night to see a gas attack we made on the German lines. It was like a wonderful display of fireworks, with the clouds of gas and the German flares and rockets of all colours."



Kelly Andres, Urban Habitat Laboratory

Art of a very different nature is to be found citywide this month in Ride On! presented by the Mountain Standard Time Performative Art Festival (a.k.a M:ST) and featuring the work of Kelly Andres, Marc Dulude, the Tender Mountain Clan (TMC) and Jessica Thompson. This bicycle-themed series is an indication of evolving preoccupations with sustainability as found in contemporary performative and public art practices. Andres’ Urban Habitat Laboratory will promote indoor and guerilla gardening tactics in addition to workshops in basic solar technology and grey water systems. Meanwhile, the TMC will be fostering street art with installations and maps that can be accessed via guided or self-navigated bike tours.

More M:ST highlights are at the Good Life Bike Shop. Here you can watch Dulude’s video The Invisible Bike and take a free loan of Thompson’s SOUNDBIKE, a fully functioning bicycle that generates and broadcasts the sound of laughter. Thompson cites this as “a human counterpoint to the acoustic ecology of the city.” A Bikehack + Soundride workshop by Thompson (co-produced by Truck Gallery) takes place on July 30th. This is followed on the 31st by a Critical Mass mass bike ride. Here we find the growing worldwide phenomenon of human-powered vehicles taking to the road on the last Friday of every month to promote the rights of non-motorized traffic. I’m reminded of last summer when I was inspired to take my bike downtown for similar peripatetic cycle-based events: feelings of community, ecology and creativity flowed. And with Calgary just reported as having the second most expensive car parking in North America (behind New York City), there’s evidence that M:ST’s programming is both timely and apposite.



Don Pollack, Untitled 347, 2005, oil on canvas    

Turning to the commercial gallery scene, The Big Picture Show at Newzones features large canvases mounted as an adjunct to their thematic stampede show G’ddy Up. The Big Picture is not another generic summer show of gallery artists with easy-to-sell low-priced works, but rather a not-so-often-found look at harder-to-sell monumental paintings. Works by Joe Fleming, Jonathan Forrest, Angela Grossmann, Yechel Gagnon, William Perehudoff and Don Pollack are being rotated in the exhibit as the works are too large to hang at one time. From previewing the show last month, there is a sense of brio in both the works and project. In particular, Pollack’s Untitled 347 stood out. Its majestic landscape is reminiscent of the Hudson River school, although a sense of darkness and dystopia pervades notions of romantic otherness. This works fits well with the show’s press copy of bringing a masculine touch to the show, but not all the works are as heavy, and the exhibition is definitely worth a visit.



Wes Irwin, Gallery Visitors, 1946

Lastly for this report and the mid-summer season is the must-see Gallery without Walls: Celebrating 50 years, Calgary Allied Arts Foundation at the Art Gallery of Calgary. Whilst some readers may mistake the AGC as the de-facto civic art gallery for Calgary, this is not really the case. Calgary has no principal city civic gallery: instead there are three main downtown para-civic galleries. One is the non-profit Triangle Gallery, occupying an optimum-rent space in the Calgary Municipal Building. Another is the Glenbow, primarily a provincial entity. Thirdly is the non-profit AGC, a venue that like others, perhaps, supplements its income by renting space out for events (this is a market economy after all). But for a great western art heritage lesson, the Calgary Allied Arts Foundation (CAAF) fits the civic gallery bill. Created with an endowment from five prominent artists of yesteryear –Marion Nicoll, James Nicoll, Wes Irwin, HB Hill and Greg Arnold (all of whom are in the show) — the original aim of CAAF was to create a civic art gallery. Over the years, a building came and went, but since then, funds have been used to assemble an often unseen Civic Art Collection with hundreds of works: hence Gallery Without Walls.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the AGC is working to build stronger community ties. Their hosting of this show, guest-curated by CAAF director and local gallery owner Daniel Lindley and FG curator Colleen Sharpe, is a step in the right direction. The project features works by fifty artists from the civic art collection including Eric Cameron, Evan Penny, Katie Ohe, Harry Kiyooka, Shelley Ouellet, George Webber, MN Hutchinson, Alex Janvier, and Joane Cardinal-Schubert.

Also alluded to in the show’s title is the idea of the internet as a gallery without walls, a McLuhanesque analogy broached by the AGC with what curator Marianne Elder cites as “a micro site for our organization that is dedicated to exhibitions” (specifically, http://www.artison.org/).

Kudos to the AGC for getting out there by showcasing the Civic Art Collection and at no charge...during The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth that is. Whoa! If only a sponsor (or civic gallery) would offer to extend this free spirit to taxpayers and visitors! Meanwhile, for those really interested in the CAAF, visit their website. Artists will be stoked to read of their residency program: “we pay the rent and give you some spending money,” they say. Now there’s something to stampede about.



Dick Averns is an interdisciplinary artist and writer living in Calgary whose exhibitions and performances have been presented internationally. He has written for catalogues, journals and magazines, including Canadian Art, Front and Artichoke, and is currently part of the Canadian Forces Artists Program. Dick also teaches sculpture, performance and installation, drawing and liberal studies at the Alberta College of Art + Design.


Founders Gallery: http://www.themilitarymuseums.com/main/page.php?page_id=381
Art in the Service of War: The Emergent Group of Seven continues until December 6.

M:ST: http://www.mstfestival.org/mst45.html
Ride On! cycles at various sites until August 1.

Newzones: http://www.newzones.com/dynamic/exhibit_artist.asp?ExhibitID=245
The Big Picture Show continues until August 22.

Art Gallery of Calgary: http://www.artgallerycalgary.org/exhibit/index.htm
Gallery without Walls: Celebrating 50 years, Calgary Allied Arts Foundation continues until Sept 12.

 

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