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Amy Fung
Edmonton
March 01, 2010

After only five short years since changing its status from the Edmonton Art Gallery to the Art Gallery of Alberta and announcing a major building redesign under Los Angeles-based architect Randall Stout, the AGA is already open and ready for business. While Stout’s design of an aurora borealis-inspired building has been contentiously debated as everything from a Gehry-lite knock-off to a gallery of national distinction, the building’s best attribute is undeniably its interior. Since opening at the end of January, the AGA has had numerous occasions to demonstrate its flexibility and grace in handling the flow of visitors from record breaking attendance days to late night dance parties to noon hour talks set up in the round.



Art Gallery of Alberta (photo: Robert Lemermeyer)

The weakest part, however, and unfortunately a far more important issue than traffic control, is the institution’s exhibition schedule. First and foremost, the AGA’s premiere exhibitions are startling in the absence of any Alberta-based artists or anything at all from their permanent collection. While the AGA is breaking new ground by being the first Canadian institution to create a three year trial partnership curating from the National Art Gallery’s collection, including its current exhibition on Francisco Goya and another partnership with Ottawa to bring in Karsh: Image Maker, what of the AGA’s own vaults? In an era where art transportation is increasingly become a major financial burden, the AGA has put a moratorium on collecting works for its permanent collection and focused instead on boasting international exhibitions such as the current Edgar Degas show, which is one of the largest gatherings of Degas’ sculptures to ever show in western Canada, including his infamous Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen, the only sculpture to have actually exhibited during the artist’s lifetime.



Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, The Murder of Crows, 2010, installation view
 
While a Ken Macklin sculpture sits outside on the third floor terrace, the gallery’s entire six thousand square foot third floor gallery space has been reserved for the North American premiere of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s The Murder of Crows, a work previously shown as part of the Sydney Biennial in 2008 and in Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof in 2009. The works of art in the newly re-branded “your aga” are coming in from every corner of the globe, every corner that is except for Alberta. While the intention to show Cardiff and Bures Miller was in part due to their former connection to the province, the reality is that the two have long moved on and rarely even mention their formative years in Lethbridge. What’s worse, The Murder of Crows, while being the duo’s largest and most technically advanced work, is actually one of their least interesting. The two former U of A students were also apparently commissioned to create a brand new work for the opening. This turned out to be Storm Room, a piece that already premiered at the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial in 2009 with some minor variations. Although there is no denying that the new gallery spaces are far improved, the absence of regional works for its premiere does not bode well for things to come.

Elsewhere in the city, regional artists are actually finding more face time in the commercial galleries than either public spaces or artist run centers. Taking a stroll down the Gallery Walk at the edge of Jasper Avenue where the concentration of longstanding galleries are located, the majority of the commercial venues were showcasing strong contemporary works by a largely local roster.



Allen Ball, The Wordless Book and other sounds, 2010

University of Alberta Professor and Canadian War Artist Allen Ball’s The Wordless Book and other sounds is the most daring and surprising painting exhibition to surface in years. Standing to be the finest exhibition currently in the city, and certainly the best show the unassuming frame shop and Front Gallery has ever seen, The Wordless Book and other sounds premieres fourteen new paintings loosely inspired by the idea of the Wordless Book, an evangelical tool created by Charles Spurgeon that taught the word of God through patterns and colours. Subtle in masking the laborious process he indulges in, Ball explores the concept of what it still means to paint an idea, creating varnishes and faux gold finishes in the likeness of the Byzantines, and problematizing our perspectives of icons from a completely fresh vantage point.



David Janzen, Platter 004, 2009, oil on vinyl, 12" diameter
 
As the newest gallery to join the area, the Peter Robertson Gallery has two back to back presentations of Alberta-based male painters, first showing off new gallery artists Scott Cumberland and Gordon Harper, then pairing past Alberta Biennial artists David Janzen and Julian Forrest for an exhibition running until March 18. The latter presentation, Thrust, is a playful look at the changing urban landscape from the increasing violence in the streets to the industrialization of the skyline. Both being sensitive painters in their own right, there is a complementary contrast between Janzen’s perceptions of boyish preoccupations and Forrest’s observation of Edmonton’s transient nature, notably the incredible influx of males between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five during the last five years.



Jane Ash Poitras, Bear Power, mixed media on panel

Around the corner, Edmonton-based Jane Ash Poitras dominates the walls at Bearclaw Gallery, a space dedicated to representing Aboriginal artists such as Alex Janvier and Daphne Odjig. Poitras, who will be receiving a major exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum later this spring, is known for counterbalancing historical images with current themes to create multiple entry points for viewers of all ages and cultures.


Amy Fung is the author of Prairie Artsters.com. Her writings appear regularly in print and online publications including Vue Weekly, Galleries West, and Canadian Art Online.


Art Gallery of Alberta: http://www.youraga.ca/
See website for current exhibitions.

The Front Gallery: http://www.thefrontgallery.com/
See website for current exhibition.

Peter Robinson Gallery: http://www.probertsongallery.com/
See website for current exhibitions.

Bearclaw Gallery: http://www.bearclawgallery.com/
See website for current exhibitions.

 

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