Icons of Modernism at the Art Gallery of Alberta

I hope everyone had a lovely February. It was a very busy month for our family, and I’m hoping that March will be a change of pace!

In spite of the hustle and bustle, this Monday we finally had chance to visit the Art Gallery of Alberta for the first time in a long time, which was wonderful. This was my youngest daughters first visit to the gallery, and since we have two small children, we decided that Family Day (a holiday here in Alberta) would be a great day to attend. The reasons were twofold: first, the gallery would be noisy, so we wouldn’t feel uncomfortable if the kids weren’t quiet, and second, gallery admission is free on Family Day, so we wouldn’t feel guilty about only seeing one exhibit!

The exhibit we took the girls to was Icons of Modernism, which runs from now until May 11, 2012 at the AGA. It featured approximately 15 works by artists such as Braque, Matisse, Cézanne, Francis Picabia, Ferdinand Léger, Dalí, Mondrian and Marcel Duchamp, together with a dozen or so of Picasso’s sketches. It was interesting to see so many different works by modern painters and sculptors in one place, but it was also a bit strange for me to see them all laid out together…almost like opening an art history text to the chapter on modern art!

As inevitably happens when you try to distill an entire period of art into 15 or so works, the results necessarily felt a bit hurried. There was significant emphasis on the alienation and violence that gripped much of the world at the beginning of the 20th century and its manifestation in cubism, etc. But often there was only a a single work to represent movements like Surrealism, Futurism, Constructivism, etc., while the exhibit had at least a dozen of Picasso’s sketches and two major works by Dadaist Marcel Duchamp.

The works by Duchamp really stole the show, in my opinion. I’m sure this was at least partially the intention of the curator who chose them. Somehow, after seeing the grim works that preceded them, Duchamp felt like a breath of fresh air. My two year old daughter was utterly blown away by the wooden hat rack dangling from the ceiling (the shadow that it cast on the wall was quite transfixing as well).

Now, she is two, so of course conceptual art is going to be a hit with her! Nevertheless, I came away thinking that it’s probably far more stimulating to see one of Duchamp’s readymades when you are surrounded by more traditional pieces. Looking at a piece like his Bicycle Wheel on a Stool can be quite refreshing, especially after seeing so many works that force you to contemplate the harsh realities of war and the less promising aspects of the modern age.

Andy Warhol: Manufactured

Starting May 28th, the Art Gallery of Alberta will be hosting a special exhibition of Andy Warhol’s work. Andy Warhol: Manufactured is an internationally touring exhibition of Warhol’s work, and the AGA is the only gallery in Canada that is offering the exhibition, which will include his early drawings and commercial illustrations, his better known works, and also many of the films he made.

Warhol was certainly larger than life, and his work as an artist is easily eclipsed by his persona and the celebrity world he inhabited – which is a bit of a shame, in my view, since he was very talented! But as an artist he certainly demonstrates that keen observation of a culture is often a far more powerful force than pointed social critique. And his work certainly has enjoyed enduring popularity. I notice that one of his self-portraits just set an auction record for the artist last Wednesday when it sold for a cool $38.4 million.

Pretty nifty for the seller’s estate, since the estimate was $20-30 million. Of course, I’m sure the publicity surrounding this piece didn’t hurt either – CNBC featured the self-portrait last month during it’s Power Lunch program (Christie’s had direct interest in the sale, hence all the extra publicity). I often wonder how differently art auctions would turn out if there was more publicity surrounding recent auctions of, say, Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s work.

Andy Warhol: Manufactured will run May 28 – August 21, 2011

Happy Easter! Current Exhibits Worth a Look

I hope everyone is enjoying spring holidays! April has been quite a month here in Edmonton. We had a lot of dreadful weather (it’s finally above freezing for a few days, but I’m not sure I should really get my hopes up just yet!). I always get a terrible case of cabin fever this time of year, but I think I’m recovering. I could certainly go for a trip to a beach somewhere, though!

For now, I will have to console myself by browsing the art events going on around the world right now. I find museums are a great way to beat the spring-is-not-so-springy-blues (that is, if you happen to live in a part of the world where it’s not 365 days of sunshine – and if you do, I am afraid to say that I hate you just a little right now).

If you are in rainy old England and need a chance to escape the endless Royal Wedding coverage, the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester (known as “Chi” to the locals, I’m told) is holding an exhibit entitled “House of Fairytales”, featuring works by a number of artists, including Fiona Banner, Peter Blake, Spartacus Chetwynd, Mat Collishaw, Dexter Dalwood, Simon English, Paula Rego, Bob & Roberta Smith, Kiki Smith, Gavin Turk, and Rachel Whiteread. There is also as a display of some of Gormenghast author Mervyn Peake’s most well-known illustrations and prints (House of Fairytales runs from now until June 17th, while the Mervyn Peake display will be on until July 19th). I wish I could see the Peake exhibit – his work has always fascinated me (and creeped me out just a little). Thank you to Philip Eberell for bringing these exhibits to my attention!

The Art Gallery of Alberta has two great looking exhibits that I haven’t had the chance to see yet. Walter J. Phillips: Water and Woods is running from now until June 5th, and it will focus on Phillips’ woodcuts and watercolors. His artwork has a distinctive Japanese quality that was very popular in the 1930s (you can see some examples of his work on the AGA website).

The AGA will also be showing Nature and Spirit: Emily Carr’s Coastal Landscapes. If you aren’t familiar with Carr, then you’re not Canadian…When I first arrived in Canada, I swear every other phrase that came off people’s lips was “Emily Carr”(well, that and the “Group of Seven,” a group of Canadian landscape artists with whom she’s associated). I was a little weirded out. Canadians are proud of their national icons in a way that sometimes baffles me, but in Carr’s case, I think they’re onto something. I really love her work, even though she’s so beloved in Canada that it feels embarrassing to admit to liking her!(I can’t really think of an equivalent that people of other nations could relate her to – perhaps she’s something like Collette is for French literature? Her legend really extends beyond that of any other Canadian artist, which is all the more impressive when one considers that she was a woman). The image below is Odds and Ends, which Carr painted in 1939.

image courtesy wikimedia commons.

Henri Matisse: A Celebration of Light and Line at the Art Gallery of Alberta

From now until February 13, 2011, the Art Gallery of Alberta will be featuring an exhibit of the works of Henri Matisse. The exhibit contains over 170 of Matisse’s works, with a special emphasis on his work in printmaking. The exhibit combines works from the collection of The Baltimore Museum of Art with others from Matisse as Printmaker: Works from the Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, a traveling exhibition created by the American Federation of Arts and the Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation. Many of the pieces from the Baltimore Museum of Art are recent gifts to the museum, and this will be the first time that they have been available to the public.

I’m extremely excited to see this exhibit – I can’t wait to take my daughter! It’s been so interesting to see what art she responds to the most. Sculpture and colorful paintings definitely seem to thrill her the most so far (she was in love with the ballet dancers from the Degas exhibit we went to earlier this year – and she was just a few months old!).   Oh, and of course she loved the AGA’s “Art of Warner Bros.” exhibit! Matisse’s works is so colorful that I’m pretty confident it will catch her eye (now that she’s a little bigger, the challenge will be getting her close enough to see, but not too close!!).

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to put up any photos of Matisse’s work due to copyright restrictions (Matisse died in 1954 – so it has been a little less than 70 years since his death. As a result, there are some copyright issues since his works are not in the public domain). So, to see a few samples of works that will be included in the exhibit, visit the Art Gallery of Alberta’s website for the exhibit: Henri Matisse: A Celebration of Light and Line.

New Exhibits at the Art Gallery of Alberta

Last Friday my husband, daughter and I had our last chance to visit the Degas, Goya and Karsh exhibits at the Art Gallery of Alberta. This was my third time, but my husband hadn’t had a chance to see them yet, so we made sure we had a chance to go before they rolled out the new installations. Once again, the Karsh exhibit was a huge hit – a very well planned-out show that was fun for everyone, including our 7 month old, who seemed to enjoy the “create your own Karsh” portion, where you could set up a photo using the techniques you learned from the exhibit. She was probably just happy to be out of the stroller! (And to get away from the Goyas – perhaps all those “Images of War” were a bit unsettling – or, more likely, the dark room they were shown in reminded her of bedtime).

The Art Gallery wrapped up its first series of exhibits in the new gallery on May 29th, and a number of exciting new installations will be going up over the next couple of weeks.

The Gallery is currently featuring FIRE, an anti-war installation by Sandra Bromley that will include portraits of women and children from Cambodia and Sierra Leone. This exhibit will run from now until August 2, 2010.

The 2010 Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art, entitled Timeland, will be on display until August 29, 2010.  This exhibit will feature ” twenty-five artists working across the spectrum of contemporary art making modes from painting and sculpture, to installation, video and performance.” The exhibit’s title, Timeland, is a reference to the “new globalism” of the 21st century where technology has removed or stretched many of the traditional boundaries of history and culture. The exhibition website notes that “the scale of this globalism subsumes the idea of the local but it thrives as the lifeblood in a world where provincialism dissipates and a new information-fed internationalism reflects the complexity of a multi-dimensional world culture.” Sounds intriguing!

We will have until the middle of June for the rest of this summer’s exhibits to go up at the gallery. M.C. Escher: the Mathemagician will run from June 19 – October 11, 2010, and is definitely the exhibit my husband is most excited about! It will feature 54 of Escher’s works, and it promises to be popular with the whole family.

From June 19 – November 7, 2010, the gallery will host Piranesi’s Prisons: Architecture of Mystery and Imagination. Giovanni Battista Piranesi was an 18th century Italian artist who did lovely etchings of Rome, but whose fantastical depiction of imaginary prisons (Carceri d’invenzione), have perhaps been his most lasting legacy. Piranesi’s prisons call to mind Escher’s work, which I’m sure is why they are being exhibited simultaneously.   


On the lighter side, The Art of Warner Bros. Cartoons will be showing from June 19 – October 11, 2010. My daughter should enjoy this one! Lots of drawings and animation cells of familiar friends like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Pepe le Pew, Porky Pig, Speedy Gonzalez, and, of course, Wile E. Coyote, my all time favorite cartoon character.

Reframing the Nation is yet another exhibit that will be appearing this summer at the AGA. The Ernest E. Poole Foundation donated 90 works of art to the AGA back in 1975. There are works by The Group of Seven (which Canadians rave about – I will reserve judgement until I see them in person), Emily Carr, and other well-known Canadian artists. The exhibit will focus on the role landscape plays in Canadian identity.

Finally, from August 14 – October 11, 2010, the New Works gallery space will be featuring the work of Alberta artist Jonathan Kaiser, Kaiser has created an installation in a “semi-abandoned room inside the gallery, with posters, terrariums and personal effects left inside to characterize the room’s past residents.”

On a side note: I miss European galleries, where people at least breathe audibly or chat quietly at museums. I don’t want visitors to be obnoxious and noisy, but sometimes people are so quiet at the AGA you feel like you are in a tomb, not a gallery!

Piranesi image courtesy Wikimedia