Kopperscape by Karim Rashid at the Edmonton International Airport

The Edmonton International Airport has unveiled a brand-new public art installation created by internationally recognized Canadian Designer Karim Rashid. The piece is located in the US Departures lounge, which is especially exciting since that was formerly one of the most unexciting places in the airport.

From the EIA Website:

Influenced by Canada’s mountains, snow drifts and rivers, Kopperscape is a signature piece for EIA and a gathering spot for passengers travelling from Canada to the US. Kopperscape is a functional fiberglass sculpture that has seating for passengers and a performance stage for live entertainers.

I’ve been hearing rumours for some time that Rashid was working on something for our airport, but I was expecting wallpaper. This blew me away, although I was a bit disappointed by the color, which ironically was meant to be reminiscent of the Canadian penny, which is going to be phased out over the next six months. Nevertheless, the 10×10 meter installation is substantial and is an exciting piece of art for our city.

In an interview in the Edmonton Sun, Rashid discussed doing more Canadian projects. The interviewer suggets it might be because it’s too expensive for Canadians to hire him. Rashid disagrees:

“I don’t think it’s about affording,” he explains. “I think deep down Canada is still very conservative and they see me as this wild designer.”

Rashid may be on to something – Canadians are quite conservative when it comes to their art (and clothes). Perhaps its the northern climate? Nevertheless, Edmonton has become increasingly bold lately when it comes to public art. The city has been enjoying openness to contemporary art, design and architecture following the enormous popularity of our Gehry-esque Art Gallery of Alberta (designed by Randall Stout).

My husband had a chance to see this piece of art, along with many others during a recent tour of the newly expanded Edmonton International Airport. He was especially taken with Michael Hayden’s sculpture The Raven, which has been constructed out of “holigraphically-embossed acrylic and mirror polished stainless steel.” The piece (shown below) is just one of many exciting new installations that are part of the airport’s art program.

Images via flyeia.com

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

Edmonton Arena District

I’m a huge believer in mixed use development in urban centers. My husband and I live in Central Edmonton and we love being able to take advantage of proximity to work, shops, and the beautiful river valley. As a result, I’m very excited about the proposed Edmonton Arena District, a mixed development project that includes a new arena for the Edmonton Oilers, plus residential housing, a community rink, a new casino, retail space and a winter garden. The project is being led by the Katz Group.

The video below features Daryl Katz, owner of the Edmonton Oilers and chairman of the Katz Group. It’s a very frank discussion of why a project like the Arena District is of vital importance in attracting investment to the city:

Mr. Katz has announced his intention to contribute $100 million to the project, but I immediately noticed that a lot of the comments on YouTube suggest Mr. Katz ought to pay for the entire arena himself. This sentiment is echoed on Edmonton City Councillor Don Iveson’s blog, where Iveson contends that the city shouldn’t have to borrow the $400 million needed to finance the project. This sort of attitude always seems to be on display when a business person suggests a project that would improve life in the city.

I’m originally from Washington State, and I still remember the public outcry over billionaire philanthropist Paul Allen’s proposal to construct the Qwest arena. There were dozens of letters written to local papers complaining that Allen should pay for the arena himself, rather than “leaving taxpayers with the bill.” Of course, today most people will recognize that Mr. Allen’s work in Seattle has helped to ensure its continued status as a world class city.

Of course, it’s not just the cost of the project that has some Edmontonians concerned. The project has been criticized by Edmonton architect Barry Johns, who is concerned about the proposed location of the Arena District and LRT (light rail transit) access. I absolutely understand his reservations. Currently, the area that can be described as the “core” of downtown Edmonton is just a few blocks in diameter, and the proposed building site for the arena is a few blocks away. Also, the LRT does not currently run to the proposed site.

I think the hurdles Johns mentions can be easily overcome, however. While I strongly feel that approval of the development should be contingent on the addition of the LRT station, I am much less concerned about the notion of “extending” the downtown area, because, after all, that is the entire aim of the project!

The debate surrounding who should pay for the Arena District reminds me of the classic children’s tale, “The Little Red Hen.” I’m sure you will recall this story from your childhood. In it, the Little Red Hen finds a grain of wheat and has the idea of planting it and using the wheat to make bread. She asks the other farm animals to help her at each stage of production (planting, harvesting, milling, baking), but no-one offers. Of course, in the end, they all want to help eat the bread. City development projects always seem to work that way. People grumble about the cost, but in the end, they don’t seem to have a problem using the services they didn’t want to pay for.

Edmonton has the potential of being a world class city, but this will take genuine commitment on the part of the city government, private citizens and businesses. The Edmonton Arena District is a fabulous idea that will  beautify our city and help combat urban sprawl. Edmonton desperately needs some world class architecture to set the city apart and to attract people and investment. The completion of the Alberta Art Gallery this winter was a great start, but we need to build on the momentum that is being created if Edmonton is going to be able to compete with cities like Calgary for investment dollars.

For more information, please visit the Edmonton Arena District website.