"Meet You On the C-Train"
Norman White, "Meet You On the C-Train," 1983, acrylic on canvas. PHOTO: Mary-Colleen Rabb.
Gallery Without Walls: Celebrating 50 years of the Calgary Allied Arts Foundation
July 3 to September 12, 2009
The Art Gallery of Calgary
By Richard White
In 1959, five senior Calgary artists — H.B. Hill, Wes Irwin, Douglas Motter, Jim Nicoll and Marion Nicoll — built the Calgary Allied Arts Foundation with a small initial endowment. The Foundation would create a civic art collection by buying art and accepting donations and exhibit the work in public spaces throughout the city, everywhere from bus barns to recreation centres, from City Hall hallways to administrative meeting rooms and offices.
For the Foundation’s 50th anniversary, guest curators Daniel Lindley, owner of Keystone Gallery and chair of the Calgary Civic Collection, and Colleen Sharpe, curator for Calgary’s Military Museum, had the task of choosing just 50 pieces from the 760 works by 260 artists in the collection for this exhibition at the Art Gallery of Calgary (AGC). The show was called Gallery Without Walls, to signify the fact that Calgary has no civic art gallery mandated to collect and preserve works of art, but instead houses its collection throughout the city. It plays on the concept of the “museum without walls” coined in 1967 by French writer and then-Culture Minister, Andre Malraux, who wrote about the moment when art became more democratic and accessible to the people (mostly through the reproduction of masterpieces), moving out of the palaces and churches and becoming available to the average viewer.
As expected, the survey exhibition included an eclectic range of works, from one of Greg Payce’s large ceramic urns to one of Jeff de Boer’s life-size metal mice, from Wes Irwin’s cartoon-style Picasso-inspired drawing “Gallery Visitors” to Alan Harding Mackay’s haunting, holograph-like portrait “Misun (Vermeerisimilitude portrait).”
Yet, despite the range of genres, the curators documented the influence that Calgary’s artists have had on each other over the years. Don Mabie’s drawing “Go Flames Go” is composed of thousands of words that tell the story of a Flames hockey season, forming like collage into a neon kaleidoscope. Near Mabie’s work, Norman White’s painting “Meet You On The C-Train” appears from a distance to be a huge portrait of a Calgary Transit LRT Car. On closer examination, it too is filled with pixel-like text. Both works reflect a sense of time and place in Calgary that can be read both visually and verbally.
Chris Cran’s 1991 painting, “Grey Green Crowd #2” was displayed near Shelley Ouellet’s 1999 “Marilyn” digital print. Both manipulate perception and reality to create optical illusions that reference 60s pop art. Both linked nicely to John Hall’s photo-realism still-life titled “Grace,” and Eric Cameron’s thick painting titled “Paper Towel,” a paper towel covered with layers of gesso. Hall and Cameron’s work contrast intriguingly, the former obsessed with bold and colourful renderings of everyday objects, the latter just as obsessed but with subtle and monochromatic everyday objects. Both artists are passionate about how humans are linked to the objects that surround them.
The hidden gem in the exhibition was the 1988 painting “Full Moon” by Barbara Milne. This sensual painting in rich dark blues, greens and greys is filled with a wonderful ambiguity and spirituality that results from the successful fusion of figurative (Haida whale) and landscape (full moon) references. Together, they create a haunting, mysterious, hypnotic painting.