15 August 2017




I found myself musing about the shows we feature in these pages in the wake of a new book by art historian Anne Whitelaw that explores the early development of public art galleries in Western Canada. The prompt was her observations about the paternalism of the National Gallery of Canada, including recent partner initiatives to bring work from Ottawa to the Art Gallery of Alberta and the Winnipeg Art Gallery. We have written about the National Gallery's regional shows – they are usually interesting fare, after all, even if some time has lapsed since their launch in Central Canada.

Here at Galleries West, we try to find a balance between stories about Western artists at Western galleries and interesting shows in Western Canada by artists who live in other parts of Canada, or even elsewhere in the world. Is that a disservice to Western artists? In some ways, yes. But I also think our readers  and many of them are artists – want to know about interesting shows and hear about new ideas, no matter where the artists are based.

How do we define balance? Along with regional concerns, we think about several other things. One is gender, because women artists have traditionally received less coverage than their male counterparts. We also make an effort to write about Indigenous artists and artists from under-represented minorities. Then, of course, there's the type of art produced  we look for a good mix of themes, subjects, and even media, whether it's painting, sculpture, installation, photography or something else.

There's no formula to figure this all out, and even if there were, it would probably be unworkable. Our choices are largely guided by what galleries are showing. Some weeks we scramble to find things to write about. Other weeks, there are tough choices to be made from a plethora of great shows.

Our aim, over the long term, is to cover many different artists from different places doing different types of work. Of course, the risk is that Galleries West may end up feeling unfocused  it doesn't cater exclusively to high art, but isn't truly populist either. Still, with arts writing in a free fall amid the collapse of traditional media models and uncertain visions for digital replacements  there is value in a generalist vision.

This issue covers everything from Stages, an ambitious Winnipeg project that takes contemporary art outside the white cube, to an immersive drawing installation in Victoria and a quirky photo-based installation that looks at small-town roadside attractions. We also cover two commercial shows, one of landscape paintings and another that disrupts clichéd ways of representing women. And, of course, there's our look at Whitelaw's book, Places and Spaces for Art, which prompted all this musing in the first place.

We always welcome feedback from our readers. What articles do you enjoy? What topics are we neglecting? What would you feature if you were the editor? Please drop us a line at editor@gallerieswest.ca. We'll read everything you send.

Until next time,



15 August 2017

Volume 2 Number 17 Copyright 2017

ISSN 2561-3316

Galleries West Digital is an online magazine published every second Tuesday to promote and advance the visual arts. Launched in 2016, it replaces the print version of Galleries West magazine, which covered art and artists in Western Canada for 15 years. Our award-winning website, gallerieswest.ca, the repository for all content, is an open archive of information about the arts in communities large and small throughout Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columba as well as Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

Editor Portia Priegert
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Consulting Editor Jeffrey Spalding
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Contributors Stacey Abramson, Lissa Robinson, Lorna Tureski
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Federico Herrero, “Landscape,” 2017, exterior latex paint, detail of site-specific installation, photo by Karen Asher


Winnipeg Stages Public Art


Making contemporary art accessible to large public audiences is always challenging. Work by artists in contemporary galleries may leave viewers feeling ignorant, separated from histories they do not know and unsure how to read complex work. “The meaning of contemporary art isn’t supposed to reveal itself immediately,” says Jenifer Papararo, the executive director of Winnipeg’s Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art. “Sometimes, that’s just too great a deterrent.” Luckily, galleries are finding ways to bring high-calibre contemporary art to audiences in more approachable ways. The latest example is Stages: Drawing the Curtain, which runs Aug. 18 to Sept. 4 in various venues around Winnipeg. Plug In invited nine artists – Winnipeg’s Erica Eyres and Divya Mehra, Vancouver’s Ron Tran and Krista Belle Stewart, and Toronto’s Abbas Akhavan and Kara Hamilton, as well as three international artists – to create sculptures and performances that bring new life and meanings to public sites, from parks to empty buildings. The aim, as the event’s title suggests, is to consider the stage – “its function as a platform, its meaning as a point of attention and its physical design.” Featuring everything from an eight-foot-high illuminated Om sign hauled around town by flatbed truck to performances by drag queens and a vibrantly painted urban tunnel, Stages allows happenstance encounters, but also offers guided tours, promising two different but engaging experiences. More ►

– Stacey Abramson

Jim Holyoak and Matt Shane, "Forestial Brain (in progress)," 2017, detail of collaborative drawing installation, photo by Miles Giesbrecht


Forestrial Brain Explores Nature’s Mysteries


Jim Holyoak and Matt Shane are doing things backwards. They will hold their “opening” reception Aug. 25 at the end of their show at Open Space, the Victoria artist-run centre. Then two days later, they will take down their massive drawing installation, Forestrial Brain, and roll it into a storage tube. This is no small feat. The duo, friends since art school, have covered the gallery’s 14-foot-high walls with white paper, carefully cutting around doors and passageways. They are spending their six-week exhibition slot drawing through some 135 linear feet, an undertaking almost as physically demanding as the eight-day hike that inspired it, an arduous 47-mile slog on the notoriously difficult West Coast Trail through Pacific Rim National Park, along the southwest edge of Vancouver Island. They hiked the trail before starting work at Open Space, making notes and drawings, soaking up the energy of forest and ocean, and gathering stories from fellow travellers. They display pages from their sketchbooks in the stairwell up to the gallery, a place where the show’s title is drawn as if covered with hairy tree lichens, signalling the tone of the show, a kind of hobbit-informed natural history, or as Shane puts it: the blurry in-between of science and fantasy. “We’re looking at the forest as a mysterious place,” he says. “We’re looking at the mythologies that surround the forest and the whole spectrum of belief systems about forests.” Clearly, then, Forestrial Brain is no mere travelogue or documentary, though it does refer to their backpacking trip. Rich in varied marks, from misty ink washes that evoke the dank undergrowth of the coastal rainforest to a finely drafted dead sea lion they discovered on a beach, the installation also explores the idea of the forest as an enmeshed and interconnected organism, one where human presence is evoked minimally through a chain of ladders and walkways that snail, soddenly, over steep terrain, amid lush ferns and strange fungi. More ►

– Portia Priegert

Scott August, "Clem T. GoFur Revisited," 2017, hand-cut collaged digital prints on recycled cardstock, varnish, wood and staples, 120" x 216" Photo by Scott August (installation view of "Furbish: Remnant Themes of Post Amusement" at the Lake Country Art Gallery)


Another Roadside Attraction


A little girl, about six years old, skips around Clem T. GoFur in the Lake Country Art Gallery in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley. “Wow, he’s BIG,” she says, “and those boots!” Those boots, indeed, but look up! Clem, mascot at the World Famous Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, Alta., is all shiny, cartoon new; the ceiling tile has been removed to accommodate his hat. Clem’s saucy, recumbent pose dictates the path of movement into Scott August’s exhibition, Furbish: Remnant Themes of Post-Amusement, on view until Aug. 27. I swerve past the boots and follow a wall of photos: here is the iconic peach hut in Penticton, the whale waterslide from Old MacDonald’s Farm in West Kelowna, and a newspaper clipping about Peter Soehn, creator of curvy statuary and the subject of August’s installation. The bottom of each photo curls away from the wall, evoking fragility, a temporary existence. Childhood memories. Nostalgia in bloom, next is the full-wall image of a decrepit billboard advertising Old MacDonald’s Farm, and here’s where it gets all lovely and tricky. To view the 17-foot-long collage, one is backed against the raw, two-by-four frame supporting Clem. It’s a disconcerting peek behind the magic, rubbing shoulders with the pretense of it, all while enjoying the beauty of it too. More ►

– Lorna Tureski

"Weird Woman," 2017, installation shot showing “Librarian’s Chain” by Mary Margaret Morgan in foreground. Photo by Jared Tiller.


‘Weird Woman’ Disrupts Clichés


Weird Woman, a group exhibition at Jarvis Hall Gallery in Calgary, evokes a romantic, defiant and otherworldly feel. Curated by Calgary artist Sondra Meszaros, it features five Canadian and American artists who use a range of methods, including video, collage, assemblage, drawing and digital print. Disrupting clichéd notions of female intuition, aesthetic, currency and rebellion, these artists use meaningful motifs to explore the relationships between nature, production and what Meszaros calls wilful or wayward ways of representing women. An unsettling yet enchanting mood prevails, owing to the sparseness of the exhibition, on view until Sept. 9, and the rules governing each artist’s aesthetics and processes. Within each work, the material and the inspirational converge into entanglements of conflicting forces. More ►

– Lissa Robinson


History of Western Galleries Looks at Regionalism


The National Gallery of Canada’s “paternalism” in promoting its vision of Canadian art in the West receives a pointed critique in a new book about the history of public art galleries in Western Canada. Author Anne Whitelaw, an art historian at Concordia University in Montreal, says the recent move by the National Gallery to operate satellite spaces within the Art Gallery of Alberta and the Winnipeg Art Gallery is the latest incarnation of programs in the 1900s that offered fine arts programming to nascent galleries in the West. “Both as a service to smaller arts organizations and attempts to educate the Canadian public about art, these exhibition programs appear to share a certain paternalism – a concern over the qualities of exhibitions organized by smaller galleries and faith in the ability of the national institution to bring excellence to the regions,” Whitelaw writes in her epilogue to Spaces and Places for Art: Making Art Institutions in Western Canada, 1912-1990. Whitelaw points to current debates in arts communities in Winnipeg and Edmonton, where some decry what they see as the failure of public galleries to sufficiently support and present work by local artists. She notes that shows such as the Disasters of War and Los Caprichos by Francisco de Goya, an initial 2010 show provided by the National Gallery in its dedicated space within the Edmonton gallery, boost museum attendance but are of “little benefit to raising the profile of local artists.” More ►

Marcia Harris, "Peyto," 2017, acrylic on board, 48" x 48"


Landscape Geometry


After taking a break to raise two children, now seven and three, Calgary artist Marcia Harris is back with a show  at the Elevation Contemporary Art Gallery in Canmore, Alta., that presents a series of landscapes, often with added geometric elements such as diamonds and triangles. Peyto, for instance, is based on a photograph of Peyto Lake in Banff National Park. Its vantage point is high, overlooking lake and mountains, but suspended in middle ground is the outline of a diamond. Harris is interested in the concept of beauty as it pertains to nature. “The architect in this natural world has designed a perfect image within the landscape,” she says. She enjoys the awkwardness that occurs when organic forms and precise geometry are juxtaposed and plays with how they both interrupt and complement each other. The show’s title, The In Between, refers to that tension. “I appreciate how the shapes and lines either settle in or appear to stand out,” she says. “There is a dichotomy between the reality and the uncertainties.” The show, which runs until Aug. 17, also includes paintings of suburban houses. Harris has done previous work about the destruction of B.C. forests by the mountain pine beetle and the collapse of bee colonies. Her work is in the collection of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts.

Ahlam Shibli, "Untitled (Staring no. 10), al-Khalil/Hebron, Palestine and Kassel, Germany," 2016-17. Gedenkstätte und Museum Trutzhain, March 16, 2017. Puppets made by French prisoners of war at the Stalag IX A Ziegenhain prison camp. The site has been used since 1948 to accommodate Heimatvertriebene (expellees) and refugees of German descent from eastern Europe, becoming the municipality of Trutzhain in 1951. Courtesy of the artist, © Ahlam Shibli


Palestinian Artist Considers Meaning of Home

The latest web commission at the Remai Modern in Saskatoon continues to build the international flavour of the Saskatoon gallery, which will opens Oct. 21.  Staring, Nine episodes from al-Khalil/Hebron (Palestine) and Kassel (Germany), a work by Palestinian photographer Ahlam Shibli, is featured on the museum’s website this month. A suite of images that further develops Shibli’s Occupation, it brings together photographs taken in Palestine and Germany in 2016 and 2017. Shibli was searching for evidence of the notion of home, but found manifestations of an evasive place marked by politics, economics and ideologies. “Ahlam Shibli’s work is perceptive and profound,” says Geoffrey Burke, the Remai’s director. “There is a stillness and intimacy to her photographs that invites the viewer to spend time, to see and feel the humanity that is often obscured by polemics, preconceptions or apathy.” Previous web commissions by Ryan Gander, Tammi Campbell, Tanya Lukin Linklater, Thomas Hirschhorn, Taysir Batniji, Pedro Barateiro, Kara Uzelman, Rosa Barba, Amanda Beech, Ellen Moffat, Duane Linklater, Lynne Marsh and Raqs Media Collective remain accessible in the gallery’s online archive.
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