(Image courtesy of Art Gallery of Alberta)
With close to 3000 pieces submitted*, The Art Gallery of Alberta’s “Free For All” exhibit surpassed any and all expectations. From floor to ceiling, from room to room, canvases, canvases, 3D constructs, and more canvases out ratio white wall space by 10:1.
Deciding to open the walls up to the community, from esteemed professionals to Sunday painters, the response was simply overwhelming.
From shrines to self promotion, brand new works to older recycled works, pieces that have already adorned other gallery walls, to pieces that will never again make it past a gallery door, the arts community clearly took full advantage of this opportunity.
Whether artists dropped off work to fill out their cirriculum vitae or whether they just wanted to be a part of something greater, the “Free For All” turned out to be one of the strongest group shows this city has ever seen--let alone accomplished.
Wandering through the packed gallery, which must have broken all attendance records the building has held, the sheer excess of visual stimulation was the real gem of the entire exhibition. Purposely or not, themed walls began to surface. Prairie sky landscapes conglomerated on several load bearing walls, while nudes and similar figures congregated in corners. An already infamous “tiger” wall sat restlessly upstairs, striking visitors who by this point must be exhausted and confused as to why there’s a tiger wall before them.
Suffice to say the entirety of this specific exhibit would not hold its own in any other city. Neither a barometer or litmus test to the vibrancy and depth of Edmonton’s arts scene, “Free For All” was a direct reflection of its citizens work and the community’s response to support their own.
The idea of holding “Free For All” as an annual exhibit has been murmured more than once. Although good in theory, this would be a serious undertaking in organization and a reevaluation of the role of the gallery. With its temporary move to the still-in-construction Enterprise Square on Jasper Avenue and a fancy new home a few years down the road, the AGA has a chance to rebrand its mandate from outside in. Whether as a centre for showcasing regional artists or as a venue for travelling international and contemporary works, the slate is fresh.
But for the time being from the building’s last exhibition, no one piece could be singled out for its technical or artistic merit; for the first time, the gallery itself was the strongest work of art in and of itself.
*Please stand up and give a hardy round of applause goes out to the gallery prepators, who installed this megashow in a mere few days and must have endured temporary retinal exhaustion.