Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A Saturday afternoon at the commercial galleries

A few hours was recently and unexpectedly spent going from commercial gallery to commercial gallery. Starting at Scott Gallery, where Gerald Faulder had "Landscapes" to next door at Bear Claw Gallery, where Carl Beam opened with "Lateral View".

Image credit: Gerald Faulder, "Flying" 2007.

Faulder was disappointing nondescript as another landscape painter amidst Scott's lineup. The tranquility of the lakeside perspective was expressed clearly, as this perspective shines almost year round, but I find the world represented in most of Scott's strong Canadian programming to be a world I do not recognize or relate with. As impressive landscapes that cover this land, the paintings do not strike a chord that propels the viewer to explore; rather, they represent a world that is removed and isolated.

Image credit: Carl Beam, "Ionization" 2007.

Beam, as one of Canada's first Aboriginal collage/print artists to re-propose the First Nations people and identity, offers a series of meditative pieces that focus on the modern environment and our relationships within this place and time. Using the "I Ching" iconography in some of his mixed media works, as well as newspaper clippings, playing cards, and archival photography, the pieces are at best juxtapositions of cultural memory and personal memory.

Image credit: Doug Jamha, "Scissors" 1992-1993.

Onwards to Front Gallery, where local artist Doug Jamha exhibits work from the early 90s. "Scissors" is just what you would expect, which is unfortunate, as his former works with figures and phonebooks channeled a vibrant expression. In exhibiting work that is nearly 15 years old, there comes an expectation to re-evaluate, but this gesture was not expressed.

Agnes Bugera held an opening for former Edmontonian Ernestine Tahedl, whose impressionistic landscapes have a glow and glisten. Perhaps pushing one of the more Romantic programming schedules with always lush and dreamy imagery, the quality of work carried does usually speak for itself--a fact not necessary true for a lot of commercial galleries.

Image Credit: Tim Okamura, "Grey, White, Gold"

A loop back onto 124th St led to the Fall Show at Douglas Udell Gallery featuring prints by Picasso. As one of the more esteemed galleries in town, the Udell Gallery is suffice to say the closest art world Edmonton has to call its own. With international pieces by contemporary artists like Gabriel Orozco to big name Canadian artists Annie Pootoogook, Greg Curnoe and former Edmontonian-turned-New York based Tim Okamura, the programming at Udell can be quite stellar. It is just disappointing that the gallery and its reincarnations in Calgary and Vancouver are well-aware of their prestige and that they remain a space where not everyone does feel welcome.

And finally, a visit was made to the Lando gallery, perhaps the most striking gallery space in town. Sitting in the middle of the mini-industrial wasteland just north of 104 Avenue, local artist Adele Knowler "Lake Series and 20 years" was exhibiting a retrospective ranging from portraits to lakescapes and every step in between. Although Knowler's paintings were quite standard in content and composition, an overall sense of vastness was apparent across her subject matters.
Noted was that Lando too was carrying Picasso (engravings though) and featured locals Michael Levin, Mark Bellows, and Brenda Kim Christiansen. As this was the first peek into their programming, it was clearly the space that was most overwhelming and the space that gives plenty of reason to return to future shows.

Regular trips out to see the commercials have been difficult due to scheduling conflicts, but on this non-first and estranged outing, my non-first and estranged impression only confirms the reputation that Edmonton artists and galleries are not taking any aesthetic risks, especially in reference to the local programming. There is a slight diversity, which doesn't quite pronounce itself, but in a city that may never really champion its art scene, what do galleries and artists have to lose in challenging our humdrum viewer expectations? Will carrying Picassos change or develop art appreciation or will it only attempt to fuel a detached art consumption
of works one thinks we should have, rather than works we are compelled to have.


Anonymous said...

I don't believe commercial galleries represent the best arena in Edmonton to judge the state of the Edmonton art scene,or Edmonton artists. I'm not sure exactly the best way to see who's pushing the edges and who's making work, but I suggest a series of artist studio visits.

Sean Montgomery

amy said...


thank you, sean, for reminding me about this. I should really get back on track.

Tam said...

"I don't believe commercial galleries represent the best arena in Edmonton to judge the state of the Edmonton art scene,or Edmonton artists."

This certainly speaks volumes about what it's like for so many artists in this city, is it any wonder a great deal of them leave for more fertile ground?

amy said...

I am feeling a great dismay in general about the community here. there doesn't seem to be a middle ground between what the artists (in general) seem to want (studio/production space) and what the public and city wants (finished products or "art" to make the city attractive to live in)

is art just suppose to be produced? there needs to be more investment in the actual production of art. including mentorship and exchange from outside of the region to keep ideas flowing. we're pretty isolated here on the prairies . . .

any thoughts or suggestions of how this may happen?

Anonymous said...

Art is either going to happen in a cultural capital with money and a huge population(New York, London, Paris) or a place where it's so cheap to live that you can make it(Winnipeg), I think. Edmonton, being in the middle of nowhere, and having the lowest population density of any city in North America should be able to facilitate affordable artist space. A 200 sqft cubicle isn't going to cut it. I think a main issue is the provincial gov't being so anti-intellectual.

Sean Montgomery(Edmontonian, in exile in Montreal)

Anonymous said...

I doubt Faulder is trying to "propel viewers to explore." He's painting landscapes and in the successful ones, and there are a few in this show,it's his use of paint that compels one to look at his pictures not propel them somewhere else.
Commercial galleries have offered several strong shows over the last couple of years but of course they're not the whole story .If you really want to know what art is being made you've got to get into people's studios.What do galleries have to lose? -well-money.
The best gallery space in town is Peter Robertson's. Lando usually feels cramped.
Picasso did a lot of work ,both good and bad, so in answer to your final question; depends on the Picasso. A good one just might change or develop someones art appreciation compelling them to have it. If trophy hunters get a bad one - I've little sympathy. If someone wants to appreciate art they'll figure out the difference.

What Edmonton doesn't have are writers who actually champion art. There are music reviewers who have no trouble saying what they think is good, who are out there enjoying music and talking or writing about it. When it comes to visual art who really gets excited or blown away by something they've seen? People talk about the scene or lack of, they explore ideas,they talk about lack of funding and all the other stuff surrounding visual art but I rarely get the impression that they get or want or get a real "hit" from art.Tell me what you really like -that's what I'm interested in.

Anonymous said...

I do agree that most of the art writing here circles the art, but from personal experience, I can confirm that I rarely get a "hit: as you say from local visual art.

at this point, there's mostly been talk about why and what people don't like about certain things, which is just as important as why and what we like about others.

It's the "why" that we as audiences, writers, and artists have to really start investigating before we keep re-complaining about funding, scenes et al.

Amy Fung said...

I did a second round of commercials this weekend, notably Lando and Scott, and the one piece that grabbed my attention was a Pudlo Pudlat work in Lando. Why? Probably because it was just different in aesthetic, as we rarely see Inuit art, and the colours and imaginative composition stood far out from the works alongside it.

The folky wine bottle labels at Scott and the salt pottery at Lando can certainly generate public interest and value, but to go back to anonymous #1's point, I completely agree that there are no arts writers here that champion the art scene . . . Which is a good thing, since we certainly don't need any more boosterism in this town.

I think arts writing here follows the artists themselves, as funding and studio space comes out of people's mouths far more than the accolades/critiques of works by their peers. It's also such a small scene and still do people whisper when they offer an honest, but negative opinion of another's work. If polite silence is taken as a negative opinion, then the silence in the arts scene here says it all.

I haven't read a music review in sometime now, but the one commonality between "arts and culture" reviewing is that it's all based in the reviewer's (ideally informed) experience, and I think at that level, arts writing is doing the same thing as music writing--musing about their peers and getting excited about shows coming from somewhere other than here.

Anonymous said...

The Scott had a Gravel show.It was folksy maybe but I don't get the wine label reference.
My last comment wasn't as clear as it should have been, however, in no way did I suggest championing the art "scene". I referred to the lack of "writers who actually champion art."A champion is not a cheerleader mindlessly chanting for our team to win. Boosterism has nothing to do with it. One would hope that writers are drawn to, and knowledgeable about, their subject. One would like to read an article presuming that at some point the writer has experienced pleasure while viewing art and that joy is what draws them to it. Imagine reading a book review (regardless of whether the reviewer recommended or dismissed the book )that left you without the conviction that the reviewer enjoyed reading? I chose music reviews as an example because even when deficiencies are being cited one has the sense that the reviewer is assessing based on the presumption that music can be really good. A few years ago a some music reviewers in Edmonton were asked to name their top 10 recordings of the year. They did this easily. When visual art writers were asked to do the same one of them began dithering - Well what's art? Who am I to say if anything is good etc.In frustration my response is:Come on, man,just tell me what you like.
If art criticism is not aspired to,
art writers could simply act as reporters informing the public of what's going on without commentary. If reviewing is nothing more than musing about their peers and withholding excitement until it comes from elsewhere, reporting is not a bad option.

af said...

top 10 local art shows would be difficult, but 10 top art shows ever attended, now that would be fun to put together . . . any takers?

okay, only a few come to mind in no real order:

1) rothko, HK Museum of Art, 2005

2) Legion of Honor, San Fran (any time)

3) metropolitan, NY (2nd floor, 19th century collection

but let's try the local from the past year or two:

1) apartment show

2) fun house, aga

3) pitre/alvarez mfa show

4) mclarney, harcourt house

5) cardiff, 42 part motets (this may be three years now though), aga

6) matusuda a-i-r, fab

hmm, I feel like I'm missing an obvious one . . .

but you bring up an interesting point, that the arts writers here haven't really identified their tastes (such as music or film critics who blatantly go on about what they like even if they try and stay neutral). but reading Canadian ARt, or C, or even Border Crossings, I rarely get the impression that the writers are really "wowed" by what they see, since so much of art/art writing is disseminating the "idea" of the work. (and I don't actually get the sense that book reviews enjoy reading. I sometimes even question if they know how to read, but I digress . . . )

stepping back, just trying to illicit opinions is what I'm going for with this site. so what is your opinion of the Scott show?

by wine labels, I meant that her aesthetic has been noted on a BC line of wines.

I may still be misunderstanding your point about reviewing art and telling you what we like. what if we simply don't like what we see? (this seems to be the case for the most part)