Thursday, July 10, 2008

Prairie Artsters - A Different Type of ARC*

Last week, I stopped by the new Common Sense Gallery, purported as Edmonton’s newest artist-run centre, and received a tour of the new North Edmonton Sculpture Workshop.

Almost immediately, it was evident that Common Sense is not actually an artist-run centre in any official sense, but a space run by artists in the old-fashioned sense. To clarify: ARCs have defined themselves as alternate exhibition spaces in relation to commercial art spaces, ie, ARCs are geared towards exhibiting works that are not created as commodified products, but exist as venues for investigating and developing dialogue and practice.

My visit to Common Sense coincided with the new book on artist-run cultures (Decentre, YYZ Books), and between flipping through Decentre’s nauseating navel gazing, I could only wonder how much this independent warehouse cost at the peak of last summer’s market. Owned by Ryan McCourt and occupied by fellow steel sculptors Rob Willms and Andy French downstairs, and painters Nola Cassady and Julian Forrest upstairs, the reconstructed building is essentially an artist’s wet dream in our space-deprived city. As talk of artist spaces rests on the lips of every arts organization, is this an example of the dream realized?

Toured around by a hospitable French, we walked through the former small appliance repair shop where McCourt apparently played as a child and currently plays as an adult. Continuing as a privately funded venture with cheap studio rent, the now privately owned NESW is certainly more impressive in size and facilities than existing local ARCs and arts initiatives such as ArtsHabitat. Just north of 104 Avenue and tucked away in the strip of industrial warehouses, the space resounds as a workshop first and foremost with a viewing space currently housing Mitchell Smith paintings. The gallery is blatantly straightforward with concrete floors and exposed structural steel beams. It resembles a chic commercial gallery space in both form and function: the space is available for viewing by appointment only, with business cards and “Common Sense” T-shirts, but no curatorial vision beyond selling the work.

Working with the building layout, French cordially points out that most of the features and spaces dictated the final outcome of the project. With small nooks, such as the upstairs reading lounge, downstairs video viewing room, Shady Gardens (a small interior balcony overlooking the work bay, just big enough for an ongoing game of Scrabble) and dartboard alley, along with functioning makeshift kitchens upstairs and downstairs, a common room plus three to four east-facing painting studios up in the Ladies Zog, and of course the heavy metal work bay and storage yard, the space is a functioning entity onto itself, in need of no one else.

Much like the five large-scale works by Peter Hide currently up at the Royal Alberta Museum, and presented by NESW, the works on the outside foyer stand isolated and each unto their own, abstracting references that are no longer present and dominating a vicinity without acknowledging its surroundings. Practical in filling the needs of a specific group of artists, the space—as the work—is removed from the temperament of community and practice. It is almost unfortunate, as seeing the colourfully welded sculptures once outside the Shaw Conference now sitting in industrial isolation, the work finally made an impression by existing amongst its own contemporary reality.

*First published in Vue Weekly, July 10 - 16, 2008

19 comments:

MC said...

For the sake of accuracy, I should point out:

Common Sense IS an artist run gallery. Call it an ARG if it helps, or not, if you don't feel that's an 'official' enough sounding acronym.

Common Sense IS an "alternate exhibition space in relation to commercial art spaces". I'm surprised that the fact that Common Sense does not take a commission on sold works would not make it into your story, Amy... Harcourt House and Lat53, even the Works, take a share of the price if an artist sells work out of one of their shows... it's a shame you omitted mentioning this about Common Sense.

Common Sense DOES "exist as" a venue "for investigating and developing dialogue and practice."
(obviously.)

Common Sense is currently showing "Mitchel Smith: Paintings from 2008". That's Mitchel with one 'l', and the name of the exhibition, in case such things might be of interest to the readers. (I suppose there's still time before Aug. 9 for Prairie Artsters to review this exhibition itself.)

Common Sense has exposed structural beams made of wood, not steel.

In addition to being open on an appointment basis, days and evenings, Common Sense is open daily by chance, if someone is around to hear the doorbell. The phone number (which could have also been published in the article) is 780-482-2685...

Common Sense does have a curatorial vision, in that we show work we feel is worth looking at, regardless of media, and regardless of who made it, whether it is us NESW/Lady Zog artists, or someone from outside. If the work also happens to sell, well, tha's gravy then, innit?

The small interior balcony is known as a Minstrel's Gallery. "Shady Gardens" encompasses a much larger, ineffable essence, beyond the confines of a mere porch...

The painting studios are located in the Lady Zog, not the ladies zog... think 'Lazy Dog' for dyslexics.

Oh, and that show at the Royal Alberta Museum is called "PETER HIDE @ THE RAM", for those of you who might be interested... (I suppose we can still expect Prairie Artsters to review the show before Oct. 5?)

Also, I'm not sure how Fung mistook the storage yard for a "foyer", either... I mean, its not like she came in through the back door. Anyways, Common Sense doesn't have a 'foyer', in any event...

It is also unfortunate that VUE failed to give the address to Common Sense, beyond vaguely suggesting it is north of 104th ave... the address is 10546 - 115 street.

The NESW and the Lady Zog are both Artist Run Studios, so I guess the whole shebang cold be referred to as follows:

"ARG, it's those ARSes!"

So, does an artist run gallery with artist run studios constitute an artist run centre? What office, officer, or official does one need to register this with, exactly?

Or, maybe it's more aptly described as an artist run frontier... not in the middle, but on the edge.

This and other commentary on this article can be read here

Tim said...

How much was the space, MC, and who sold it to you?

dead joe said...

And what in the name of God does that last paragraph mean?

MC said...

It was expensive indeed, and it was sold to me by the previous owners...

The last paragraph is complete gibberish. I think it was Amy's attempt to say something negative, but it just ended up not making any sense whatsoever. We could pick it apart, I suppose, but ultimately, it's just a brain fart of some sort...

MC said...

It does make you wonder what the editors at these papers do, as they certainly aren't, um, editing, that much is obvious... Seriously, how hard is it to get some very simple facts straight, anyway? Do these people want to be real journalists when the grow up, or what the fuck?

Tim said...

So your dad helped you buy it then?

MC said...

What do you assume that?

Tim said...

Well he paid for everything else, right?

MC said...

???

Craig Knox said...

It doesn't matter if somebody's dad did or didn't help. Are you going to give them a wedgy and stuff them into a locker too tim? keep the financial field even through public mockery!

Im glad there is a center like this, whether the owners saved up their tooth fairy money or not.

MC said...

You're welcome to come by the gallery, Craig... you too, Tim.

tish said...

i'd like to come by too ... sounds interesting.

MC said...

All are welcome....

Anonymous said...

Sigh!

I rarely respond to blogs - but just to clarify a comment made earlier by MC - whomever this is?

Latitude 53 does not take any commission from the sale of artist's art, if an individual is interested in purchasing a work - Latitude 53 takes their information and provides this to the artists who then proceeds with a possible transaction. We also pay artist's fees to all artists and works that we exhibit. There may be some festivals and galleries that operate differently, however they can speak for themselves.

I hope that clarifies things.

Amy: thanks for maintaining and facilitating this platform and for enhancing dialogue within and about art in Edmonton.

Todd Janes
Executive Director
Latitude 35

MC said...

Typewritten sighs all around!

I must admit, my earlier careless comment was based on my own experience of purchasing a lovely gouache by Dean Smale at a Latitude53 "Schmoozy" fund raiser, the proceeds of which, I had assumed, went entirely to the gallery. In my ignorance, I thought most of the work sold out of Latitude 53 was probably through similar gallery fund raisers... Since Todd's reading, I'm sure he could clarify this further, though...

MC said...

Speaking of clarification, I'm surprised Amy hasn't chimed in to defend her article, or at least apologize for all the errors. That's what you'd expect a journalist to do, isn't it?

MC said...

Uh oh... maybe I scared them both off...

Tim said...

No, your dad did that too : )

MC said...

Yeah, well, your mom is a whore, Tim. So there.

She'd tell you so herself, but her mouth is full of my wang at the moment...