Thursday, May 27, 2010

Prairie Artsters: Lethbridge*

Known for its undulating coulees and its untempered gusts of wind, Lethbridge is also home to one of the most intriguing art scenes in Canada. While the specter of international art stars Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller lingers around the reputation of the town, retrospectively, it could be worthy to view the new media scene in Lethbridge as an instigator for what would be important contributions in Canadian contemporary art.

Embedded within the valley as if it the concrete were slabs of natural bedrock, The University of Lethbridge plays a major factor in generating and maintaining the city’s reputation in contemporary art. Employing the majority of working artists in the city in some capacity or another, housing one of the best collections in Western Canada, actively producing quality publications on their programming, giving public space to curated exhibitions from the collection throughout the year, hosting touring shows in a similar capacity of an artist run center, U Leth has been dedicated to its Liberal Arts education from the beginning, with the Liberal Arts building being the second building built on campus. All of it is of course also designed by the one and only Arthur Erikson, who designed the Fine Arts building around Sorel Etrog’s Moses sculpture, which in the year the University opened, was featured at Expo 67 In Montreal  and remains a source of pride as the first donation in a 13,000 + collection that only continues to grow. Currently up within the University of Lethbridge Gallery was an exhibition, “In the Stillness,” internally curated by Jane Edmundson, sourcing works from Tony Urquhart to Murieal Castianis to Robert Rauschenberg that take up Michael Fried’s essay, “Art and Objecthood”. While on paper it appears there is a strong focus on 60’s and 70’s examples concepts of theory, this exhibition is a fine example of how to work from an established legacy and expand upon its merits to engage in contemporary practices.

Headed by Josephine Mills who has pushed the institution into a centre for investigating collections as well as using collecting as a working method, the University of Lethbridge Gallery  ranks as one of the top three art galleries in Canada on par with Carleton and Justina M Barnicke.

Not to say that there is no arts community outside of the University, as within 24 hours of arrival, I took in the temporary home of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery and spent a lengthy duration of time at the Trianon Gallery for Maria Madacky’s solo exhibition, met the keepers of the ongoing and elusive Potemkin Society, visited the haunted Bowman Arts Center, had a tour of the seedy social world of Burning Ground Studios, and completed four individual studio visits. One of the studio visits was with Mary-Anne McTrowe, who along with Daniel Wong, make up the inexplicable music duo The Cedar Tavern Singers aka Les Phonorealistes. Singing catchy folk art pop ditties, the two are also Sobey Award Finalists this year, and who along with photographer David Miller, will be the unofficial Lethbridge contingent in this year’s Alberta Biennial: Timeland, opening this weekend at the Art Gallery of Alberta. 

*First published in Vue Weekly

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