rRemai mModern: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
The new Remai Modern art museum is an impressive architectural statement on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon (population slightly less than 300,000). This new addition to Canada’s cultural scene signals a bold adventure for the arts community in the city and the province. Full disclosure – I was born and raised in Saskatoon and our family home was situated just across the river from where the new gallery is located.
What is remarkable is that this small prairie city has been blessed with extremely civic minded and generous benefactors who have contributed significant financial resources and important works of art for the benefit of the citizens of Saskatoon. In the 1960s it was Fred Mendel whose financial support and gifts of unique art works led to the creation of the Mendel Art Gallery. During its 51 years of existence the gallery built a permanent collection of more than 7,500 works of local, regional and national significance.
The new arts champion for the city is Ellen Remai who has already invested $53 million in the new gallery’s construction, new art works and programming, and has committed $50 million more over the next 25 years.
The stunning 130,000-square-foot building with it’s spacious exhibition galleries, a theatre, a restaurant and a glass-walled function area overlooking the river and the city will be a real asset to the cultural and social life of Saskatoon.
Many people in Saskatoon and further afield are well aware of the Remai Modern’s nine year-long birthing pains. The transition from the legacy of Fred Mendel to a new patron and a new building has been emotionally charged and, at times, both contentious and acrimonious. Many of the articles written about the opening of the museum (October 21, 2017) and the inaugural exhibition (field guide) tended to concentrate on this dynamic and were quick to point out perceived shortcomings in either the programming and/or presentation of this first exhibition. My advice is for everyone to take a deep breath, remember the past with fondness, enjoy what has been created and look forward to the potential the gallery has to offer.
I was pleased to see references to the Mendel legacy in this inaugural exhibition. The curators have set aside prime gallery space to showcase his original contribution to the Mendel Art Gallery in 1965 of 13 works by the Group of Seven and other Canadian artists. The Perehudoff murals that Mendel had commissioned in 1953 for the walls of the reception room at his meat packing plant and that were saved from the wrecking ball in 2009 are on view as well.
In case it hasn’t come across clear enough – I loved the gallery. I particularly liked the Tanya Lukin Linklater and Duane Linklater installation – a curated collection of work by Indigenous and Metis artists that greets visitors in the museum’s first gallery.
I also enjoyed seeing the work of Canadian and international artists familiar to me, for example, William Perehudolff, Eli Bornstein, Ian Wallace and Pierre Huyghe and was introduced to several more, including Alexine McLeod, Haegue Yang and Wallid Raad.
This first exhibition is an eclectic mix of artists and media and makes for an engaging visit. I recommend the experience to everyone.