By Deb A.
Canada's newest contemporary art museum has emerged from an unlikely place: the prairie landscape of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
The Remai Modern's flat blocks of sleek glass and red steel mesh are an ambitious statement in an ambitious city. Parallels are already being drawn with other off-the-beaten-path towns that tried to leverage a world-class museum to put them on the map. But is the $85 million art gallery the next Guggenheim Museum Bilbao?
The gallery boasts the world's most comprehensive collection of Picasso linocuts, as well as works by John Baldessari, General Idea, and Ruth Cuthand. With Ellen Remai contributing over $100 million to the gallery--one of the most substantial philanthropic donations to an art institution nationwide--the future of the collection seems enviably bright. Over the next 25 years, the museum will be able to spend $1 million a year on acquisitions; another $1 million will be available each year for donation matching.
One sore spot, however, is the representation of Indigenous people, a community that constitutes over 10% of Saskatoon's population. Apparently missing the memo from the Sobey Art Award, the Remai Modern, which sits on Treaty 6 land, has no Indigenous curators. Its commitment to the community has come under fire, and some believe that the museum is not doing enough to celebrate and promote local artists, despite its stated goal of being "a leading centre for contemporary Indigenous art and discourse."
In contrast, the Remai Modern's predecessor, the Mendel Art Gallery, had forged close links with the Indigenous community. It was also remarkably accessible, offering free entry to all, seven days a week. Its entire collection of 8,000 works, once available to see for nothing, is now housed in the Remai, where an adult ticket costs $12.
It remains to be seen whether the city will fully embrace its newest addition, and whether art lovers will brave the lack of direct flights from other art hubs such as New York and Paris to experience all the Remai Modern has to offer. One thing, however, is fairly certain: it will take a special sort of art enthusiast to plan a winter trip, when temperatures often drop below -30 degrees Celsius.
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