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.
By Deb A.
Ursula Johnson, also known as Little Bear, is this year's winner of Canada's Sobey Art Award.
The prestigious prize recognises the country's most promising contemporary artists under the age of 40. This year's shortlist included a record number of women (four of five of the artists are female) and two Indigenous artists from the five regions.
Ursula Johnson, representing the Atlantic region, is a performance and installation artist of Mi'kmaw First Nation ancestry. She descends from a long line of artists, including Caroline Gould, her great-grandmother and master basket weaver. Often incorporating basketry traditions into her art, Ms. Johnson explores identity, community, colonialism, and her Indigenous heritage: she wove baskets around herself for her Basket Weaving (Cultural Cocoon) series (2003-2015), was symbolically scalped in Elmiet (He/She Goes Home) (2010) to draw attention to Nova Scotia's history of scalping, and collaborated with Soto Pow Wow dancer Bert Milberg for Hot Looking (2014), a commentary on the appropriation of indigenous culture.
"I will now have the tremendous opportunity to work on a larger scale and expand the reach of my work to a broader community while exploring more diversity in materials and content as well as beginning to create a network of collaborators internationally!" Ms. Johnson said of her win.
Her desire to work with and learn from others was just part of the reason Ursula Johnson received the $50,000 CDN award; the selection committee noted that she "was singled out for her strong voice, her generosity and collaborative spirit. Through her work, she redefines traditional materials and re-imagines colonized histories."
Ursula Johnson is a talented, insightful artist with a strong sense of community, history and social justice--in other words, a fitting representative for the nation's contemporary art scene in a year in which Canada's colonial history has come under the microscope and gender and identity politics dominate public discourse.
The shortlisted artists, Raymond Boisjoly (West Coast & Yukon), Divya Mehra (Prairies & North), Bridget Moser (Ontario), and Jacynthe Carrier (Quebec), will each receive $10,000 CDN. All five artists' works are on display at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto until December 9th.
By Deb A.
He was Canada's unofficial poet laureate, documenting the nation's past and present and guiding Canadians to a clearer understanding of their own cultural identity. Gord Downie, lead singer of The Tragically Hip, solo artist, and activist, died of brain cancer on October 17th. And while he held that his writing could only be completed through performance, his lyrics are still powerful in black and white.
Nautical Disaster (1994, Day for Night)
I had this dream where I relished the fray
And the screaming filled my head all day
It was as though I'd been spit here
Settled in, into the pocket
Of a lighthouse on some rocky socket
Off the coast of France, dear
One afternoon four thousand men died in the water here
And five hundred more were thrashing madly
As parasites might in your blood
Now I was in a lifeboat designed for ten and ten only
Anything that systematic would get you hated
It's not a deal nor a test nor a
Love of something faded
The selection was quick, the crew was picked in order
And those left in the water
Got kicked off our pant leg
And we headed for home
Then the dream ends when the phone rings
"You doing alright?"
He said, "It's out there most days and nights
But only a fool would complain"
Anyway, Susan, if you like
Our conversation is as faint a sound in my memory
As those fingernails scratching on my hull
By Deb A.
A book of poetry written by Leonard Cohen just before his death will be published next year. (Billboard)
We've talked about the Fearless Girl statue at length, and we wish we could be shocked that the firm behind it has a history of underpaying women and people of colour. (NPR)
Thirty publishers rejected Matt Cain's book on the grounds that it was too gay, but the general public disagrees: it's well on its way to getting published through crowdfunding instead. (The Bookseller)
505 new books were released during the UK's "Super Thursday". Which will you read first? (BBC)
Prize round-up: Kazuo Ishiguro won this year's Nobel Prize for literature. And the five finalists for Canada's Giller Prize have been announced. (Nobel Prize, Giller Prize)
The Guardian asked the art world about the biggest question currently facing artists. In one way or another, money comes up a lot. (The Guardian)
A school librarian rejected the First Lady's donation of ten Dr. Seuss books. (The Washington Post)
The Yayoi Kusama museum in Tokyo is open for business! (Yayoi Kusama Museum)
By Deb A.
By now you've heard that Agave Press will be launching its children's magazine, Prickly Pear Kids, in winter. That isn't the only exciting development in children's literature recently...
If you want your child to learn a lesson, those bunnies and bears just won't do. Researchers at the University of Toronto have discovered that only stories that feature human beings can increase children's altruism.
Speaking of bears, A.A. Milne was desperate to escape his own creation, Winnie-the-Pooh.
This year's Klaus Flugge Prize for the most exciting and promising newcomer to children's picture book illustration has been awarded to Francesca Sanna for her book, The Journey, which tells the story of a mother and her two children fleeing war at home to find a new life in a foreign country.
You've read Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and you've probably seen at least one of the films, but what you never realised was that Charlie Bucket was originally black.
There are boy heroes, there are (significantly fewer) girl heroines. But chances are they aren't playing together. Amelia Hill takes a fascinating look at gender equality in children's books, and even offers a few titles for starting your non-sexist kids' library.
By Deb A.
If you're in need of some inspiration to begin your week, look no further:
Art is good for us: On Wednesday the British Parliament will announce the results of its two-year inquiry into arts, health and wellbeing. In anticipation of the report, Nicci Gerrard offers an eloquent account of the role of arts in helping people with dementia. (The Guardian)
Beware the selfie: A single snapshot was to blame for the domino effect that knocked over a row of plinths holding $200,000 worth of art. Too perfectly awkward to be true? (The New York Times)
Sketching the unknown: How artists and researchers teamed up to find and introduce new species to the rest of the world. (The Atlantic)
Illustrator, cartoonist, trailblazer: Canadian artist Jillian Tamaki's new book of graphic short stories marks her emergence as a "consummate storyteller". (The Walrus)
Visual activist: Photographer Zanele Muholi highlights racism, homophobia, and hate with Somnyama Ngopnyama, Hail the Dark Lioness, a series of self-portraits she took every day for a year. The Guardian dedicates two spaces to her work, and rightly so: a striking photo gallery and a compelling article.
When is a Modigliani not a Modigliani? Twenty-one artworks have been confiscated from a major exhibition in Genoa after several were confirmed as fakes. (The Telegraph)
The Commuter Pig Keeper? You still have time to vote for the Oddest Book Title of the Year. (The Bookseller)
Agave alumna: Agave Magazine contributor Karla K. Morton's twelfth book, Wooden Lions, is now available.
By Deb A.
The beaver, the loon, Céline Dion... all Canadian icons, all too expensive to commission as a six-storey inflatable landmark. And so, Canada will be celebrating its 150th birthday with a giant rubber duck.
It's not just any rubber duck. Rubber Duck was created by Florentijn Hofman, a Dutch artist known for enormous, playful outdoor installations (including the HippopoThames, which swam around in London in 2014). Various versions of the bird--which is visible from space--have turned up across Europe, Asia, Australia and the United States, but this will be its first visit to Canada. The world's largest rubber duck will float along the Ontario Waterfront as part of the Ontario 150 tour and the Redpath Waterfront Festival, which cannily encourages visitors to remember their selfie sticks.
So how does this very Instagrammable work speak to Canadian culture? In short, it doesn't. It fails to reference anything that is iconic to this nation of multiculturalism and maple syrup, and it wasn't even created by a Canadian. (Imagine, instead of a bright yellow duck lurking along the water, a hovering cloud of lightbulbs illuminating the evening, courtesy of Canadian artists Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett.)
The duck is family-friendly, eager to please, non-threatening, generally inoffensive... in essence, it's a yellow PVC-clad embodiment of the laziest Canuck stereotype. One can only hope it won't block the view of the compelling nine-metre inukshuk that already graces the shoreline.
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