May 14, 2010

More crap writing on art from Edmonton. Sigh.

I don't write much here, but I had to respond to this: "Art Gallery of Alberta VS. Independent Galleries." It's an awful article. I go into why below.


Dear Jessica Brisson,

I was distressed to read your "Art Gallery of Alberta VS. Independant Galleries" article (See Magazine, 13 May 2010). In conflating two very different kinds of art exhibition spaces, you failed to enrich the discussion of Edmonton's art scene and have instead confused the issue of how institutions of all kinds contribute to creating a culturally vibrant city.

To structure an argument around the comparison of Latitude 53 - an artist run centre - and the AGA - a museum - totally ignores the fact that these institutions have different mandates and have evolved to serve very different needs within the community. Is Latitude going to bring in a Rodin show? No. Is the AGA going to sponsor a performance and video art festival? No. Do both bring in interesting work that enriches the Edmonton arts scene? Yes!

There are generally 4 different kinds of galleries:

1. Commercial galleries sell work that is marketable. Some are more adventurous than others, but don't expect to see installations or video art here.

2. Vanity Galleries. Edmonton does not, to my knowledge, have any vanity galleries, but they are common in larger urban centres. In a vanity gallery the artist pays the rent for the month of their show, often in exchange for a lower commission taken by the gallery on works sold. It may sound a bit strange, but these can actually be a great way for emerging and mid-career artists to attract commercial representation, or for artists working in non-traditional media (like installation and video) to exhibit their work in a professional context.

3. Artist Run Centres. These galleries do not exist to sell work, but to show work that is interesting, cutting-edge, and adventurous. Every ARC has a different mandate and focus, but it is here that you can expect to see work that pushes past the limits of commercialism and tradition. ARCs show work by emerging, mid-career, and established artists.

4. Museums. This is the category that large institutions like the AGA occupy. They show work by established (and occasionally mid-career) artists. Like ARCs, they are not concerned with saleable work, but because of their desire to appeal to a larger audience the work they show is sometimes more conservative than what you might see in a smaller venue. But it is here that you can see works by well-known contemporary artists and old masters alike. It is not, however, a place where local emerging artists get a foot in the door.

Let's stop talking about apples and oranges and talk about other more pressing issues. Why does Edmonton not have more exhibition opportunities for emerging artists? How can we encourage the proliferation of more indie (more on that in a minute) and vanity spaces so that art is more readily available to the general population? How do we, in effect, help to create art galleries that are not "destinations", but places that someone strolling along can spontaneously pop in to? Latitude 53 and Harcourt House are great, but neither gallery is street-level. I would love to see commercial store fronts in the downtown core and in other parts of the city (118th ave comes to mind) turned into low-rent exhibition spaces. Kind of like The Works, but year-round.

I felt that your entire article downplayed the important role of artist-run-centres. To say that Latitude books 7 shows a year totally ignores the art being show in the Projex Room and Community Gallery, and the myriad of events they put on all year. It makes their contribution to the Edmonton art scene sound measly, when in fact it is significant.

As one last point, I would like to stress that Latitude 53 is not, as your article suggests, an indie gallery. It is a 37-year-old well-respected cultural institution that attracts exhibitions by both local and international artists. The Artery is an indie gallery, okay? It's a DIY space that exhibits emerging work, and Edmonton is fortunate to have it. Latitude 53 is in another league, and, as I have stated multiples times, serves an entirely different purpose.

There is no winner when we compare different kinds of art galleries. But Edmontonians win a little every time a new exhibition space (like the Artery) opens. Let's focus on that.

Kirsten McCrea


MC said...

But, then again, there aren't really any art writers in Edmonton (at least not at the newspapers) who have any idea what they're talking about.
Seriously, Kristen, THIS has got to be MUCH worse art writing in Edmonton! This might, in fact, be the worst art writing the planet has ever known.

Kirsten McCrea said...

I'll have to respectfully disagree - I think Edmonton has some great arts writers, and I would count Amy Fung among them. As for poorly researched crap like the above, it should have stopped at the editor's desk. Silly me, assuming that See has any standards at all.

MC said...

I don't see much difference between the quality of See and Vue, to be honest.

As for that Fung piece, she screws up calling out Peter Hide (his usage of "Retro" was fine), she screws up her own usage of "hark" (she meant "harp", no doubt), she contradicts herself throughout the whole piece (she likes the paintings, but is "appalled" that they're made!?! WTF!!).

I humbly suggest, maybe you're letting a personal friendship cloud what should be a dispassionate judgment, here? You can disagree with the See article argument (as I did, anonymously, on their comment page), but at least it is intelligible, in a "which is better, a compact car or an SUV, straightforward apples v. oranges kind of way. The Fung bit, in comparison, is written in clumsy English, with confused ideas and false premises.