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The Mendel Art Gallery shines a spotlight on Canadian artists

By in Culture


Four new Canadian exhibitions were welcomed to the Saskatoon Mendel Art Gallery during the opening reception on June 27.

Sympathetic Magic, curated by Troy Gronsdahl and featuring the works of four artists, represents the complexity of Canada’s culture and identity. The dialogue that occurs between the independent works of artists Marie Lannoo and Sean Weisgerber is explored in the Ricochet exhibit. The Canadian Group of Painters exhibit presents the work of Emily Carr, among 47 other artists, with Alicia Boutilier as the curator.

The exhibit that focuses on the work of Carr however — along with a number of artists that pay homage to her influence — is the highlight of the season at the Mendel. Organized by the gallery’s Chief Curator, Lisa Baldissera, Convoluted Beauty: In the Company of Emily Carr pays recognition to the renowned Canadian artist.

Also a published writer, Carr (1871–1945) was born and died in Victoria, B.C. Though Carr studied art in San Francisco, London and Paris, her time in London and her connection to the Canadian West Coast are emphasized in the exhibit. Her sojourn in London led to an eventual diagnosis of hysteria and an 18-month stay in a mental institution which in turn influenced Carr’s exploration of her identity as both an artist and a Canadian.

Inspired by the Indigenous people of the West Coast, Carr captured her interests with modernist painting techniques. Her exhibitions eventually prompted her alliance with the Group of Seven — Canada’s most renowned modern artists — along with her entrance into the Canadian Group of Painters.

Despite dying of a heart attack in 1945, Carr’s legacy continues in Canada and abroad. A number of her works are on loan to the Vancouver Art Gallery and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. Three international and five Canadian artists whose works are also on show at the Mendel are products of Carr’s influence.

Each featured artist echoes Carr’s work in its own way — through mental illness, exile, the environment, wildlife or the idea of entering unknown territory. However, the Convoluted Beauty exhibit has aloneness as its running theme.

The theme of loneliness stems from the term that originated in Andre Breton’s writing. Fascinated with the hysteria with which Carr was supposedly afflicted with, Breton attended to the poetic quality of illness. The works in Convoluted Beauty capture loneliness and hint at the artist’s ability to heal themselves through art.

Recognition of the artist as the healer is exemplified through the work of German artist Thomas Zipp. His performance work was presented at the gallery on June 26 when he showed community volunteers how to dance, act and use instruments in subtle ways. Engaged by the performance, the audience was prompted to reflect on aspects of mental illness. Although the performance was live, the filmed version is showcased at the Mendel.

At the opening reception, the attendees were graced with a number of intriguing artist talks such as Joanne Bristol’s remarks on the difficulty of poetic language.

“Poetic language has the challenge of being legible and coherent,” Bristol said.

Bristol demonstrated this challenge during a co-reading performance of her newspaper creation.  Three readers began their readings at various times and read differing sections of the paper. Their contrasting voices, rhythms, inflections and volumes created a mesmerizing moment within the gallery.

“We felt the murmuration of birds in the moment,” Baldissera said of the performance.

The striking performance reminded the audience of the Mendel Art Gallery’s significance in Saskatchewan’s artistic community. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Mendel — which is a contributor to Canadian culture on a local and even a global scale.

“Since 1964 the Mendel has challenged and changed perspectives of art,” Boutilier said.

The anniversary will be celebrated on Nov. 1 to pay tribute to the Mendel Art Gallery’s continuing legacy.

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