Every city reaches a point when its arts and cultural institutions need more than just a lick of paint. Such was the case when Frank Gehry was brought in to breath life back into the once thriving port town of Bilbao. The Guggenheim Museum seemed to put the city on the world map. But could commissioning a 'starchitect' to wave a magic wand and thereby create a ripple-like revenue boost, also known as the 'Bilbao Effect', work in somewhere like, say, Saskatchewan? With the opening of Remai Modern Art Gallery in Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, by Canadian architectural firm KPMB (Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects) and Smith Carter Architects and Engineers, we might be about to find out.
As it turns out, the birthplace of abstract minimalist painter Agnes Martin has a legacy of progressive support for the arts. In the 1940’s, Saskatchewan was the only place in North America to elect a socialist government. Established in 1948, the Saskatchewan Arts Board is the oldest public arts funder in North America, and second oldest in the world after the Arts Council of Great Britain. In the era of McCarthyism, the political dimension was one thing that attracted luminaries such as Clement Greenberg, Barnett Newman, Donald Judd and John Cage to lead workshops here in the 1950s.
The socialist government, which funneled money into health research, is the reason why little ol’ Saskatchewan is not only the birthplace of Canadian medicare but also where the term ‘psychedelic’ was first coined in 1951. But had it not been for German Jewish exile by the name of Frederick Mendel who came to Saskatoon in the late 1930s, we might never have heard of this little prairie town. Partly advised by his daughter who was an artist herself, he brought world-class art to the city. With the opening of the Mendel Art Gallery in 1964, it suddenly had paintings by leading European and Canadian modernists such as Georges Braque, Francis Picabia and Emily Carr.
Then in 1982 Sir Anthony Caro founded the Triangle Network which brought together 25 emerging and mid-career artists from the US, Canada and the UK, who spent 2 weeks making work alongside each other. The triangle consisted of London, New York and Saskatoon. Today, Gregory Burke, Remai Modern’s CEO & Executive Director, aims to provide a forum for artists to explore urgent questions surrounding climate change, globalization, technological advances and the continuing aftershocks of colonization across the world.
Slated to open to the public in late 2017, the museum will house a permanent collection of more than 8,000 works, including the world’s most comprehensive collection of Picasso linocuts (405 total) and 23 rare Picasso ceramics, as well as works by contemporary indigenous artists, a series of rotating exhibitions, and the works that once resided inside famed local cultural center, the Mendel Art Gallery, until it closed its doors in 2015. Fancy a trip to Saskatoon?