A remarkable thing happened in planning the Calgary iteration of the major Canadian art exhibition Oh, Canada: Contemporary Art from North North America. When the four Calgary institutions involved put in their requests for artwork from the show, there was not a single overlap in their selections. "There was zero conflict," says Esker Foundation director/curator Naomi Potter. "Everyone came with a particular curatorial vision based on the original exhibition, which was kind of amazing." Oh, Canada was organized by and first mounted at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), and then travelled to Atlantic Canada. The Calgary show, opening Jan. 31, is the first to have the exhibition in four venues in the same city.
As Ms. Potter explains, much of the work that deals with craft has landed at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery (IKG) at the Alberta College of Art + Design (ACAD); the Glenbow is showing work that deals at some level with history; Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary has media-based work; and the Esker has sculptural work, including Kim Adams's Optic Nerve (which involves a full-sized light-up minivan), and the artist collective BGL's La clôture.
The exhibition, which includes the work of more than 60 artists, comes at what Ms. Potter says is an exciting time for the contemporary art scene in Calgary. "In the sixties and the seventies… it was a really radical place; and then I don't what happened in the eighties and the nineties. It kind of died out. And it feels now like there's a sense of potential. Artists that are graduating from ACAD are staying in the city. There's a sense that there is something to feed them here now, finally," she says.
This exhibition is a big moment for the city overall, but specifically for the institutions involved, and their audiences – and potential audiences.
"It's forced four institutions to actually talk to each other in a town that I think traditionally been very siloed," Ms. Potter says. "What we're hoping by coming together is that the audiences that each of us have – and we each have very specific audiences – there's a hope that those audiences will shift and move and that we can share them and down the road. That will mean a larger audience base for all of us, and kind of maybe prove to Calgarians that this is a visual arts town."
Oh, Canada: Contemporary Art from North North America is in Calgary Jan. 31-Apr. 26.