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Oh, Canada brings Canadian art to Calgary galleries

By Rachel Woodward, February 5 2015 —

To showcase and celebrate the diverse art that defines this country, American curator Denise Markonish spent three years travelling Canada collecting art that embodies our national identity.

Over 100 of these pieces are on display in Calgary until April 26, showing there’s more to being Canadian than acting polite.

Oh, Canada: Contemporary Art from North North America is spread out over four galleries, including the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary. The Esker Foundation, Illingworth Kerr Gallery and the Glenbow Museum are also showing the exhibit. The event is organized by the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

“The Canadian arts community was incredibly welcoming and incredibly helpful,” Markonish says. “[The museums] really understood what I was trying to do and it was really a special thing to have this amazing network.”

Glenbow Museum guest curator Katherine Ylitalo says she is thrilled with the way the art community is coming together to embrace the exhibition.

Glenbow Museum

Glenbow Museum

“It’s big. It’s exciting. It’s really sprawling,” Ylitalo says. “To have [the exhibit] happen in four venues across town, and to have each one have different qualities to it, but each one being totally engaging, that, to me, really stands out.”

With over 60 artists, Oh, Canada is the largest survey of contemporary Canadian art ever produced, a painstaking effort for Markonish.

“It was really a very exhaustive search. I had a list of about 900 names that I looked at,” she says. “Then I visited about 400 studios over the course of three-and-half years to just meet artists in nearly every province and territory, working in all media, through generations, and really trying to get the deepest handle I could on what was happening here.”

The resulting exhibit includes a variety of artists and mediums that might not otherwise come together in a gallery. One such example is artist Annie Pootoogook’s work which examines Inuit struggles through surreal graphic art. This is shown with mixed-media artist Michael Fernandes’ installations featuring arrows shot into the walls of all four exhibits, with lights cast on them to create shadows.

It was important to Markonish to include juxtaposing works to show there isn’t one specific definition of what Canadian art is.

“When I got to putting the show together, it was a really difficult task. I wanted it to represent this country, but I didn’t want it to be prescriptive,” Markonish says. “I didn’t want it to be what people would expect, and I didn’t want it to be what the art world already knew. It was really exciting to find new faces and familiar faces to Canada, but seen in new ways.”

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