Art of the Pos­si­ble

If you build an $85 mil­lion gallery in Saska­toon, will the world make the trek?

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - By Daniel Viola

If you build an $85 mil­lion gallery in Saska­toon, will the world make the trek?

The pi­casso, like most Pi­cas­sos, is dif­fi­cult to un­pack at first glance. A few things are im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous: two ears, a mouth, shoul­der-length hair. But it’s hard to know what to make of the most prom­i­nent fea­ture— the eyes. One is wide, as if sur­prised. The other, higher up on the face, looks sad. A harsh nose sep­a­rates the two, cre­at­ing a trick of per­spec­tive: it could be seen as a por­trait of a sin­gle woman, and then, af­ter a blink, it changes into two women in pro­file gaz­ing at each other.

The work, Por­trait de Jac­que­line aux cheveux lisses, is one of 406 Pablo Pi­casso linocut prints owned by the Re­mai Mod­ern, Saska­toon’s new art mu­seum. The col­lec­tion of linocuts, the Re­mai is quick to point out on its web­site and in its press re­leases, is the most com­pre­hen­sive in the world. And so it’s no won­der that at the mu­seum’s open­ing in Oc­to­ber 2017, the Pi­casso room was packed. Fam­i­lies, cou­ples, and vis­i­tors from abroad pa­raded along the walls of prints, star­ing at wonky face af­ter wonky face. Ev­ery­one seemed ter­ri­bly im­pressed. And that, of course, was the whole point.

Saska­toon is not where most peo­ple ex­pect to find a stock­pile of work by one of the most fa­mous artists of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. For that mat­ter, Saska­toon is not where one ex­pects to come across an in­sti­tu­tion like the Re­mai Mod­ern. The mu­seum is huge — 130,000 square feet of open gal­leries, soar­ing win­dows, and broad foy­ers wrapped up in an ul­tra-mod­ern glass-and-cop­per-mesh ex­te­rior. The four-storey build­ing feels as though it’s been plucked from a cul­tural cap­i­tal like Toronto or Chicago or Lon­don and dropped on the west bank of the South Saskatchewan River.

It’s easy to think of more promis­ing places to build an $84.6 mil­lion city­owned art gallery that was es­ti­mated to need 220,000 vis­i­tors each year in order to stay afloat. Saska­toon may be nick­named

the “Paris of the Prairies,” but it’s cur­rently note­wor­thy for a more mun­dane de­tail: it’s a small city in a large prov­ince in a very big coun­try and there­fore is very far away if you don’t hap­pen to be one of the 270,000 peo­ple liv­ing there. Saska­toon’s clos­est big neigh­bours are Ed­mon­ton (a five-hour drive) and Cal­gary (six). There are no di­rect flights from New York City, Paris, or Los An­ge­les.

But Gre­gory Burke, the Re­mai’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and CEO , sees op­por­tu­nity in this iso­la­tion. “There’s this no­tion that to be ex­otic as a lo­ca­tion re­quires a jour­ney, a sig­nif­i­cant jour­ney,” he says. Burke, who came to Saska­toon in 2013 af­ter lead­ing the Power Plant gallery in Toronto and the Govett-brew­ster Art Gallery in New Ply­mouth, New Zealand, of­fers ex­am­ples: Marfa, an out­post of 2,000 in the Texas desert, has cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of art lovers around the world with its out­door sculp­tures and in­stal­la­tions; Fogo Is­land, a hunk of rock off of New­found­land, at­tracts wealthy tourists and artists with its vaunted stu­dio spa­ces and renowned ar­chi­tec­ture. “Peo­ple make a pil­grim­age to get to these places,” Burke says. “And that’s the way we see our­selves func­tion­ing. We want to get onto peo­ple’s bucket lists.”

Ever since the pro­ject was an­nounced, how­ever, it has been mired in con­tro­versy. The crit­i­cisms from those liv­ing in Saska­toon mostly fall into sim­i­lar cat­e­gories: the Re­mai is too costly; the Re­mai is just for the rich; the Re­mai is go­ing to be a white ele­phant. One main point of ten­sion is that to cre­ate the Re­mai, the city closed down Saska­toon’s orig­i­nal art mu­seum — the free, and much loved,

Men­del Art Gallery.

The Men­del acted as a com­mu­nity cen­tre and an im­por­tant venue for lo­cal artists. Many now fear that these fea­tures will be lost amid the Re­mai’s global am­bi­tions.

Pat Lorje, the former city coun­cil­lor who cast the ini­tial vote in opposition to build­ing the Re­mai, de­scribes the mu­seum as a pro­ject that snow­balled into a fa­cil­ity too big for a city the size of Saska­toon to main­tain. “I’m mar­ried to an artist. I love go­ing to the Guggen­heim and the MOMA,” she says. “I’m hop­ing that this will be a world­class fa­cil­ity and that the ac­ci­dents of

ge­og­ra­phy called the Prairies will be over­looked.” But she and many oth­ers are not con­vinced. Saska­toon, they say, has gam­bled away a gallery that was serv­ing its res­i­dents and has bet mil­lions on a pro­ject aimed at pro­mot­ing in­ter­na­tional artists for a le­gion of tourists who may never ac­tu­ally show up.

The men­del Art Gallery re­ceived its name and ethos from Fred Men­del, a Ger­man Jewish refugee who fled the Nazis and came to Saska­toon with his fam­ily in 1940. Upon ar­rival, he started a suc­cess­ful meat-pack­ing plant, and twenty years later, he pro­posed the cre­ation of a civic art gallery — his way of giv­ing back to the city that had taken him in. Men­del do­nated a third of the build­ing costs, and in Oc­to­ber 1964, Saska­toon’s first per­ma­nent art gallery opened its doors.

Men­del was a proud col­lec­tor of Cana­dian mod­ernist art, and his fam­ily do­nated thir­teen paint­ings to the new gallery, the ma­jor­ity of which were by lead­ing artists such as Emily Carr and Group of Seven mem­bers A.Y. Jack­son and Lawren Har­ris. Men­del and his daugh­ter Eva, herself an artist, be­came cham­pi­ons of the lo­cal art scene; the former went on to show his sup­port by com­mis­sion­ing works by cel­e­brated ab­stract painter Wil­liam Pere­hud­off. “They were so­phis­ti­cated, they were wealthy. But they made Saska­toon their home,” says Jen Bud­ney, a cu­ra­tor at the Men­del from 2008 un­til 2013, about the fam­ily. “They val­ued Saska­toon artists as much as they val­ued artists from any­where. They took pride in the cul­ture of their new home here in Saskatchewan and they were full par­tic­i­pants in it.”

Over the fol­low­ing decades, the Men­del Art Gallery be­came the cen­tre of the city’s cul­tural life. By the 2000s, it was see­ing more than 160,000 vis­i­tors an­nu­ally, most from the Saska­toon area. Kids were a com­mon sight thanks to the gallery’s outreach and ed­u­ca­tional ini­tia­tives — half a mil­lion stu­dents took part in the Men­del’s youth pro­gram­ming over the gallery’s life. Artists would reg­u­larly pop in to chat with cu­ra­tors and ask for ca­reer ad­vice. Jog­gers would even use the Men­del as a pit stop dur­ing long runs. The Men­del played host to con­certs and clubs and film screen­ings. It was a com­mon space in the truest sense of the word. “I’ve never seen a gallery like the Men­del that had such an al­le­giance from the wide pub­lic,” says Mar­cus Miller, di­rec­tor of the Gor­don Snel­grove Gallery at the Univer­sity of Saskatchewan. “When there was a re­cep­tion there, it was packed, packed, packed. Peo­ple loved that place.”

As time passed, the Men­del build­ing, worn down through use, started show­ing its age. Its small size was also be­com­ing an is­sue as the gallery’s col­lec­tion grew to nearly 8,000 works, many of which were by lo­cal and re­gional artists. The city de­cided a change was needed, and in De­cem­ber 2001, it an­nounced plans for a $13 mil­lion ex­pan­sion. Fundrais­ing dif­fi­cul­ties stalled the pro­ject, though, un­til a new plan was floated: the city would leave the Men­del be­hind and build a new fa­cil­ity closer to the down­town core. The build­ing would in­herit the Men­del’s col­lec­tion but not the Men­del name. A “Save the Men­del” cam­paign was started to pe­ti­tion coun­cil­lors to re­verse the de­ci­sion, but with no suc­cess.

In 2011, as the plans were still be­ing drawn up, a lo­cal en­tre­pre­neur named Ellen Re­mai ap­proached the fundrais­ing team to dis­cuss a pos­si­ble do­na­tion. “She said she was pre­pared to make a big gift, but she wanted this gallery to be ‘world class,’” Burke says. To show her com­mit­ment to the con­cept, Re­mai amassed and do­nated the Pi­casso col­lec­tion, val­ued at $20 mil­lion, and ear­marked another $15 mil­lion for ex­hi­bi­tions of in­ter­na­tional sig­nif­i­cance. (In Oc­to­ber 2017, Re­mai an­nounced she would be giv­ing an ad­di­tional $50 mil­lion for ac­qui­si­tions and donor match­ing, bring­ing her to­tal to $103 mil­lion, one of the largest phil­an­thropic gifts to the arts in Canada’s his­tory.)

The de­sign for the new gallery, sub­se­quently named the Re­mai Mod­ern, was fi­nal­ized and the scale of the pro­ject be­came clear. The mu­seum was go­ing to be five times the size of the Men­del, and its pro­jected price had bal­looned the ini­tial $51 mil­lion es­ti­mate. But some city coun­cil­lors still saw it as a deal: Saska­toon was pay­ing a third of the cost, with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, the prov­ince, and pri­vate dona­tions cov­er­ing the rest. And while Saska­toon is re­spon­si­ble for pro­vid­ing more than $5 mil­lion an­nu­ally in op­er­at­ing costs — al­most dou­ble the cost of the old Men­del — a new ar­gu­ment was put forth that the Re­mai would be­come an eco­nomic en­gine for the city. The Saska­toon Re­gional Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Author­ity noted

“To in­vest money in a gallery cheek by jowl with some very poor neigh­bour­hoods, we have to ask our­selves, What do we value here?”

that the Re­mai would con­trib­ute $17 mil­lion in an­nual GDP to the city from 2017 to 2019 and sup­port 292 full-time equiv­a­lent jobs. The pro­ject was no longer about cre­at­ing a mere art gallery. In its lat­est busi­ness plan, the Re­mai stated that it will be the face of “Saska­toon 2.0,” “a cat­a­lyst for eco­nomic growth in the city,” and pre­dicted that it would be the largest tourism prod­uct to launch in the en­tire coun­try the year it opened.

This nar­ra­tive about the Re­mai’s value was a dras­tic shift from how the city had thought about the Men­del. “The Men­del was al­ways en­vi­sioned to add value to the lives of peo­ple in Saska­toon,” Bud­ney ex­plains. It was never in­tended to make the city money or to bring in tourists. Oth­ers in the com­mu­nity share the con­cern that the city has shifted pri­or­i­ties away from the peo­ple of Saska­toon. Many have pointed out the in­tro­duc­tion of ad­mis­sion fees as ev­i­dence. The Men­del was free, but the Re­mai charges $12 for en­try and an­nual mem­ber­ships start at $45 per per­son. “We’re a very di­vided city, and so there are a lot of very poor peo­ple here and they’ve got $40 a week to spend on food — they’re not go­ing to spend $12 to go to the Re­mai,” Bud­ney says. While the me­dian house­hold in­come in Saska­toon was more than $94,000 in 2015, a study two years later found that child poverty rates in the prov­ince were at 24 per­cent, among the high­est in Canada.

Burke and oth­ers with the city are quick to say that el­e­ments of the mu­seum re­main free — peo­ple can visit the gift shop, they can sit by the elab­o­rate fire­place in the lobby, and they can en­ter the Re­mai’s restau­rant (though an order of bread will cost them $6). There is also one gallery room on the main floor that is open to ev­ery­one. But to see the vast ma­jor­ity of the art, in­clud­ing much of the old Men­del col­lec­tion, peo­ple now need to pay. “Art in this com­mu­nity be­came a great lev­eller,” Lorje says about the Men­del. “And now I’m wor­ried that we’ve taken a to­tally ac­ces­si­ble fa­cil­ity and built a new fa­cil­ity that may only be ac­ces­si­ble to the cock­tail cir­cuit.”

Jeremy Mor­gan, former in­terim ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Regina’s Macken­zie Art Gallery and CEO of the Saskatchewan Arts Board, says that the new fees have be­come a flash­point not sim­ply be­cause they ex­clude a sig­nif­i­cant amount of peo­ple but be­cause they force cit­i­zens to pay to en­ter an in­sti­tu­tion funded through their mu­nic­i­pal taxes. “To in­vest lots of money in an in­sti­tu­tion like a gallery cheek by jowl with some very, very poor neigh­bour­hoods, we have to ask our­selves, What do we value here?” Mor­gan says. He ex­plains that his­tor­i­cally, pub­lic gal­leries were built as free ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions, which were more akin to li­braries and schools than tourist attractions. “What are gal­leries about any more?” he asks. “If they are places of priv­i­lege for con­nois­seurs, then why is the pub­lic sup­port­ing them?”

In 1997, an art mu­seum opened in Bil­bao, a re­mote city near Spain’s northern coast. De­signed by Frank Gehry, the Guggen­heim Mu­seum Bil­bao — a shim­mer­ing sil­ver en­tity that looks as though it’s in the process of melt­ing be­fore your eyes — im­me­di­ately be­came the pre­mier art des­ti­na­tion for va­ca­tion­ers. Its suc­cess led to a new ur­ban con­cept dubbed the “Bil­bao effect,” which posits that a small far-flung city can bring in tourists, money, and ad­mi­ra­tion by cre­at­ing a beau­ti­ful and top-notch cul­tural in­sti­tu­tion — a rather ex­pen­sive ver­sion of if you build it, they will come.

Burke is adamant that, un­der his direc­tion, the Re­mai is not at­tempt­ing to bring some kind of Bil­bao effect to Saska­toon. He says that in re­cent years many new mu­se­ums have promised rev­enue and eco­nomic growth that never ma­te­ri­al­ized and left their cities with deficits. But when it comes to Saska­toon, the com­par­i­son to Spain ap­pears to have stuck. The Wall Street Jour­nal asked, “If Art Lovers Can Find Bil­bao, Why Not Saska­toon?” The Guardian pro­claimed Saska­toon “Bil­bao on the Prairie,” and the New York Times picked the Re­mai as one of “52 Places to Go in 2017.” Burke’s team has also courted in­flu­en­tial (al­beit niche) arts pub­li­ca­tions around the world, with write-ups in mag­a­zines, in­clud­ing Sur­face and Wall­pa­per. “This is un­prece­dented in terms of the in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion for a new art gallery open­ing in Canada,” he says.

While he de­scribes this me­dia at­ten­tion as a key in­di­ca­tor of the Re­mai’s re­mark­able launch, Burke says that it’s the gallery’s pro­gram­ming that will help it stand apart. He ex­plains that when he served as a gallery di­rec­tor in New Ply­mouth, the town had a pop­u­la­tion of less than 75,000, but he still man­aged to keep the space busy. “By the time I left, over 50 per­cent of our au­di­ence was com­ing from out­side of the prov­ince,” he says. What drew them in, he ex­plains, was the qual­ity of work that he and his staff se­lected. “The open­ing week­ends would just be flooded with peo­ple from out of the prov­ince.”

At the Re­mai’s open­ing exhibition, Burke and his chief cu­ra­tor, San­dra Guimarães, dis­played the works of many in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned artists that grab eye­balls. The main at­trac­tion was a selec­tion of 142 of Pi­casso’s linocut por­traits, cu­rated by ac­claimed English artist Ryan Gan­der. Gan­der also cre­ated a new work for the Re­mai: hand-drawn re­pro­duc­tions of each of the Pi­casso prints owned by the mu­seum, which were then im­paled on a spike. As Burke ex­plains, Gan­der’s new piece for the Re­mai, and the on­go­ing sup­port of other in­ter­na­tional artists like him, will be para­mount for the Re­mai’s suc­cess in the fu­ture. Burke points out the pres­ence of one paint­ing, The Swamp, by Bel­gian artist Luc Tuy­mans, as an ex­am­ple of why the Re­mai is al­ready suc­ceed­ing. “There was com­pe­ti­tion for that paint­ing com­ing from ma­jor mu­se­ums in the United States,” Burke says. “It’s not easy to get a work by Luc Tuy­mans into an exhibition.”

Burke ac­knowl­edges that not ev­ery­one in the com­mu­nity is happy with the Re­mai, but he says con­cerns are mis­guided. He notes that the gallery will have sim­i­lar com­mu­nity pro­grams as the Men­del had: read­ing groups, film show­cases, and a free fam­ily arts pro­gram on Sun­days. One of the gallery’s man­dates is to get 60 per­cent of the city’s pop­u­la­tion to visit within the first two years. And peo­ple from Saska­toon are go­ing: in the gallery’s first two months, 50,000 vis­i­tors came through its doors and 2,300 mem­ber­ships were sold (the Re­mai had hoped to sell 500). Burke also points out that the gallery is draw­ing a global crowd. At the open­ing, a former di­rec­tor of the United King­dom’s Tate Mod­ern — the most pop­u­lar mod­ern-art mu­seum in the world — showed up. There were artists from New York and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from in­sti­tu­tions in Mex­ico City, Ber­lin, and Lon­don. The ho­tels were all booked solid, Burke tells me. He opened an art gallery in Saska­toon and the world ac­tu­ally came.

The Re­mai’s crit­ics do not dis­pute these facts. Yes, the open­ing was grand, they say. But that doesn’t mean that the gallery will be sus­tain­able in the long run. Jen Bud­ney says that the dis­cus­sion around the Re­mai has been fraught from the start be­cause of the con­stant fo­cus on at­ten­dance fig­ures and rev­enues. She ar­gues that if the city is lucky, the Re­mai may hit its tar­get for 220,000 vis­i­tors in the first year, but she doubts the suc­cess will con­tinue into the sec­ond and be­yond. “We don’t have a mil­lion dif­fer­ent things to cause tourists to want to come here to see the Re­mai. They can go see Pi­casso prints at the Met in New York and see a whole lot else that we don’t have,” she says. “And they can prob­a­bly get there eas­ier.”

There is rea­son to be skep­ti­cal. In 1999, Sh­effield in the UK cre­ated the Na­tional Cen­tre for Pop­u­lar Music. Mil­lions were spent on the mu­seum — which looks like four gi­ant sil­ver curling rocks clus­tered to­gether — and 400,000 vis­i­tors were ex­pected each year. One- quar­ter of that es­ti­mate ac­tu­ally showed up, and the mu­seum shut­tered fif­teen months later. Closer to home, the Art Gallery of Al­berta (AGA) needed an up­grade in the early 2000s, and so a new build­ing was an­nounced. The new Ed­mon­ton mu­seum, which cost $88 mil­lion, even man­ages to re­sem­ble the Guggen­heim Bil­bao thanks to some con­spic­u­ous metal swoops on its ex­te­rior. When the gallery opened in 2010, it brought in more than 130,000 vis­i­tors in its first year; more than 74,000 paid the gen­eral ad­mis­sion rate of $12.50. But those num­bers did not stay up. Lo­cated in a city four times the size of Saska­toon, the AGA saw its num­ber of pay­ing guests drop to 23,000 by 2016. The gallery was forced to cut spend­ing on staff and ex­hi­bi­tions, and it re­quired re­peated cash in­jec­tions from the city. Ed­mon­ton has, how­ever, started to think dif­fer­ently about how to use the gallery. In De­cem­ber 2016, coun­cil ap­proved spend­ing half a mil­lion dol­lars to start of­fer­ing two free nights at the AGA each week. The goals were to bring in more lo­cal vis­i­tors and spur com­mu­nity en­gage­ment. While the plan seems to be working — the CBC re­ported in Novem­ber that at­ten­dance has risen 22 per­cent — the ex­pe­ri­ence serves as a warn­ing: the road to Bil­bao is lit­tered with fail­ures.

Ul­ti­mately, the Re­mai’s fu­ture may de­pend not on how ef­fec­tively it mod­els it­self af­ter pres­ti­gious des­ti­na­tions around the world but on whether fam­i­lies, artists, and res­i­dents across the city are able to claim the gallery as their own. Bud­ney points to ex­am­ples of smaller gal­leries where com­mu­nity fo­cus has worked: the reg­u­larly packed Anchorage Mu­seum in Alaska fea­tures tra­di­tional and con­tem­po­rary Indige­nous art as well as mod­ern art and an in­ter­ac­tive chil­dren’s sec­tion; the Two Rivers Gallery in Prince Ge­orge, Bri­tish Columbia, of­ten re­serves half of the gallery’s space for stu­dios where lo­cals teach each other arts and crafts. She also men­tions the Macken­zie Art Gallery in Regina, where di­rec­tors cre­ated a new po­si­tion of Indige­nous story-keeper, who in­ter­act with vis­i­tors to dis­cuss the his­tory of the art­works.

For the Re­mai, tap­ping into Saska­toon means rep­re­sent­ing and working with its Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, which make up 11 per­cent of the city’s res­i­dents. While the mu­seum states that it aims to be “a lead­ing cen­tre for con­tem­po­rary Indige­nous art and dis­course,” many com­plain it hasn’t fol­lowed through. Adrian Stim­son, an artist and a mem­ber of the Sik­sika First Na­tion, says that, near the end of its life, the Men­del had started to rec­og­nize that the gallery wasn’t ad­e­quately rep­re­sent­ing the large Indige­nous pop­u­la­tion in Saska­toon. In the mid-2000s, Stim­son started working with the gallery in var­i­ous ca­pac­i­ties — he was an artist in res­i­dence,

The ex­pe­ri­ence of many other gal­leries serves as a warn­ing: the road to Bil­bao is lit­tered with fail­ures.

Abo­rig­i­nal cu­ra­tor in res­i­dence, and as­so­ciate cu­ra­tor — and played a role in help­ing the Men­del se­lect pro­gram­ming that en­gaged with the Indige­nous com­mu­nity and other cul­tural groups. Af­ter Stim­son left the gallery to fo­cus on his own art, those plan­ning the Re­mai ap­proached him, but he says the con­sul­ta­tion was kept on a su­per­fi­cial level. “I don’t know if be­ing asked out for drinks and then be­ing grilled about what to in­clude Indige­nous-wise into a new gallery is the best sit­u­a­tion, when at the same time they’re pay­ing a New York firm tens of thou­sands of dol­lars to de­velop their brand,” he says.

Burke con­cedes that more needs to be done to in­clude the re­gion’s Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties but points out that a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the Re­mai’s open­ing cer­e­mony in­cluded Indige­nous par­tic­i­pants. For the mu­seum’s in­au­gu­ral exhibition, the gallery room on the main floor was guestcu­rated by Indige­nous artists Duane Lin­klater and Tanya Lukin Lin­klater, and all of the pieces shown there were by Indige­nous artists. And by the Re­mai’s front en­trance, the mu­seum has in­cluded the syl­lab­ics for the Cree word for Saskatchewan.

But Stim­son, Bud­ney, and many oth­ers say that mean­ing­ful en­gage­ment with Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties means hir­ing Indige­nous peo­ple to po­si­tions of sig­nif­i­cant author­ity, such as staff cu­ra­tor. Stim­son de­scribes be­ing the head of an art gallery as be­ing like hold­ing apo­lit­i­cal of­fice. “You also have to take gen­uine in­ter­est in the com­mu­nity you serve, and when that doesn’t ap­pear, then you start los­ing your au­di­ence.” Burke says more will be done but that it takes time. At its launch, two mem­bers of the Re­mai’s board were Indige­nous, at least four Indige­nous staff were on pay­roll. The gallery has since hired an Indige­nous-re­la­tions ad­viser, and Burke says that there are plans to hire an ad­junct Indige­nous cu­ra­tor in 2018.

This first full year of op­er­a­tion will be an im­por­tant one for the Re­mai. In De­cem­ber, af­ter the ex­cite­ment around the open­ing had died down, some city coun­cil­lors ex­pressed con­cerns about the fea­si­bil­ity of the gallery’s rev­enue tar­gets. Burke says the num­bers he put for­ward are am­bi­tious but still achiev­able. (Af­ter two months in op­er­a­tion, he ad­justed his 2018 vis­i­tor ex­pec­ta­tions down by nearly 15 per­cent.) Even if the fi­nan­cial tar­gets aren’t met, he says, the gallery will start cut­ting pro­grams and ex­hi­bi­tions be­fore go­ing to the city for more money. This, how­ever, is ex­actly what Bud­ney fears: such cuts would be es­pe­cially heart­break­ing for those who re­mem­ber the Men­del’s pop­u­lar ed­u­ca­tional and com­mu­nity ini­tia­tives — and could lead to a down­ward spi­ral forc­ing Saska­toon to re­think the space. “Whether it’s a wed­ding hall or a re­ally ac­tive cul­tural space is a ques­tion that re­mains unan­swered,” says Bud­ney.

One of the more fa­mous Pi­cas­sos held in the Re­mai, Le dé­je­uner sur l’herbe, d’après Manet, I, lives on the sec­ond floor, next to a work by prom­i­nent Saska­toon artist Wil­liam Pere­hud­off. The two form a strik­ing ex­am­ple of the Re­mai’s goal to, as Burke de­scribes it, put “artists from Saskatchewan, artists from Canada, on the same level as their in­ter­na­tional peers.”

The Pere­hud­off is a mu­ral from 1953, painted on four walls that have been erected to cre­ate a small room within the gallery space. Vis­i­tors walk in­side and are sur­rounded by seven­teen fig­ures ap­pear­ing as pure swaths of colour, many of whom are them­selves cre­at­ing art: there’s a painter, a gui­tarist, a bassist, and some­one blow­ing on what looks like a clar­inet. Three fig­ures stand to­gether, tak­ing in the show. The mu­ral is an ex­am­ple of purist style, an off­shoot of the cu­bism that Pi­casso was play­ing with when he made the linocut print just a few me­tres away.

In the mid­dle of the mock room, a man stood with a girl who looked no older than four. He started to tell her the story be­hind the mu­ral and the man who helped cre­ate it. Around the same time that Pi­casso be­gan working on his linocuts, Fred Men­del com­mis­sioned Pere­hud­off to paint on the walls of his of­fice re­cep­tion area at the meat-pack­ing plant. In the 2000s, the Men­del plant was slated for de­mo­li­tion. In a bid to save the art­work, some Saska­toon res­i­dents raised funds to hire an art re­storer, who ap­plied a spe­cial type of glue to the paint, which was then del­i­cately peeled right off the walls.

The Men­del plant, like the Men­del gallery, is gone, but ev­ery de­tail of Pere­hud­off’s art­work has sur­vived. The shape of the room’s win­dows and even the artist’s brush strokes have been pre­served on four new pan­els. The mu­ral has found a way to be both old and new at once.

above Pae White’s Lucky Charms (2014/2017) is in­stalled be­tween lev­els two and three of the Re­mai Mod­ern.

top The ex­te­rior of the Re­mai Mod­ern in Sasaka­toon. above Wil­liam Pere­hud­off’s In­tercon­ti­nen­tal Pack­ers Lim­ited (1953/1977).

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