An afternoon at the AGA
review and photos by Annie Wildemann
“It looks just like a knock-off Frank Gehry,” my partner, Kurt, exclaimed as we approached the Art Gallery of Alberta, referencing the Canadian-born architect who designed ‘Dancing House’ in Prague and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. He’s not wrong. The building is three stories high and covered almost entirely by transparent glass. A giant, metal ribbon slithers across the top of the building and towards the back, giving it that trademark Gehry style.
The entry of the gallery is spacious and just as quirky as the outside. In the foyer, there is a giant wolf mural created by the Metis Edmonton-based artist, Halie Finney. I am a big fan of Finney’s art so seeing it in real life and not on my computer screen was like having an ice cool glass of water on a hot summer day. Instantly, we were thirsty for more.
The first gallery that we went to was the smallest and was titled “Building your AGA”. It takes its viewers on a chronological journey through the different steps that went into building the gallery, starting with the original concept art which looks like a bunch of scribbles, and ending with a series of photographs that were taken by the Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky of the building when it was going up.
I was not wowed by this exhibition as the ‘concept’ section looked not dissimilar to the scribbles that my one and a half-year-old niece makes when we give her Mr. Sketch markers, that my mom puts up on the fridge to show us “how smart she is”. I also wished that there had been a fourth step showcasing the building after it had been built.
The second gallery that we visited was called “100 Years: The Group of 7 and Other Voices”. I have to admit that after briefly looking at the profile of the exhibit online, I didn’t have the highest hopes for it, since neither Kurt nor myself are the biggest fans of 20th-century Canadian art, which in our opinions primarily consists of a lot of similar-looking landscapes, and it looked like the gallery was exactly that.
However, I was pleasantly surprised. I think that this was because I – like many others – had not been able to leave Alberta this summer because of the pandemic. So, it appeared that a little part of me was desperate to engage in a little armchair exploration (or ‘walk through a gallery exploration’, I guess). “100 Years: The Group of 7 and Other Voices” satisfied this very need. The exhibition featured paintings of colorful landscapes from all over Canada. One of my favourite paintings from this gallery was a piece by the English-Canadian painter, Arthur Lismer, that featured a rocky hillside in Georgia Bay from Canada’s east coast. I loved this piece because it let me finally escape the dry, Alberta weather, and the Edmonton construction!
The third and final gallery that we checked out was a touring exhibit for the famous 17th-century Dutch painter, Rembrandt, called ‘Rembrandt Emerges’. The line outside of the gallery to go in was HUGE because the exhibit was only going to be up for one more week.
We ended up waiting about 20 minutes to go in, which was kind of annoying because I was starting to feel extremely thirsty (this time for actual water, not art) but there was nowhere to buy water at the gallery. Kurt used the time to call his brother and I people-watched to distract myself.
Thankfully, there were a lot of interesting people at the art gallery – for instance, there were two coworkers in front of us dressed in white, linen shirts and wool skirts recapping some spicy work drama – so it didn’t end up being too bad.
When it was finally our turn to go in, I almost forgot how thirsty I was because I was so excited. Neither Kurt nor I had ever seen a Rembrandt or a real painting from the 17th century before. There were a lot of firsts that we were about to have.
The gallery itself looked quite similar to the other two, as it just consisted of a series of framed paintings on different walls. However, one primary difference was that this gallery was much busier than the other two had been. We were still able to take our time walking through it and ended up spending about forty-five minutes in this room.
I stared at each picture enthusiastically, eager to catch every little detail that made these paintings different from anything that I had ever seen before. I noticed that time had caused the paint to crack, and the colours to blend together in the most beautiful way.
One painting that I found to be particularly intriguing was of an old man with long, fluffy white hair. It looked so realistic!
The gallery consisted only of a couple of actual Rembrandts – which I thought was extremely disappointing and confusing given the title of the exhibit. The rest of the gallery was filled with other paintings that had been done at the same time by his contemporaries. Luckily the contemporaries were pretty talented, so it wasn’t a huge loss.
I left the gallery feeling excited about all of the cool art I had just seen, but also excited because now I could FINALLY get something to drink!
Overall, my experience was positive. I would strongly recommend the art gallery to anyone who enjoys art, is experiencing a creative block and looking for inspiration, or who just wants to get out of the house.
The gallery is open from 11 am to 5 pm Friday through Saturday, and until 7 pm on Thursday.
Entrance is free for Albertan students with a student ID and for children under 18. Adults $14, seniors $10.
There is LRT access (Churchill Station), and ample car parking to the east.
Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA)
2 Sir Winston Churchill Square
Canada T5J 2C1