Glenbow: Strokes of Genius?

Everyday Tourist, challenges Calgary's major tourist attractions to have one free admission day per month. 

Posted: February 11, 2016, by Richard White, Everyday Tourist blogger

For several years, I have been advocating the Glenbow should have at least one “free admission” day a month (as do most major museums and art galleries). Kudos to Servus Credit Union for stepping up to sponsor a free “First Thursday Night” program for 2016.

I did not see the cat in this painting until I over heard a young male asking his friends "do you see the cat?" These were young street kids hanging out at the Glenbow, enjoying the art! How great is that?

Yes, the Glenbow is now free from 5 to 9 pm the first Thursday of every month.  From a marketing and branding perspective, this could be a stroke of genius for both Servus and the Glenbow.

Though I missed January’s event, I attended February’s and couldn’t believe my eyes. The Glenbow was packed (people were lined up out the door) with Calgarians of all ages and all walks of life.  It was great. The place was abuzz with a festival atmosphere, very different from the typical, rather subdued vibe at major exhibition openings.

Over 3,500 people visited during that four-hour period (while 3,000 took in January’s First Thursday event). And they weren’t just all there to see Paul Hardy’s blockbuster exhibition “Kaleidoscopic Animalia.” People flocked to exhibitions on all floors.

Glenbow Groupies 

I am also betting these new Glenbow groupies will bring visiting family and friends to the Glenbow in the future, which they didn't do before.  

Visiting "Family and Friends" represent 80% of Calgary's annual tourist market.

Hardy gives a passionate tour to group of very attentive Glenbow visitors on "Free First Thursday" night. 

A Second Stroke of Genius

Whoever came up with the idea of having Calgary fashion designer Paul Hardy be the Glenbow’s artist-in-residence and curate an exhibition using the Glenbow collection should get a big fat bonus check.

As a former art curator, I think this was a stroke of genius. The exhibition is both visually and intellectually stunning. (And having Hardy give a spirited tour himself on First Thursday was icing on the cake.)

This figure from one of Hardy's installations comes straight out of a modern haute couture runway. 

Microscopic Messaging?

It makes connections with everything from Warhol’s Soup Can to the Hudson Bay Company blanket; from nursery rhymes to beastly fetishes. There is surrealism to the exhibition that captured and held everyone’s imagination.  

Hardy's microscopic examination of the Glenbow's collection has indeed resulted in a wonder kaleidoscope of past and present images and relationships. 

Close up of one of Hardy's installations that combines hundreds of art and artifacts from the Glenbow's massive collection into a themed installation.

Armoured Horse, Carousel Horse, Horse Painting, Kaleidoscopic Animalia, Glenbow 

Department Stores Windows & Modern Art

Divided into a series of what looks like early 20th century department store windows (appropriate, given Hardy is a fashion designer), it resonated with me. I have been advocating for years that Calgary’s downtown stores should make better use of their storefront windows as a marketing tool.

Read: Christmas Shopping: The Thrill Is Gone

Look no further than the television series Mr. Selfridge, based on the life of Harry Selfridge, who in 1909 founded the London luxury department store Selfridges that still exists today.  The importance placed on the window displays plays prominently in almost every episode.  I believe early 20th Century department store windows were the precursor to contemporary installation art. 

You gotta love it when there is a synergy in one’s everyday experiences – like when television watching, museum/gallery visits and my interest in contemporary art and artifacts all connect. Bam!

An example of one of the massive department store-like window exhibitions. 

New Kind of Museum

Back in June 2014, I wrote about Glenbow President/CEO Donna Livingstone’s plans to re-imagine the Glenbow with more flexible programming and a greater diversity of perspectives. By God, I think she has done it!

Read: Glenbow: A New KInd of Art Museum

I also enjoyed the “Recent Acquisitions” exhibition, hung quasi-salon style - not quite floor to ceiling, but with several groupings. There was so much to see.  Gone was the “one artwork per wall” approach where there is more blank space than art. And there were some fun surprises - like an early Ron Moppett painting that looked remarkably like a Maxwell Bates.  I love it when I make new discoveries.

Ronald Moppett, "Father Thames II (study), 1983, oil on panel.  Does anybody else see the bird-like figure in the painting that looks strangely similar to the one Hardy created in his exhibition (see photo above).  

Pop Art meets Folk Art, New Acquisitions, Glenbow Museum

A Sense of Place

The “Historical Art from the Glenbow Collection” exhibition was also a treat, reminding me of Calgary’s historic sense of place – something only art can do (for me, anyway).  The same can be said for “Niitsitapiisinni: Our Way of Life, The Blackfoot Gallery.” Both exhibitions were very relevant and timely given the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report.

And for me personally, having recently worked with two guest bloggers on how Calgary might better celebrate its history through better street and place names using First Nations’ language, these exhibitions struck a chord.

Read : Calgary: Mewata Village, Siksika Trail, Makhaban River

You gotta go!

If you haven’t been to the Glenbow recently, you simply gotta go. There is no excuse.  Mark the next Servus Credit Union’s Free Thursday Night (March 3) on your calendar.  

You will not only get to enjoy Hardy’s exhibition, but the new “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven” (opening February 20) that promises to be very enlightening. 

Last Word

Livingstone is ecstatic by the response to the Free Thursday night program, saying that many people were returning again to see the exhibitions when it wasn’t so busy.

I put out a challenge to TELUS Spark, Fort Calgary, Heritage Park and the Calgary Tower – how about designating a free day once a month. If not free, how about Toonie Thursdays or Tuesdays.

If you like this blog you might like:

Telus Spark Sparks Reflection

Denver: Office Tower as Art Gallery

Iconic Canadian art in lobby of Calgary office building