What’s the best city in Canada for modern art? As of October, the answer is unequivocally Saskatoon.
No, seriously. That’s thanks to the Remai Modern, a boxy new prairie landmark filled to the brim with Picasso linocuts — 405 of them, to be exact — and aspiring to be the world’s top destination for 21st-century Indigenous art.
The facility is a successor to the Mendel Art Gallery, a popular local institution that outgrew its 1960s-era digs. While a replacement building was initially planned simply to make more room for the Mendel’s 7,000-plus works, a vision developed for something far bolder. Local philanthropist Ellen Remai was excited, donating the Picassos, the cash, and the name that would support that grand ambition. Executive director and CEO Gregory Burke, a New Zealand–born curator who got his start as a video artist before helming Toronto’s Power Plant Gallery in the mid-2000s, was equally enthusiastic. Burke sees in Saskatoon’s burgeoning creative scene an appetite for the sort of cutting-edge fare that will secure his 130,000-square-foot institution a spot on the global radar. Sure enough, one of the guiding questions behind his opening exhibition is “What is urgent and why?” And the answer may very well be “Saskatoon.”
How architecture firm KPMB’s glass-and-steel design takes cues from its setting.
The horizon line holds existential importance in a flat landscape. In acknowledgement of this, the four-storey Remai’s stacked boxes skew long and rectangular.
Portions of the third and fourth floors project outwards to create viewing platforms that reach towards the South Saskatchewan River below and to the city beyond.
Metal screens perforated with eyelid-shaped openings shield the glass facade from the sun. Their burgundy colour nods to another local icon, the copper-roofed Bessborough Hotel.
Three artworks you’ll find in “Field Guide,” the Remai’s inaugural exhibition:
Imagio Pietatis – A New Wave for Ozone, by Robert Boyer
A ’90s-era blanket decked with a sunburst design that reflects the damaged ozone layer. (Good news, guys — we saved it! Sort of.)
La Plonge #7, by William Perehudoff
A vibrant abstract by one of Saskatchewan’s best-known painters. It was part of the original collection of the Mendel Art Gallery, which the Remai replaces.
Valued at $20 million, the linocut collection is mostly composed of self-portraits, complemented by 23 wildly patterned ceramic sculptures by the artist.