Arts

Walk this way

Visiting galleries and counting calories at the 124th Street Gallery Walk

They call it Browntown, sometimes, and it sure earned the name last Saturday.
The previous night’s howling, eye-scouring gritstorm sandblasted wave
after wave of dusty grime upon River City’s features and fixtures,
shitbox minivans and decorative lightpoles alike. Some oldsters were reminded
of the Depression, some youngsters were reminded of their small-d depression,
and nobody went out without protective gear. By the time we hit 124 Street
and picked up our passports for the area art galleries’ seasonal open
house, all that precious topsoil had long since precipitated out to coat the
town, but the foul wind still whined in mocking echo of the farmers and
ranchers who are royally fucked if we don’t get real rain, real quick.
Everybody from Foremost to Fairview is craving refreshment. So, it was nice
to see the Scott Gallery offering browsers their trademark sparkling
beverage: soda water with just a delicate hint of Minute Maid Berry Punch. At
first glance you might think it’s Crystal Light, but the first
sip’s lack of the poisonous telltale reek of aspartame sets you
straight. It doesn’t exactly “go” with the cookies and
triangular treats on offer, but its lightness and inoffensivity is a pretty
good fit with the harmless landscapes of Wendy Wacko, who made her
name—which I won’t make fun of, not here—selling canvases
to German and Japanese tourists in our lovely mountain parks. Phyllis
Anderson’s bright-but-boring travelogues and floral arrangements, on
the other hand, would have been much better served by a nice suburban spinach
dip, bread-bowl and all. Next door at the Bearclaw Gallery, we make a
bare-minimum pretense of art-looking as we beeline to the snack table. When I
say “bare minimum,” I mean we turned our heads to the left for
about two seconds, because the refreshments were directly opposite the door.
This is horrible feng shui, a geomantic arrangement designed to pour energy
out onto the arid street, which may explain why the coffee was so cold and
the limp little strawberries drifting in the party punch looked so very sad.
A weak tray of factory cookies manages to provide me a rock-hard Dad’s
Coconut Oatmeal biscuit to munch while I check out Aaron Paquette’s
paintings, whose freshness—literally; some still had wet
paint—counterpointed the tired coffee. This guy’s work is really
appealing, just barely skirting (in a good way) the frontiers of gimmickry in
its combination of Native motifs and Pop Art style. Snobs might flick shit at
the unpretentious little artist’s statements accompanying most of the
works, but… fuck ’em. I pour a little Irish into my lukewarm Nabob,
in order to “prime” a little for our much-anticipated next
stop—last year, the Front Gallery offered wine! Except this year they
didn’t. And not only did they not have wine, they didn’t have
anything outside of a fishbowl filled with lollipops—and somebody else
got the last of the chalky ones shaped like watertowers. So I guess I
don’t have much to say about the Front, except to send out a little
note to Kari Duke: I really dig your alleyway paintings; show in a gallery
that knows (or, in this case, remembers) how to treat a thirsty art-walker
and we’ll talk coverage. Also, talk to whoever calls the shots at Front
and tell them that if they want to hang mobiles they should move to a
higher-ceilinged space; I got my hair caught in that soda-straw and
parachute-cloth confection on the way out the door, and it kinda pissed me
off. Last fall, I overheard two fun conversations at the Agnes Bugera
Gallery. One was so stereotypical, I looked around for cameras to see if
someone was making a Kentucky Fried Movie-style parody film: “I like
it, but… will it clash with the couch?” the other was a guy telling
his… girlfriend? Wife? “Partner”? They were both wearing
standard-issue black “fashion leather,” anyhow… that a certain
landscape (of course it was a landscape) “really brought out the red in
[her] hair.” The Bugera is Sofapainting Central, and this season they
feature the watercolours (because oils are just too forceful for
today’s interiors) of Jerry Heine, along with the
punch-coffee-storeboughts trifecta. The coffee was tepid, the punch only a
few degrees cooler and the Heines… well, I don’t remember. I can only
go by my notes, which are unprintably dismissive The Bugera also features a
dude who did a Nickelback album cover. By this point, I’m severely
lacking in all the key art-gallery food groups: the Cheese group, the Dip
group and the critical Wine group. I’m fantasizing about a bizarre
dream spread, my vitamin deficiencies creating strange cravings. In my head,
compelling work from a diverse group of exciting iconoclasts backdrops a
table groaning under the weight of pickled carrots, nalyshnyki, guacamole,
Carlo Rossi screw-top “California Red”… and bottles of
blueberry Yop for drivers and non-drinkers. Maybe the West End Gallery can
gimme a fix. But it looks like it’s gonna be punch ’n’
cookies for the art crowd, again. Except… the punch is colder, way colder,
and tangy cranberry. The coffee is hotter than hell, and strong. The cookies
are store-bought but they have the kind with the pink icing, and the
table-arrangers have taken the time to transfer the biscuits from their
plastic Costco tray to a very nice glass plate. This is all in the back room,
where you can sip and munch and enjoy, among other fine works, Julie
Phan’s lovely glass pieces and Paul Jergensen’s weirdly
expressionist (and utterly entertaining) townscapes. In fact, why leave the
back room? All that’s up front is blowhard Neal Patterson—ASA,
SFCA, OPA, “elected to the prestigious group of intellectuals known as
the Salmagundi Club of New York (1871)”—and his boringly
brilliant landscapes, and the comparatively inept mutant zombie cartoon
children of Guylene Saucier. You’re not missing anything if you hang
back by the punchbowl. It’s a long trudge back up to the Udell Gallery,
but it’s worth it—the high-end picture merchant knows how to set
a refreshment table. And there they are, the colours that never run: red,
white and sparkling pink. David Thauberger’s razor-sharp architectural
elevations, the featured canvases (and boards), leave me cold, but there is
high artistic irony in the fact that the one gallery that put wine on the
counter put grocery-store “drink crystals” in the (very nice)
punch-pitcher. How deliciously transgressive! Also, Doug “E”
Udell knows we like the ol’ Tabasco—a stop here more than meets
the recommended daily allowance for the “Naked Lady” group, which
I somehow forgot to mention earlier. Didn’t really get a chance to
check out what Electrum had on offer, but I know from experience those folks
have a kind of “good taste/bad refreshments” thing going on. I
buy wedding and Christmas presents there, but I don’t expect them to
sacrifice any of their precious space to feed and water me. My memories of
that building are enough: my Mom would drop us off and my brother would go to
the Inside Edge skate shop while I went drooling two doors down to
Softwarehouse. Good times. Wind’s blowing, skin’s chapping,
town’s brown and four plastic cups of Udell’s free wine are doing
their melancholy best to make me mopey—a nice little Edmonton scene,
no? I take a chatty cabride (“Fuckin’ fertilizer? I never used
that shit on my grass! It addicts the roots!”) north to my aunt and
uncle’s 50th anniversary party, with all the afternoon’s
forgettable blart sliding from memory. The refreshment table disappointments
are mitigated by the knowledge that in a rented hall, a turkey dinner
complete with cabbage rolls is waiting. And the disappointments on the
gallery walls, well…. In a city where every second person you shake hands
(or make out) with is an artist, they don’t really matter at all.
Besides, there’s always next season. V

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