Harsh winters, record Slurpee sales and Winnie-the-Pooh’s real-life backstory all add to the distinctive nature of Winnipeg, but according to National Geographic, the city is prominently known for its growing arts scene. This growth is the focus of the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s (WAG) newest exhibit, In Place.
The exhibit draws from the gallery’s permanent collection and features artworks from 42 Manitobans, spanning from 1970 to today. Curator Riva Symko calls the exhibit a “celebration of what Winnipeg’s contemporary artistic community has produced over a half a century.”
“In May of this year, we were forced to postpone and reschedule our planned exhibits due to the COVID shutdowns,” she says. “It was difficult to have our planned shows, which had loans from other galleries, which were also shut down, so we turned to our permanent collection and curated shows from that, and In Place was one of five exhibits that are replacing the postponed exhibitions.”
As a new Manitoban who moved to Winnipeg after taking up the position of the WAG’s head of collections and exhibitions and the curator of Canadian art, Symko says she went into the exhibit hoping to find some common connections between the art pieces to learn more about Winnipeg art. She wanted to divide the exhibition into spaces where the works are talking to each other. Two recurring themes stood out to her.
“Since being here, I keep hearing the term ‘gritty’ to describe Manitobans, and I can see that play out in the works we have in the collection,” she says.
“I think that is something Manitoba is known for nationally and internationally, and it is a theme that produces work that is on the edge, at the forefront of new ideas and experimental styles.”
Along with the grit, Symko also noticed a focus on urban landscapes in most artworks, and she uses her first experience with Winnipeg artist Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald’s work, who was a part of the Group of Seven, to help her figure out Winnipeg.
“When I first got here, I was helping to install Into the Light, a travelling exhibit from the McMichael Canadian Art Collection about Lionel FitzGerald,” she says.
“Having to experience my new place through a FitzGerald lens, it really gave me a sense of the urban spaces here that I could not experience during the shutdown. And in In Place, there are works that also speak to the urban landscape of Winnipeg and other bigger cities in the province, but also some of the ‘place,’ in the sense of the different identities and cultures that make up the province as well.”
Grab a coffee (or Slurpee) and visit In Place at the WAG. The exhibit runs from Oct. 10 to Jan. 17, and the gallery is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Published in Volume 75, Number 06 of The Uniter (October 22, 2020)