It’s like the paintbrush has a mind of its own, swirling left and right, up and down, creating an inspiring artistic vision in the heart of downtown Edmonton. What makes this even more mesmerizing is that I haven’t yet entered the Art Gallery of Alberta; rather, I’m lingering outside eyeing the architectural design that wraps the gallery in a ribbon of steel.
The exterior, which borrows from the city’s northern environment, contrasts 190 m (623 ft) of winding steel and angular windows to conjure up abstract images of Edmonton’s River Valley and the aurora borealis. Designed by the late architect Randall Stout, known for challenging architectural conventions, the outside whets your appetite for what’s inside.
A Marriage of Form and Function
Inside, the design is just as inspiring with sweeping curves and breathtaking views. Then there’s the three floors of prime exhibit space that transform the AGA into a 21st century vision of what an art gallery should be: illuminating, educational, interactive and a backdrop for creative inspiration.
For the true art lover, the AGA maintains a collection of more than 6,000 pieces related to the development of Canadian art forms. But its exhibits are wide ranging and it’s a destination for everything art: contemporary or timeless classics as well as historical art from Alberta, the rest of Canada, and elsewhere.
Depending on when you visit, you can find significant works of art by artists such as A.Y. Jackson or Emily Carr or photographic wonders from Ansel Adams or Yousuf Karsh. If popular culture is more your style, you might find an exhibit focusing on Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein
The child in me returned at a past exhibit, the Art of Warner Bros. – with Looney Tunes cartoons shown as well – where the antics of those famous cartoon characters came back to life. More serious topics also take centre stage such as OIL, where Canadian artist Edward Burtynsky once displayed his photographic imagery chronicling oil’s production and use. I always wonder what creative vision will be unveiled in upcoming exhibitions as the AGA is a centre of excellence for the visual arts in Western Canada, connecting people, art and ideas.
On The Square
No visit would be complete without a stop at Zinc, the AGA’s resto-lounge. As with the gallery, Zinc is striking. The bar, backlit in shades of blue, commands your attention. The food focuses on fresh Alberta ingredients and is fused with local artisan products. The menu changes seasonally and has a modern international feel. Zinc looks out onto Churchill Square, putting you right in the centre of Edmonton’s Arts District.
As remarkable as it is, the AGA’s bold exterior is deceptively modern. Dig deeper and you’ll find this Alberta’s oldest cultural institution – founded back in 1924. The gallery has lived in a number of different homes over the years including rooms in the nearby Fairmont Hotel Macdonald to an early 20th century mansion. It has the distinction of being the only museum in Alberta dedicated solely to the exhibition and preservation of visual art.