A look Inside the City of Calgary’s Art Collection
See what the city’s civic art collection keeps hidden away in its storage facility.
“So the Bishop Said to the Actress…” by J. Seward Johnson, one of the many pieces of art currently in storage.
Photos by Andrew Guilbert
It’s been called many things, not all of it complimentary, but the one thing we can all agree on when it comes to Calgary’s public art is there sure is a lot of it. Too much to have it out in the world all at once. So where do public art pieces go when they’re not, well, in public?
Enter the public art storage facility, a 5,600-square-foot storage unit built in an undisclosed location where a good portion of the city’s public art is kept. The facility was built in 2012 using materials that do not emit chemicals or fumes that might damage the works. It also has a quarantine area where new and returning works are kept for inspection for pests, as well as to let it acclimatize to the room’s controlled humidity and temperature.
The storage facility holds anywhere from 60 to 75 per cent of the collection at any given time.
The complete public art collection features more than 1,000 pieces in total. At any given time, about 25 to 40 per cent of this is spread through out the city. “It is a high number. Normally most museums are only able to exhibit about five per cent of a collection at any given time, but we do have the city as our gallery,” says Public Art Program coordinator Quyen Hoang. “It’s basically a museum without walls. We don’t expect people to come to a building to experience art, we put art in their everyday lives.”
The City has been working on digitizing the entire catalog of works both in and out of circulation in order to make the collection more available to the public in an online database they’ll be phasing in piecemeal next year.
What’s often overlooked about public art, Hoang says, is that it is held in trust for Calgarians and that these works belong to them. Adding to this sense of communal ownership is the fact that so much of this collection has been donated to the city. “This collection has been primarily donated, so it’s built through the generosity of the local arts community, businesses and individuals,” says Hoang.”It takes a community to build a collection.”
One of the oldest pieces of the collection, “Venus at Her Bath”, dates back to 1815, and had to have its fingers fixed.
“Centennial of Incorporation Birthday Cake” by Imre Emery de Gara. This hollow ceramic sculpture was gifted to mayor Jack Leslie in 1967 on the occasion of the Canadian Centennial.
This pair of painters, “So the Bishop Said to the Actress…” by J. Seward Johnson, resided in City Hall until renovations forced them out. Behind them is “Leonard”, a painting of Leonard Cohen, by local artist Matthew Brunning.