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Alaska's 10 Best Contemporary Art Galleries and Museums

Patrick Norrie

Alaska is an incredibly vast region and yet it is still sparsely populated. However, over the years artists have come to Alaska, inspired by its mesmerising landscape. Art has played an important role in this unique state, helping to define the community by giving the area a reference point, a sense of place and meaning within the wilderness. Here are 10 galleries that provide an essential platform for contemporary artists in Alaska.

Alaska Native Arts Gallery

Alaska Native Arts Foundation is a non-profit organisation that strives to support artists within their community. The gallery, run by Trina Landlord, therefore plays an important role in promoting Alaskan Native artworks that are incredibly unique. For centuries, Alaskan indigenous people have been sustained by the land, yet they have also channelled their creativity by using the gifts of the land to depict the world around them. Their hugely resourceful approach to life is demonstrated in their art: carvings formed by using ivory walrus tusks, sculptures made from whale bones and basket sown by beachgrass. Alaska Native Arts Gallery provides a real insight into a significant community, and highlights how subsistence is still a vital concept that is pervasive throughout their lives. The gallery is a modern retail space, displaying traditional and contemporary art by Native artists gathered from all over Alaska.

Alaska Native Arts Foundation, 500 West 6th Avenue, Anchorage, Alaska, USA, +1 907-258-2623

Raven Stealing the Sun Cedar Box Timber Vavalis Tlingit
Raven Stealing the Sun Cedar Box Timber Vavalis Tlingit | Courtesy Alaska Native Arts Foundation

Arctic Rose Gallery & Art Center

This is a collaborative project curated by artists Jana Latham, Jon and Jona Van Zyle as well as 10 other creative members in downtown Anchorage. At the heart of the retail gallery’s enterprise is to instil a passion for art in Anchorage. Jon Van Zyle is a prominent painter in this state, distilling the essence of Alaskan landscape and its wildfire in his indelible watercolour paintings. He has also been inducted into the Iditarod Hall of Fame, having been the official painter of The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race since 1979. Jona, meanwhile, is a versatile artist most well-known for her Alaskan pictures made outs of beads. Arctic Rose Gallery & Art Center exhibits a diverse range of art including an unique Russian collection of matrushkas and lacquer boxes. Latham and her team ensure the gallery is bustling with events, organised throughout the year. The gallery also participates in Anchorage’s ‘First Friday Art’, which brings the art community and local residents together.

Arctic Rose Gallery & Art Center, 423 W 5th Ave, Anchorage, Alaska, USA, +1 907-279-3911

Bunnell Street Arts Center

This creative hub is a real gem in the midst of the stunning Kachemak bay and Kenai mountains. It is a non-profit multidisciplinary arts organisation, situated in the historic Inlet Trading Post building. It is truly embedded in the community, playing a pivotal role in the revitalising of the Old Town in Homer. Bunnell Street Arts Center promotes both visual and performing arts, coordinating lectures, plays, exhibitions, workshops and Artists in Schools. Yet at the core of the arts organisation is the Artist in Residence programme, held three to five times a year. It allows Alaskan and international artists to live on-site for up to a month, while laying on educational outreach activities for the community. Current beneficiary of Bunnell’s inclusive philosophy is Jarod Charzewski, an art teacher at College of Charleston, whose popular installation Buoys and Barrels has become a central feature of the exterior of the gallery. Moreover, there is currently a solo exhibition by Kodiak artist Antoinette Walker who explores the coastal marine theme via the encaustic medium: one of the oldest painting techniques that combines damar crystals, molten bees wax and pigment.

Bunnell Street Arts Center, 106 W Bunnell Street, Suite A, Homer, Alaska, USA, +1 907-235-2662

Bunnell Street Arts Center
front view of Bunnell Street Arts Center including our current installation called Bouys and Barrels by Jarod Charzewski | Courtesy of Bunnell Street Arts

International Gallery of Contemporary Art

IGCA is a modern and innovative gallery exhibiting experimental art that provides a crucial space in Alaska for discussions concerning contemporary art. It is brimming with creativity, engendering a communal ethos, as the trendy gallery houses numerous exhibitions spaces and artist studios. Importantly IGCA is a non-profit organisation, so therefore artists are actively encouraged to experiment and to push the boundaries without being hindered by any commercial pressures. This is exemplified in their monthly exhibitions, whereby artists demonstrably revel in this creative environment. The highlights this month include Lisa Ballard’s The Places, a collection of surreal figurative paintings, and Gideon Gerit’s installation called Liminal Helix that combines recursive mirrors and a video loop.

International Gallery of Contemporary Art, 427 D Street, Anchorage, Alaska, USA +1 907-279-1116

University of Alaska Museum of the North

The mere exterior of the museum is eye-catching because of its distinctive award-winning architecture. Inspired by the Pritzker Prize–winning architect Frank Gehry, the building evokes the shape of Alaska’s rugged rural scenery. However once you enter the museum, you will be confronted by an abundance of historical objects and artworks, which all collectively depicts Alaska’s history as being culturally rich and diverse. For the devotees of contemporary art, the Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery on the top floor is place to go. Interestingly, the gallery juxtaposes the traditional with the contemporary, as it makes a concerted effort to highlight Alaska’s different cultures as being all on the same footing aesthetically. Additionally, next to the gallery is a popular permanent exhibition The Place Where You Go To Listen by John Luther Adams. It is a clever and contemplative installation that continually translates the geography of Alaska – like the movements of the sun, the phases of the moon and general seismic activity – into music and coloured lighting. So this whole museum literally strives to the physical embodiment of Alaska.

University of Alaska Museum of the North, 907 Yukon Dr, Fairbanks, Alaska, USA, +1 907-474-7505

Alaska House Art Gallery

This log house is an aesthetic sanctuary that promotes and conserves Alaskan art. This culturally significant gallery was established by Joe and Claire Fejes. The latter, although born in New York, became an renowned oil painter in Alaska. She was inspired by the beguiling surroundings and the Native people living in the area. After she died, it was decided by the family that the gallery should be reopened. The current owner is Claire’s daughter Yolande, who actually grew up in the log house. Yolande felt compelled to uphold her mother’s legacy, so therefore there is a considerable collection of art by Claire Fejes at the gallery. However, there is also a burning desire to provide a platform for contemporary artists. Alaska House Art Gallery represents painters, printmakers, sculptors and Native artists. A recent exhibition involved Bill Brody‘s captivating paintings of the Alaskan landscape.

Alaska House Art Gallery
Image Courtesy of Alaska House Art Gallery

Alaska Robotics Gallery

Alaska Robotics is simultaneously a comic bookshop and an art gallery. The store in Juneau demonstrates that comic books are a manifestation of artistic expression. For some mistakenly believe that graphic novels are solely confined to the genre of superhero fiction. Yet Alaska Robotics are keen to broaden the appeal of graphic novels by illustrating its richness as a form of visual art. The gallery itself is still in its infancy – just two years old – yet it certainly looks set to have a bright future. It features illustrations by Pat Race, the owner of Alaska Robotics, as well as other local and national artists. The team are perpetually in motion, creating illustrations, graphic novels, cards, shirts, short films as well as organising workshops.

Alaska Robotics, 220 Front St, Juneau, Alaska, USA, +1 907-523-0303

Alaska Robotics Gallery
Image Courtesy of Alaska Robotics Gallery

Annie Kaill’s

Annie Kaill’s premier fine art and craft gallery has demonstrated its longevity in the capital city of Alaska, as it has been running for over 35 years now. Furthermore Annie Kaill’s has managed to maintain its relevance, as conveyed by the fact that it received the award for ‘Best Gallery in Alaska’ from The American Art Awards this year. It is easy to see why, particularly as the gallery represents many reputable Alaskan artists. For example, the painters on their portfolio are the most prominent in the area, such as the expressionist Rie Muñoz, the prolific watercolor painter Bryon Birdsall and Gail Niebrugge, who specializes in pointillism. The gallery is also proud to display a rich array of artworks from The Milano Collection of glassware made by talented Romanian artisan to hand-crafted jewelry.

Annie Kaill’s, 244 Front St, Juneau, Alaska, USA, +1 907-586-2880

Pratt Museum

The award-winning Pratt Museum is primarily concerned with exploring the dynamic relationship between human beings and the environment. The museum invites visitors on a jaunt through the natural history of Kachemak Bay, conveying how the evolution of people and the area are very much intertwined. It also possess a respectable permanent collection of local artists, showcasing a range of artists inspired by the natural world around them such as Susie Silook’s ivory artworks. An intriguing temporary exhibitions ongoing at the moment is an exhibition titled Reliquary by mixed media artist Jo Going. The name of the exhibition is a reference to her experience of visiting Roman Catholic churches in Italy, seeing how they revere the bones of a saint within a reliquary. The installation, influenced by Neolithic and Palaeolithic art, consists of animals bones. She seeks to examine whether their spirit lives on after death. It has taken 30 years for the exhibition to come to fruition, as she painstakingly collected bones of Arctic Wild animals mainly on the tundra in Alaska.

Pratt Museum, 3779 Bartlett St, Homer, Alaska, USA, +1 907-235-8635

Pratt Museum
Reliquary by Jo Going | Courtesy of Pratt Museum

Anchorage Museum

Anchorage Museum views Alaska through the spectrum of art, history and science. It is one of the most popular tourists attractions in the whole state. The museum seeks to survey the history of Alaska, as symbolised by its current exhibition Re/Marks that chronicles the evolution of contemporary Alaskan Native art from the 1970s to today. Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg as there are many exciting events to look forward to. For example, there is the exhibition in October Brick by Brick created by Nathan Sawaya and Mike Stimpson that highlight the potential of Lego bricks as a learning tool with ‘artistic, scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical applications’. Yet the crucial event at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art this year is the biennial exhibition known as the All Alaska Juried. It has been a permanent fixture in the calendar for over 30 years, with the museum emboldened by its mission to provide an overview of the best of contemporary art in Alaska. The competition also endeavours to discover a new and up-coming Alaskan artist to introduce to the art scene. This year, the judges are two curators: Bonnie Laing-Malcolmson at Portland Art Museum and Harold Schnitzer at Northwest Art. The exhibition begins in November and ends in February when it will embark on a tour round the state including The Bear Gallery in Fairbanks.

Anchorage Museum, 625 C St, Anchorage, Alaska, USA, +1 907-929-9200

 

 

By Patrick Norrie