Calgary’s contemporary art galleries, informal exhibition spaces and pop-up galleries are flourishing. In a city where there is no public contemporary art museum, these venues are championing the cause. By supporting local and emerging talent, Calgary’s artistic community has established itself as a bonafide destination for purveyors of contemporary art. Here are some of the galleries that you absolutely must check out!
Janet Werner exhibition at Esker Foundation, 2013
Esker Foundation is a privately funded contemporary art gallery and was founded in 2012 by Jim and Susan Hill. As a principal player in the Calgary arts community, Esker Foundation seeks to connect the public to contemporary art through extensive programming; seasonally curated exhibitions along with educational programs and publications. Harnessing the latest developments in local, regional and global discourse, Esker Foundation advance opportunities for public dialogue; and encourages the production of groundbreaking new work, ideas, and research.The main exhibition space is on the fourth floor, but the Project Space at street level is one of their most exciting endeavours. An alternate space for exhibits, the Esker Foundation implements a program that invites emerging and established artists to develop experimental work dedicated to the neighborhood that explores important contemporary issues and engages audiences. Exhibitions are visible to the public 24 hours a day and run for approximately three months, for a total of four exhibitions a year.
Contemporary Calgary is the amalgamation of Calgary’s Visual Arts Community. In December 2013, three arts societies – the Museum of Contemporary Art Calgary (MOCA), the Art Gallery of Calgary (AGC) and the Institute for Modern and Contemporary Art (IMCA) – merged their operations to form Contemporary Calgary. At one point, Contemporary Calgary was a gallery but they now focus on holding exhibits in a number of central Calgary public spaces. Programming varies from month to month but harnesses Contemporary Calgary’s mission to engage visitors with the art of our times.
TRUCK Contemporary Art in Calgary (also known as The Second Story Art Society), in their own words, is a non-profit artist-run centre dedicated to the development and public presentation of contemporary art. After being founded in 1983, they have held over 500 exhibitions along with countless activities that promote the development and cultivation contemporary art. TRUCK hosts 15 exhibitions annually between two venues, eight of which are held at the main space, and others at the +15 Window and on CAMPER, a modified 1975 Dodge Empress motor-home (also known as the Contemporary Art Mobile Public Exhibition Rig) that moves around the city. Apart from the exhibitions, TRUCK works with numerous nonprofit organisations and members of the arts community to present events that further add to the local and global discourse on contemporary arts.
Among the earlier contemporary art galleries of Calgary, Paul Kuhn Gallery has been committed to being a venue for the representation of the best in contemporary Canadian art and artists. After being founded in 1983, for many years it was one of the only spaces in Calgary for experimental art and emerging talent. The gallery has been influential in kickstarting the careers of many artists and has been a key player in establishing the city’s contemporary art scene. In the heart of downtown, across two-levels spanning 3,000 square feet of exhibition space, visitors can experience works in a number of different mediums, including painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, video and printmaking. Along with exhibits, the gallery offers additional creative programming such as community events, book launches, performance art, poetry readings and musical concerts.
Having been part of the Canadian visual arts scene since 1992, Newzones Gallery is one of the country’s leading contemporary art galleries and plays an important role in representing prominent Albertan, Canadian and international artists. Their programming embraces process-oriented work that challenges the traditional use of materials and formal aesthetics. Because of its innovative programming and curated exhibitions over the last two decades, Newzones has accumulated an extensive and fascinating collection of painting, sculptures and photo-based works. The artists featured at Newzones have been picked up by prestigious museums both at home and away, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the New York Metropolitan Museum and Museum of Modern Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Western Austrailian Museum, and the Tel Aviv Museum, Israel, to name a few, as well as private collections worldwide.
A family-run art venue, the focus at Webster Galleries is to represent original work from Canadian artists that have a presence both nationally and internationally. For almost four decades, John Webster has used his knowledge and understanding of art to curate the collections on display, with the hopes that it may inspire people to bring art into their homes. Throughout the 10,000 square feet gallery, visitors will see Inuit art, oils, watercolour, pencil works, stone and ceramic sculpture, bronzes, and hand-pulled prints from over 80 artists. At the core of gallery’s mission is a desire to foster an environment where people can come to explore and learn about art, but also engage in the human experience of emotion and the realm of imagination.
In the midst of Calgary’s Chinatown is The New Gallery, an artist-run non-profit centre for contemporary work. It was founded in 1975 as the Clouds & Water Gallery and Visual Production Society. Today, the gallery continues its operations at two venues – the Main Space, a storefront in Calgary’s Chinatown neighbourhood, and a +15 Window, a display located at the Arts Commons building on a pedestrian walkway with plenty of foot traffic. In the gallery’s own words “both spaces are committed to the research, creation, and exhibition of social and political creative practices from artists at various stages of their careers, and giving the public an opportunity to engage with contemporary art.” Their programming includes an array of activities, including curated exhibitions, residencies, lectures, and community ventures catered to igniting an experience of contemporary art and culture for the locals and their visitors.
The Stephen Lowe Art Gallery was opened by celebrated artist Stephen Lowe (born Lau Wan Hang) and his wife Eunice in 1970 by invitation of the Empress Hotel in Victoria, Canada. Four years after Stephen Lowe’s untimely death in 1975, the Lowe family established a second space in Calgary. There are now two informal galleries in the city, both are directed by the Lowe’s daughter Anna and her husband Allen Lam. Over the years, the family have cultivated a space that brings art lovers contemporary works from distinguished Canadian and American artists using a number of varied disciplines; oil, acrylic, watercolour, as well as pastel paintings and drawings, alongside an impressive collection of glass, raku, ceramic, steel, and stone sculpture.
Gibson Fine Art began in the basement of its founder, Norma Gibson and became a successful company that providing corporate art to local businesses. In 2004, Patti Dibski, a businesswoman and art lover bought the company along with its 1,000 pieces of art and reinvigorated the space by turning it into a platform for emerging and established multi-disciplinary creatives. The gallery focuses on supporting the local artistic community, with over half its collection coming from Alberta-based artists. The collections and exhibitions at Gibson Fine Art showcase the gallery’s passion contemporary art and promoting local talent.
Front facing facade of Herringer Kiss Gallery | Courtesy of Herringer Kiss Gallery
Established in 2002 by Deborah Herringer Kiss, the Herringer Kiss Gallery focuses on exhibiting contemporary fine art by emerging, mid-career and established artists from Canada and the United States. Their programming includes solo, group and thematic shows featuring inter-disciplinary works with an emphasis on those that invoke critical discussion about contemporary art. The gallery is dedicated to the promoting artists they represent and placing their work in notable public and private collections as well as working with clients in order to help them create art collections they will love. The gallery is an active member Calgary’s creative community, getting involved in local events that promote local and nation-wide arts initiatives.
This family-run downtown gallery is one of Calgary’s most dynamic art spaces and home to some exceptionally good contemporary Canadian artists. Founded in 1986, Wallace Galleries Ltd strives to build a visitor’s confidence when it comes to art and arm them with a knowledge and understanding. They love to introduce and connect visitors with renowned and emerging Canadian artists in a way that is laidback and enjoyable. There’s an interesting mix of talent and works to be found in this gallery, they represent a variety of painters, printmakers, ceramicists and sculptors whose work presents exceptional quality and value.