Tuesday, January 26th, 2010 at 11:46 pm

A Gem for the Core: the Art Gallery of Alberta

I haven’t always been sold on the new Art Gallery of Alberta. When Randall Stout’s design was announced as the winner, I remember flinching at the thought of such a jarring steel structure anchoring Edmonton’s arts and culture district. Over time (and recognition of the “big picture”), I’ve begun to really appreciate the structure and what it might mean to the city. When I attended Stout’s presentation on his inspiration for the design back in September, I was even more enlightened – even though he is not from Edmonton, Stout seemed to understand what we needed – from an architectural perspective as well as a community engagement standpoint. Not only did the building make a statement visually, but the incorporation of more public space (including an outdoor terrace), classrooms, and an underground entrance that connects directly to the LRT should encourage better usage and visitation of the gallery as a whole.

The new Art Gallery of Alberta

I was really excited when Mack told me that the AGA would be extending social media folks a sneak peek of the facility. Although the gallery spaces would be off limits (we have tickets to the grand opening this weekend anyway), it would still be a great opportunity to preview the building, construction and all.

The crowd

Mack behind the camera

Executive Director Gilles Hébert and Media Relations and Communications Coordinator Sarah Hoyles acted as our tour guides, and led our group of thirty or so to all of the public spaces.

Sarah Hoyles and Gilles Hébert

No question – the new AGA is an absolutely stunning facility. Between the sweeping steel aurora borealis, four stories of glass panes, unadorned Douglas fir panels, and alternatively lustrous/matte zinc blocks, the gallery is the building equivalent of a photogenic superstar. In the next few weeks, the public will be treated to an endless image parade of its shiny, pretty interior – and I have to say that I for one won’t get tired of looking at any of them.

Looking east

Glass, steel, Douglas fir, zinc

Collecting snow

I was most excited to hear that the AGA doubled its public/events space, something I think that is sorely lacking in the core. Besides the great hall, I loved the third floor terrace – it’s about time Edmonton has another rooftop patio downtown (the cafe adjacent to the patio will be installed in February).

Terrace reflections

The view from the terrace

Many are also looking forward to the new downtown dining option of ZINC. Walking into the space, I was immediately reminded of Cactus Club Bentall 5, but I couldn’t fathom how 76 people could be seated inside. Staff were busy being trained so we couldn’t stick around, but I loved the blue glass against the bar and all of the natural light. Menu details have been sparse (you can see the teaser here), but the chef has said he will be sourcing ingredients locally.

With fellow food blogger Chris in front of ZINC

The bar at ZINC

Soon to be a cafe (on the basement floor)

Last but not least – the art. Though we weren’t able to view any of the exhibitions (most of them were still being installed anyway), Sarah and Gilles provided us with what to expect. Besides the Yousuf Karsh portrait exhibition (photos include Queen Elizabeth, Winston Churchill and Audrey Hepburn), I am also looking forward to the multimedia piece called Storm Room. The ten minute installation will treat parties of ten to the experience (showers and all) of an approaching storm. The AGA’s  innovative partnership with the National Gallery of Canada will also mean that the AGA now has access to the National Gallery’s collections, and will be able to design their own exhibitions to display in Edmonton. First up: Francisco Goya’s prints.

Thanks to the AGA for organizing this preview! I didn’t think I could anticipate the official opening any more, but after this teaser, I am counting down the days to the weekend.

There are numerous posts on the tour, but here are a few: Mack’s blog, Chris at Eating is the Hard Part and Bruce at Moments in Digital. You can see our photoset here.

  • http://shewhoseeks.blogspot.com Debra She Who Seeks

    Great photos! We have tix for this weekend’s grand opening too (along with 9,998 other people). Can’t wait! But the best thing of all will be the better art exhibits that Edmonton will now be able to attract with its new, quality gallery space.

  • http://www.myfavefwords.blogspot.com Jo

    Wow, the new gallery looks amazing!! Thanks for the preview.

  • http://www.onlyhereforthefood.ca Sharon

    Debra – agreed on the exhibit comment.

    Jo – you’re welcome. Be sure to check it out sometime! Photos just don’t do the building justice.