Picasso @ Remai Modern

remai modern saskatoonMy usual change of scenery during the pandemic – Vancouver – is currently “closed for business” (even though the RCMP are too busy fighting gang wars to fine campers) so instead of flying an hour west, I elected to explore the prairie lands an hour’s flight east this past week, viz. Saskatoon.i The occasion wasn’t just to check out a lovely spot I hadn’t been to in a decade, a city frequently compared to Edmonton of a generation ago, but also to take in the Pablo Picasso: Drawing In Colour linocut exhibit at the new Remai Modern, which just opened its doors in 2017.ii It didn’t hurt that Saskatoon actually has restaurants and bars open too.

Situated along the banks of the South Saskatchewan River in the new River Landing development, just to the south of the historic Canadian National Railway-era Bessborough Hotel, Remai Modern was designed by KPMB Architects from Toronto and Architecture49 from Winnipeg. From the exterior, the massing echoed FLW‘s Fallingwater and demonstrated a refinement befitting the clear generosity of the city’s potash-powered patrons.iii The interior detailing, particularly the cantilevered central staircase with continuous, almost airy, white-painted steel handrail, was also lovingly executed, bringing strong coherence to the overall design.iv God was truly in the details here.

But was Hev in the art on the walls? Before we get to the Picassos, it’s worth quickly mentioning She Never Dances Alone, 2019 by Jeffrey Gibson (b. 1972), which was part of the exhibit “An Apology, A Pill, A Ritual, A Resistance.” Gibson’s multi-channel projection was displayed across an entire wall on the main floor, which wasn’t quite as impactful as it surely was in Times Square last year, but I couldn’t help but think that it would make a brilliant NFT, don’t you think? Featuring an acid-slash-mdma-trippin’-visual-feast of jingle dancers and rave beats, the piece recalled the 1918 origin of this now-iconic Indigenous dance, which apparently emerged in response to the Spanish Flu pandemic, making the viewer wonder what new dances will emerge from today’s little episode?

Now the Picassos! Boasting a collection of almost every linocut every produced by the legendary Spaniard,vi Remai’s Drawing In Colour was a timely reminder of the breadth of practice almost inherent in greatness. Specialisation is for insects indeed! Not limited to painting or sculpture or ceramics, Picasso reinvented himself countless times and even breathed life into media considered at the time to be more industrial than artistic,vii including linocuts. Simultaneously, showing due reverence to the Old Masters, he reinterpreted their legacies, daring to improve upon the classics,viii as evidenced here:

Portrait de jeune fille d'après Cranach le Jeune, II

Portrait de jeune fille d’après Cranach le Jeune, II, 1958

Portrait de Piero Crommelynck, 1966

Portrait de Piero Crommelynck, 1966

The influences of contemporaneous op art and pop art movements could also be seen in Picasso’s evolution and experimentation with linocuts:

Portrait de Jacqueline aux cheveux lisses, 1962

Portrait de Jacqueline aux cheveux lisses, 1962

Buste de Femme au Chapeau, 1962

Buste de Femme au Chapeau, 1962

And then there were just a few (ok a great many) other magnificent bits and bobs, of which this is but a small selection:

Exposition 55 Vallauris, 1955

Exposition 55 Vallauris, 1955

Tripode, 1951

Tripode, 1951

Profil de Jacqueline au foulard, 1955

Profil de Jacqueline au foulard, 1955

And last but not least was this watermelon-cherry-lightbulb combo. Relevant amongst the impressive sea of ‘cuts only because we actually had a poster of this in our house growing up. Indeed, per Walter Benjamin, the value of reproductions increases rather than decreases the value of the original. Take that anti-NFTers and your “right-click-save” naysaying!

Nature morte à la pastèque, 1962

Nature morte à la pastèque, 1962

So if you ever find yourself stuck in a pandemic on the Canadian Prairies in search of culture and refinement, be sure to check out Remai Modern and their incredible collection of Picassos. They’re open for business.ix
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  1. We ended up driving 5 hours instead of flying, not because we’re germaphobic (the planes would’ve been empty anyways) but because the direct flights were cancelled and re-routed through Calgary on terribly inconvenient schedules, all but eliminating any flexibility for the trip, and therefore jeopardising most of the merit in going at all.
  2. A Picasso exhibit in Canada is a relatively rare occurrence. It’s certainly not every year so it’s worth a trip, or at least it’s as good an excuse as any. The last such exhibit I caught was in Montreal in 2018 so I was itchin’! 
  3. Nutrien – a merger of PotashCorp, formerly a Crown Corp set-up by the Sask NDP in the 1970’s, and Alberta-based Agrium – controls 20% of the world’s supply of potash – an essential fertilizer ingredient for the increasingly industrialised and corporatised agricultural industry. For reference, Nutrien’s market dominance is proportional to that of Qatar’s position in the natural gas industry, and Qatar is rich and optimistic AF
  4. remai-modern-saskatoon-saskatchewan

  5. Not that He
  6. The Remai’s collection has 194 out of 197 linocuts ever produced by Picasso, very much in the collectionner vein.
  7. Ahem, NFTs anyone?
  8. Not unlike, say, Shadi Bartsch and her reinterpretation of Virgil’s Aeneid with a greater emphasis on female roles. Her podcast interview with Tyler Cowen comes recommended. Y’see that’s the thing with history, it wasn’t just one way, or at least not one perfectly knowable way (unless it was on the blockchain obviously).
  9. More than open for business, the quality of service in Saskatoon was first-rate! What a breath of fresh air it is to have people appreciate your business and patronage. Albertans are too spoiled by oil industry booms, busts, and general largess to take pride in service industry jobs. BC comes closest in the west, but Saskatoonians really have a dignity about them. It was beautiful to see.

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