Category Archives: WInnipeg Art Gallery

Aliens and the 80s

douglas curranWhat’s going on here?  When I did my first stroll through the new exhibit The 80s Image at the Winnipeg Art Gallery this week I was drawn to this strange photo. It shows a young man named John Shepherd in 1982. He has converted his grandparents’ home in Michigan into a UFO detecting station. All the equipment you see is stuff he’s put together himself. He is using it to broadcast signals and music into outer space to attract aliens.

in advance of the landing douglas curranThe photo was taken by Douglas Curran a Ontario artist who spent eight years traveling throughout Canada and the United States in a second-hand car photographing and interviewing people who were obsessed with outer space.  John Shepherd’s photo is included in a book Douglas published in 1985 called In Advance of the Landing: Folk Concepts of Outer Space.  Chris Carter producer of the X Files says he used the book to develop the first six episodes of his television series. Artist Douglas Curran doesn’t believe in UFOS but as he interviewed and photographed folks who did, he was surprised at how their belief in alien life forms was almost spiritual for them and how it gave them hope.  

The people in Curran’s book weren’t alone in their interest in aliens and UFOS in the 1980s.  More than 50 movies were made on the topic during the decade including some very popular ones like ET,  Aliens, Cocoon, The Last Starfighter, Star Man and My Stepmother is an Alien.

Douglas Curran’s photo is only one of many intriguing pieces in The 80s Image exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  Come and see for yourself. 

Other posts………

Three Lessons from the Movie Arrivals

A Where Were You Moment

North Watch

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Power of Print

diversity posterYesterday the guides who work in school programs at the Winnipeg Art Gallery met to learn about a new art activity we will be doing with children called The Power of Print.  Students will use printer ink, paint, stencils and their own creativity to create posters that send a message about an issue that is important to them.  As I was working on my poster about diversity I thought how just a few years ago I would have been so intimidated about creating art I wouldn’t have enjoyed an activity like this at all.  Now I can.  

Art professor and popular author Lynda Barry says so many of us never start creating art or we stop, because we think we are supposed to show mastery of the craft. But she says it is perfectly valid and in fact very important for everyone to feel they can use art as a way to explore their feelings, voice their opinions,  document their experiences or just  have fun and relax. 

Other posts……..

Oh To Be A Kid At The Fringe Festival

Story Sticks

Sunday Afternoon at the WAG


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The Raft of the Medusa

raft of the medusa photograph

 Raft of the Medusa 100 Mile House 2009 photograph by Adad Hannah

What’s going on here?  That’s what you might ask when you look at this photo currently on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in an exhibit called Ways of Seeming.  

raft of the medusa

Raft of the Medusa 100 Mile House 2009 by Adad Hannah

Probably the first thing that will help you understand the photograph is to know that it is only a small section of a much bigger photo.  

raft-of-the-medusa-by-thedore-gericault1The photo is actually a re-staging of a famous painting called The Raft of the Medusa by Theodore Gericault which is in the Louvre in Paris. Gericault painted it in 1818 when he was just twenty-seven years old. It depicted a true event- the wreck of the frigate Medusa which ran aground in Maruitania in 1816. 147 people escaped from the boat on a quickly constructed raft. Thirteen days later when they were rescued there were only 15 survivors, the rest had died of starvation, cannibalism, suicide, drowning and dehydration.


Visitors check out The Raft of the Medusa in the Louvre

Gericault read interviews with the survivors, built a model of the raft and visited a morgue to study cadavers before he began his painting.  The captain of the Medusa was charged with incompetency. When Gericault created The Raft of the Medusa it was a very controversial current work and because of that his painting gained a wide audience and helped establish his reputation as an artist. The painting shows the moment the raft is being approached by a rescue boat. It is on a huge canvas so the figures are almost life size.


This photograph of a different section of the larger work is also in the Winnipeg Art Gallery collection and has been on display in the past.

In 2008 Canadian artist Adad Hannah was asked by art collector Gus Horn to come to his home town of 100 Mile House in British Columbia to stage a version of the The Raft of Medusa that would involve the people of his community. Hannah agreed and in 2009 spent three months in 100 Mile House working together with a group made up largely of teenagers, to sew costumes, build sets, paint a back drop, figure out make-up and do yoga so they could hold the poses in the painting long enough for Hannah to film and photograph them.  Finally they were ready and the elaborate tableau was staged. The photographs in the Winnipeg Art Gallery collection are ones Hannah took that day. You can read more about the project here. 

New York artists collective called The Bruce High Quality Foundation in 2007.

Adad Hannah’s photos weren’t the first or last time Gericault’s famous painting has been re-enacted. This version was staged by a New York artists collective called The Bruce High Quality Foundation in 2007.raft of the medusa Hu Jeiming

Chinese artist Hu Jeiming chose to use the Gericault painting as inspiration for his commentary on the impact of the Cultural Revolution on China and how the country is now being driven by consumerism. 

Now that you know the story of The Raft of the Medusa be sure to come and check out the photo on display now at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. 

PS.  If your eyes are really sharp you will notice a discrepency between the first two photos in this blog post.  See if you can find it.  Adad Hannah staged a couple different versions of the tableau which explains the difference. 

Other posts…………

Industrial Doilies

Grandfather I Have Something to Tell You

Art That Is Too Opinionated?

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Industrial Doilies

oil drum skeletal red map cal laneIndustrial doilies.  That’s what some people call Canadian artist Cal Lane’s pieces.  Her work Oil Drum Skeletal Red Map is now on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery as part of an exhibit called Ways of Seeming.  Like most of her sculptures this one is made from repurposed steel. Cal used a welding torch to turn an old oil can into this delicate lacy map.  Cal dissected the can and rolled it open. She’s kept the two ends of the barrel as well and has made the North and South poles with them. 

Cal Lane panty tank-smCal uses not only old oil cans, but old shovels and wheelbarrows and other steel objects to create her art. cal_lane_art

 Oil Drum Skeletal Red Map is a piece that can hold your attention for a long time because there are so many interesting things to see in Cal’s intricate lacy designs. lane oil drum map

It is going to be a fun “I Spy” piece to examine with children. skeletal map cal lane

detail red map landNote:  For younger blog readers who may not know what a doily is- it’s a small ornamental lacy piece of fabric that is often placed beneath something.  Doilies were very popular sixty or seventy years ago. My grandmothers both made doilies and had them scattered on various pieces of furniture around their homes.

grandma's embroidery

An embroidery and lace doily made by my grandmother Margaretha Peters

Other posts…………

Art From All Kinds of Things

Tin Can Art And Feeding the Homeless


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Farewell to the French Moderns

I gave my last two tours of the French Moderns exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on Thursday and Friday.  The Thursday tour was for thirty three university students taking an art history course and the Friday tour was for eighteen grade three students from a private Winnipeg school.  The university students didn’t talk much.  They listened intently though and many were busy making notes since they had an assignment to do based on the tour.  The eight year olds were buzzing and full of queries, comments and ideas. They were so excited to be at the art gallery!

I have toured many different kinds of groups through the French Moderns exhibit since June, from three year olds to senior citizens. In the process I have come to know many of the people in the paintings as friends.  During my last two tours I bid a fond farewell to them. 

The solemn and charming siblings in The Elder Sister by William Bourguereau. 

The three amazingly strong and beautiful women in Jules Breton’s The End of the Working Day. The colorful Egyptian entrepreneur in Jean-Léon Gérôme’s The Carpet Merchant of Cairo. 

The perfectly posed and winesome Young Girl on A Bench by Édouard Manet.

The entrancing American philanthropist Florence Blumenthal in Giovanni Boldini’s Portrait of a Lady. 

The doting mother and her loving child in Berthe Morisot’s portrait of her cousin Mme Boursier and Her Daughter

The pensive and lovely Madame Léon Maître by Henri-Fantis Latour. 

The aloof distracted woman and the woman throughly engaged with her child In The Omnibus by Mary Cassatt. 

The hardy windblown French farmer in Shepherd Tending his Flock by Jean-Francois Millet.The mysterious veiled lady in Marie Laurencin’s Woman in Scarf.

When I go to the Winnipeg Art Gallery this morning for a meeting the process of taking down all these paintings of my friends will have begun.  I am going to miss them. 

Other posts……….

Japanese Art and the Impressionists

Tantalizing Tidbits

Without Him We Might Not Even Recognize the Name Monet


Filed under Art, WInnipeg Art Gallery

Grandfather I Have Something To Tell You

“You never  kill an animal just for fun,” artist Michael Massie’s grandfather taught him when he was just a boy.  “You take its life only if you need it for food.”  
One day when Michael was twelve or thirteen he was camping with his grandfather, cousins and siblings.  While his grandfather went to get supplies the children were left alone for a time.  Michael  noticed a small bird called a Tom Tit, not much bigger than his thumb.  He grabbed his pellet gun and shot it. The other kids told him what he’d done was wrong.  Michael buried the little bird but never told his grandfather that he had killed it. He always felt badly about that. Making this sculpture was a kind of confession in stone thirty years later. Describing his art piece Michael says one hand is gloved to show how he covered up the truth the other is bare to say he is being open and confessing. He holds the little dead bird in his hand. 

When I take children on a tour of the current SakKijâjuk exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery this art piece is always their favourite!  They love the story that goes with it.  I heard it first from the exhibit curator Dr. Heather Igloliorte.  I like the idea of using a piece of art to reach across time and space to confess and apologize to someone you love. 

Other posts……………

Inuit Art Isn’t Just Soapstone Carvings

Stories in Stone

A Very Personal Story

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hymn sing programI took my father to the Hymn Sing Reunion Concert on Sunday. For readers who don’t know, Hymn Sing was a Canadian television program from the 1960s to the 1990s.  Every year a group of promising young singers was chosen to present a weekly Sunday night concert of familiar Christian hymns.  The show, filmed in Winnipeg, was hugely popular across the country, sometimes garnering a viewership greater than that of Hockey Night in Canada.

hymn sing reunionI was definitely one of the younger people at the reunion concert at Bethel Mennonite Church on Sunday afternoon which featured sixty former Hymn Sing performers. It was sold out. What drew such a big audience to the concert?  I think it was nostalgia for hymns that may not be sung in churches very much anymore, nostalgia for the kind of religious and contemplative television programming we don’t see much of anymore, and perhaps nostalgia for a time when things were a little more black and white. 

Aga RSZ-50 - Diora - E070 (wiki)I noticed in the Hymn Sing Concert program that one of the event’s sponsors was Nostalgia Radio CJNU.  Last Thursday I gave a group of staff and board members from Nostalgia Radio a tour of the French Moderns Exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I asked them about their radio station and they told me it is run by retired broadcasters and other folks who were nostalgic for music of bygone decades, music that is sometimes hard to find on other Winnipeg radio stations. They play that kind of music everyday as well as lend their support to a whole variety of community and cultural groups including the Winnipeg Art Gallery. 

shepherd tending his flock millet brooklyn museum

Shepherd Tending His Flock – Jean-François Millet- 1860

A painting I discussed with the Nostalgia radio crew was this one of a shepherd by Jean-Francois Millet.  Lisa Small, curator from the Brooklyn Museum where Millet’s painting makes its permanent home, says one of the reasons paintings like Millet’s of the shepherd were so popular in the late 1800s  was that the rapid rise of industrialization meant many families had left their farms and villages to move to the city. They were nostalgic for their country roots. Millet’s paintings took them back to their childhoods in rural France. 

This past week I’ve been reminded that music and art can be powerful inspirations for nostalgia. 

Other posts………..

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Filed under Art, Media, Music, WInnipeg Art Gallery