Looking into the Remai Modern

The newest replacement for a free Saskatchewan gallery. Daryl Mitchell via Flickr

An art museum for the decade

The Remai Modern museum of modern art in Saskatoon, nestled between the river and their boisterous downtown, was one of the largest contributions to Saskatchewan’s art scene this past decade, even if its current building only opened in 2007. The building itself is comprised of four stories containing eleven galleries, totalling roughly one hundred and thirty thousand square feet. In addition to traditional gallery-style exhibitions focusing on art from the early 20th century to the present, the museum hosts live programs, thought-provoking symposiums, and is home to 194 of 197 Picasso linocuts known to exist.

I visited the Remai Modern on New Year’s Day for my first time, and was delighted immediately upon walking in. The first thing you’ll see upon entering the museum is an enormous art piece titled “Four Times Sol Lewitt Upside Down – Version Point to Point” by Haugue Yang. Constructed from aluminium venetian blinds and LED cubes among other components, the piece shares similarities with pieces found in Kurimanzutto in Mexico City, Galerie Barbara Wien in Berlin, and Greene Naftali in New York.

Yang’s piece is one mainstream draw of the museum, with Pae White’s “Lucky Charms” being the other. White’s work here is an array of pastel-toned neon symbols designed as a form of light therapy to help treat seasonal affective disorder (also known as SAD, ironically enough). It’s featured in many articles and Instagram feeds alike due to the futuristic-yet-ethereal atmosphere it invokes. The installation in the Remai Modern can be found in the stairwell between the second and third floors and was specifically designed for the space, taking it to an even higher degree of must-see.

The Remai Modern currently has over 8,000 works of art, and the organization of the displays is meticulous. One collection drawing nation-wide interest now is The Sonnabend Collection developed by Ileana and Michael Sonnabend with their son Antonio Homwm. It is a display of 100 works by 67 artists developed over a seven-decade period. This present showing (open until March 22, 2020) is the first time this collection has been displayed on Canadian soil and is the most varied presentation in North America to date. To call the Sonnabends influential is an understatement; their support of budding artists and their insight into art’s movements practically at their conception were key in nearly a dozen movements in the twentieth century and continue to influence the progression of the globe’s art scene now.

Hitting a little closer to home for many in our province is an enormous piece on the second floor, a room-sized piece, actually. The room belonged to Fred and Clare Mendel, a couple who lived and breathed art production and appreciation. The room found in the Remai Modern displays the reception room outside Fred’s office where the Mendels entertained. They had a local artist, William Perehudoff, to paint a mural true to both their spirits and the purpose of the room. Perehudoff did a touch-up after the house had aged and shifted in 1977, and the mural mounted is that same mural. The building containing the mural was scheduled for demolition in 2010, which prompted a conservation team to strip the paint off the walls and onto fabric using a strappo technique, thereby preserving the original artwork and allowing it to be reconstructed for both our pleasure and our honour.

The Remai Modern is a quite recent addition to our province, but from my first visit I don’t doubt it will be an addition enjoyed for decades to come. The collections they bring to our fly-over province are helping to put us on the map in an irreversible way, and I can’t wait to see what more they’ll contribute now that they’ve found their feet.

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