Statue gallery digs deeper into Canada

Written by by Anna Isaacson, CNN

Long thought of as a bastion of conservatism in Canada, the Province of Saskatchewan still holds an encyclopedic collection of landmarks from across the country, as well as an elaborate collection of tributes from across the world.

Canada’s capital, Ottawa, is the only major city in the country not home to a national sculpture gallery (understandably, considering the city’s colonial history), so the nearby Gens de la Saskatchewan — loosely translated as the “Expositions of Saskatchewan” — is the only one in the country.

The Gens de la Saskatchewan is the last national sculpture gallery in Canada, located just outside the city of Regina.

Originally built in 1936, the showcase complex plays host to over 400 pieces from around the world, spanning a wide range of styles from modernism to Native American Tribal Spirit.

A representation of Michelangelo’s David is on view. Courtesy Gens de la Saskatchewan

And yet, it’s the installations that reflect Saskatchewan’s own population in such a unique way. The works, which were selected from all over the country in order to showcase the diversity of culture found in the nation, show a different side to the province.

There are modernist sculptures of eyes, memories and radio dials — simultaneously familiar and strange, ethereal and remote — juxtaposed with traditional aboriginal dancing and pipe ceremonies. And the sculptures range from works on massive public spaces to intimate, industrial-style environments that feel organic and lived in.

“I came to the sculpture gallery for a couple of reasons. One was the National Arts Centre, which is in my town (of Regina),” says Canadian sculptor Steve McQueen .

“I also come to the gallery to get my bearings: I don’t speak much French, so sometimes I have to learn the necessary vocabulary so I understand what is being said in the gallery, what kind of works are on display and what is being passed through. That aspect of learning is probably the most important, not knowing anything about the province or the country I’m visiting.”

A sculpture titled S. A. c. 1616 is positioned across the train tracks, between Union Station and a rail-track museum. It represents the late-16th-century Hudson’s Bay Company, the colonial trading company who are credited with allowing the crossing of the river from Montreal to southern Quebec. Courtesy Gens de la Saskatchewan

Between 1931 and 1943, the Canadian sculptor Anna Kilbourne oversaw the creation of the exhibition, which now hosts over 400 pieces from throughout the world. The gallery uses one of its giant glass elevators to hand-paint every single piece of the huge structures, a process which reportedly took more than 2,000 hours of work.

“The strength of the gallery is that it manages to remain relevant to so many different peoples through so many different artist’s styles,” says McQueen.

“Some sculptures are monumental, some are in contemplation, some are living or historical, and some are the ultimate architectural work. My personal favorites are Icons, the longest work in the gallery, based on a reference to a Renaissance mosaic work.”

McQueen is a Canadian sculptor whose unique artwork tells the story of the country, its history and the ‘natural’ place it currently holds in the world.

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