Gretzky is everywhere...St. John's, Charlottetown and Edmonton especially
This art show lets you enjoy Warhol's take on The Great One — and get your 15 minutes of fame at the same time
He's not an actor or a pop star or a model, but of all the celebrities this country's ever cranked out, there's only one Great One. Wayne Gretzky, the NHL's top-scoring player of all time, remains among Canada's biggest stars. He's an icon, a brand — and more recently, a meme. As Andy Warhol put it to CBC Radio back in 1983: "He's more than a hockey player. He's an entertainer — an entertaining hockey player." Neil Young, Drake, Celine Dion: they're OK and everything, but none of them have their own Saturday morning cartoon based on a breakfast cereal. When it comes to fame, Gretzky is the all star, and at his height, he was everywhere. Or, rather, he still is.
"Gretzky is Everywhere" is the name of an art exhibition — a "simulcast art exhibition" — that involves three museums around the country. In addition to print materials on display, each space will be linked by livestream, letting you into The Rooms in St. John's, The Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown and the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton, home of the Oilers.
The show went online at The Rooms and The Confederation Centre May 27, where it continues to Sept. 24. The AGA joins the project on June 10. And if you visit any of these locations, what you'll find on display is exactly the same. Enter the gallery, and you'll see an Andy Warhol print, "Wayne Gretzky 99." Each institution has the piece in its permanent collection. Along with each print, there'll be a few Polaroids of Gretzky — taken at Warhol's New York studio, back when the athlete was a rosebud-lipped ringer for Princess Diana. There's also a thank you letter from Gretzky to Warhol. And, most importantly, you'll find three TV screens. This is your link to the "Gretzky is Everywhere" shows at the other galleries. Warhol's Gretzky print is always in the frame — and so are you.
"Ideally you'll be able to see other people looking at the work, interacting with the work, doing whatever they're going to do in that space," says Mireille Eagan, curator of contemporary art at The Rooms and the co-curator of this exhibition with Pan Wendt. Already, she says she's been surprised by reactions. An activist, for example, turned up at The Rooms a few days back. They used the exhibition livestream to stage a one-person Muskrat Falls protest. "It's fascinating. I know Andy Warhol would be thrilled by that sort of scenario," she says.
"Andy Warhol was known for the dissemination of celebrity through the repetition of imagery, from screen prints of everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Campbell's Soup cans to in this case famous sports celebrities like Wayne Gretzky," she says. "So we're arguing that in a digital era, the replication of imagery and the promotion of celebrity is still relevant, especially with Facebook and Instagram."
It's just such a strange print and an anomaly in a lot of museums' collections.- Mireille Eagan, co-curator of "Gretzky is Everywhere"
"The show is called 'Gretzky is Everywhere' for the reason that Gretzky is such a pervasive image in Canadian culture as a sports celebrity," says Eagan, "but also the fact that this print is throughout collections across the country."
In her research, at least 12 institutions around the country have Warhol's "Wayne Gretzky 99" in their collections. The National Gallery of Canada has it, as does the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Reps at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery and the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and the Anna Leonowens Gallery confirm to CBC Arts they have the print, as well. (Technically, the AGNS has two and the VAG can boast three.) And, perhaps least surprisingly, the Glenhyrst Ar Gallery of Brant — in Gretzky's hometown of Brantford, Ont. — received one from a private donor back in 1986. "More and more keep coming out of the woodwork," she laughs.
"It's just such a strange print and an anomaly in a lot of museums' collections," says Eagan — strange because it's not a natural fit with many institutions' mandates. At The Rooms, for example, the focus is on Newfoundland and Labrador art. But they still have the print.
When the works first debuted in December 1983, CBC Radio interviewed Warhol and Gretzky. They also spoke with Frans Wynans, the Vancouver art dealer who arranged their meeting in the first place.
Gretzky received one of the six original paintings, from which the prints are based. He told CBC Radio that he planned to hang it in his living room. Going off this story from 2015, that might still be the case.
Warhol's "Wayne Gretzky 99" isn't the true focus of the exhibition, though. "Ultimately what it's showing is how people interact with the work," says Eagan. "[They're] more important and interesting in the space than the artwork. And the camera is positioned in a way that the viewer actually blocks the work as they're looking at it."
Think of a trip to the show as your 15 minutes of fame — or five, or 50, or however long you feel like visiting. "From what I understand, the AGA is trying to get Wayne Gretzky to come and actually be in the feed itself," she says — which is no wilder an idea than a "simulcast exhibition" of an Andy Warhol print. Gretzky is currently the vice-chairman of Oilers Entertainment Group.
"I would be interested to know who he looks at!" she laughs. Will it be himself, himself or himself? "I think he'll like it."
Gretzky is Everywhere. To Sept. 24 at The Rooms, St. John's and The Confederation Art Centre Art Gallery, Charlottetown. June 10 to Sept. 24 at the Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton. www.therooms.ca, www.confederationcentre.com, www.youraga.ca