Why is the Remai Modern a must-see? Zachari Logan takes us on a tour
Explore Saskatoon's spacious new gallery through the eyes of a homegrown artist
Let's go to the museum! Over the next few weeks, we'll be discovering Canada's favourite museums and public galleries and sharing lifehacks for planning your trip right. What are the must-sees? The hidden gems? At every stop, a different artist will be your tour guide.
Saskatoon: the prairie burg you probably drove through on some forgotten road trip is suddenly landing on list after list of the world's top travel destinations, and you can peg the hype on the Remai Modern, a contemporary and modern art gallery that opened in October 2017.
Artist Zachari Logan is a Saskatoon native, and this summer, we discovered he loves playing tourist in his hometown. (Seriously, you should read his travel guide.) "When I'm going to Saskatoon," he says, "I'm doing the few touristy things you can do," and the artist, who now lives in Regina, makes the trip to the Remai almost monthly.
Thanks to an unusually generous $103 million donation from Ellen Remai — the gallery's namesake — the museum's been able to compete for prestigious shows since the get-go. (Rebecca Belmore's Facing the Monumental just arrived there following its debut at the Art Gallery of Ontario, for example.) But it also boasts river views, an intriguing permanent collection (including three of Logan's own works, just saying) and a quintessentially Saskatchewan X factor: great, big, wide open spaces.
"One of the remarkable things about this museum is generosity of space," he explains. (The building stretches over roughly 130,000 square feet.)
"Especially with contemporary art, which is really meant to be contemplative, you need space to think about the things you're looking at." And though visitor numbers have surpassed estimates (it reported more than 450,000 visitors in its first year), you likely won't be elbowing strangers in the gut while jockeying to glimpse the collections. At least, that's not been Logan's experience. Not yet.
We asked him to give us his version of a Remai tour. It's one of his favourite places to see art — not just in Saskatoon, but anywhere he's ever travelled — and here are his tips for your first trip.
Walk, don't drive
Saskatoon's a car city, but if you park too close to the museum, you'll miss out on a dramatic introduction to the building itself, which overlooks the South Saskatchewan. "I feel like Saskatoon's small enough and it has lovely areas by the river," says Logan. So let yourself be blown away by the location and set aside about a half an hour for a sight-seeing walk down Spadina Crescent, a riverside road that will take you past local landmarks including "Cathedral Row," Broadway Bridge and the castle-like Bessborough hotel.
"I think that's a nice entry to the building. It also gives you a real sense of why it's perched the way it's perched along the river, in the sense that I think the architecture reflects the river itself."
Reflect and reset in the atrium
Remember all that stuff about wide open space? It'll hit you as soon as you enter the building, which is why Logan recommends this pre-visit ritual: before you rush into the collections — in fact, before you even buy a ticket — grab a chair and rest a few minutes, reflecting on your surroundings.
"I do it to clear my head from anything outside the museum and to just sort of have a breather, a pause."
On view in the foyer through 2019, you'll find an installation by Haegue Yang. "That piece is worth just sitting in front of," says Logan. (Made of venetian blinds, it's called "Four Times Sol LeWitt UpsideDown, Version Point to Point.") "One great thing: I've been told it can be configured in different ways."
If you can, always take the stairs
Says Logan: "Just as you walk into the museum there's a beautiful staircase and I usually take the staircase up — I never take the elevator. It's just another angle of the open space to see."
Head right to the top, the third floor, and work your way down over the course of your visit.
"There is the stairwell that leads up to the third floor where there's another beautiful installation. It's a light installation. And if you've looked at pictures of the Remai, you've likely seen it."
He's referring to this one: "Lucky Charms" by Pae White. (According to the Remai's website, it'll be up through 2019.)
"It's this massive neon installation that follows you up the staircase. At any angle, if you're near the staircase, up or down, you can see it. It's quite fantastic."
Get hooked on the classics
When Saskatoon's Mendel Art Gallery closed in June 2015, the Remai became the new home of its collection. "I grew up going to that museum and taking classes at that museum," says Logan. "During my undergrad, I worked at that museum as a program guide and interpreter." So nostalgia always lures him to the third floor, where he can find treasures he's visited since childhood.
This equestrian painting by Hungarian artist Ignac Konrad is particularly special to him.
"When I was a kid I was mesmerized by it, so I would always have my dad lift me up to see the details."
("Alag" is on view as part of the "Mendel Gift" exhibition to February 24. A rep for the Remai says it will go back in storage after that time. A new Mendel collection show focusing on the art of Lawren Harris and David Milne, opens March 9.)
"That painting is really important to me. But also just seeing the works from the previous space in the new space is really kind of a nice legacy," he says.
"There's also really great works by John Baldessari, Bob Boyer. Janet Cardiff has work in there. And it changes quite a bit."
Enjoy one of the city's best views
While you're on the third floor, seek out a river view — maybe sometime after you've pored over the latest Picasso exhibition (the Remai holds the world's most complete collection of his linocuts).
Says Logan: "In the architecture, they definitely make the river an important aspect of their design. It's a very long museum. You have that kind of play of length and flow that runs through the top floor of the museum. Definitely the view outside, I think, is important."
Check in with a local favourite
"There is a really wonderful piece by Eli Bornstein that was donated to the museum. It's been up since the opening and it's around the corner as you walk up to the first floor," says Logan.
He's talking about this. Find it on level two through 2019.
Though he's originally from Wisconsin, Bornstein has been an influential figure in the Saskatoon area for almost 70 years. In 1950, he moved to the city to head up the University of Saskatchewan's Department of Fine Arts — an institution he stayed with for decades — and his art reflects the Prairies themselves, responding to the colour and shape of the landscape.
"I think he's more regionally known," says Logan. "Very well known here, so maybe not as much outside of the province, but I love his work."
And this sunset pink installation? "It's definitely a gem."
"I think what I like about the architecture [of the Remai] is you can have one piece, a really really impactful piece, and it can fill a room in a beautiful way."
"You come around the corner and it's really quite spectacular."
Whatever route you take, follow this advice
There's a tip from Logan's past life as a tour guide that applies to the Remai and every art gallery you could ever visit.: take your time.
"I try to look at work for five or ten minutes," he says — but if that would strain the absolute limits of your attention span, then at least try to do better than the rest of the masses.
"On average, people only look at artwork for eight seconds. And how the hell can you take in anything in eight seconds?" he laughs.
"I think people see something, and if they dislike it, they instantly move on to something else. So challenge that!"
Thinking about art doesn't require BFA. Start here: if you don't like a work of art, ask yourself why. Let that question lead to others.
"I find that sometimes what happens in museums is we go in and it's for therapeutic reasons, to be entertained," he says.
"But I feel like to engage with artwork, your brain has to be on a less passive mode."
You've earned a coffee break
After a few hours of running that inner dialogue, you'll crave a bit of mental R&R, and Logan's favourite post-museum habit is a coffee at Shift. The Remai's in-house café, it boasts another river view for maximum chill.
For info on how to plan your visit to the Remai Modern, visit www.remaimodern.org.