Here is part four of fascinating article written by former Winnipegger Edwin Janzen, an artist and writer currently based in Ottawa. The article was previously published in Drain magazine – you can read the full article, HERE, (under Related Essays) or click HERE for last week’s post on VoCA. Stay tuned as we publish it serially, every week.
Winnipeg’s Border Crossings magazine. Image: i.bp.blogspot.com
The Power of Myth
How Did Winnipeg and Its Art Become such a Big Deal?
By Edwin Janzen
The Winnipeg Art Industrial Complex
Winnipeg was not built in a day. The current currency of this city and its plucky arts scene is not, as commonly suggested, the result of its endless, cold, winter nights or its many-hundred-mile isolation from the nearest centres of comparable size (though both conditions are real). Integral to Winnipeg’s international reputation have been the tireless efforts of a handful of influential local art mandarins like Wayne Baerwaldt, Meeka Walsh and Robert Enright. These individuals lose no opportunity to draw national and international attention to the city.
Winnipeg curator Wayne Baerwaldt, currently at the Alberta College of Art and Design, Calgary.
By way of example, check out the 2008 “Winnipeg” double-issue of Border Crossings, which focuses exclusively on contemporary Winnipeg artists and features essays by Walsh and Baerwaldt. Fat like Cosmo, this special issue pushes young Winnipeg artists including Michael Dumontier, Marcel Dzama, and many more.
It also features Winnipeg-boosting essays by Baerwaldt and Walsh. In “Dream City Shimmering,” Walsh sallies forth in mythic mode, calling Winnipeg a “chimera, an illusion, an idea of a city. A city of ideas, of imagination.” Walsh elucidates a fantasy in which eighteenth-century French author of aphorisms Joseph Joubert finds himself in Winnipeg, and likes it: “Joseph Joubert, 1754-1824, in Winnipeg, an imagined city, dream city, city of ideas, 2008.” The skeptical reader might ask if Joubert would be enthused about Dr. Pepper Slurpees and Sunday-night hot-rod cruising — but Walsh does hit one nail squarely on the head: “We’ve made a significant place, this dream city, Winnipeg.” “Made” — no kidding!
Theo Sims, The Candahar, 2006. Image: ciac.ca
For his part, Walsh’s co-editor Robert Enright is similarly committed to the Winnipeg myth: “What’s interesting about Winnipeg and the reputation of its visual artists — both those who have left and those who continue to live here,” Enright wrote in the Globe and Mail in 2006, “is that the real and the imaginary have become indistinguishable.” Enright takes every opportunity to boost Winnipeg artists and the city itself, taking his mythic vision of the city on the road in speaking engagements.
Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, The Paradise Institute, 2001. Image: artnet.com
The Paradise Institute, interior view. Image: skidmore.edu
Baerwaldt’s essay, “Winnipeg: You’ve Come Undone, or You’ve Got to Get Down to Get Up,” is more earthbound than Walsh’s, taking the bad with the good, listing the many people, institutions and events that have made the city what it is. Today the director of ACAD’s Illingworth Kerr Gallery, Baerwaldt used his considerable influence and connections to champion various Winnipeg and other Canadian artists, like Theo Sims, Noam Gonick and collaborators Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller (though he will always be known best as the man who threw open the gates for Marcel Dzama and the Royal Art Lodge to go international).