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Calgary art gallery provides more than just window dressing for new exhibit during COVID-19

The street decals outside the south window of the TrépanierBaer art gallery in Calgary have been laid down specifically for coronavirus physical distancing.

Inside the window box is a new installation: James Carl’s: Maintenance. It’s part of TrépanierBaer’s (Plan B) The South Window Project.

Gallery owner Yves Trépanier said after closing a Sarah Stevenson exhibition March 13, they haven’t opened since. He said they still have artists to work with and projects and physical exhibitions that needed to roll out.

At first, Trépanier looked at online exhibitions for their artists.

TrépanierBaer’s (Plan B) South Window Project will feature different artists monthly, with a new public-facing art installation. Stay informed on new artists with #planBproject.

“It didn’t seem to be enough for me to just do that, because everybody’s doing it. It’s not all that interesting. Some of it is, some of it isn’t,” he told LiveWire Calgary.

That when it dawned on him: They have a big, bright, beautiful (and hermetically sealed) window area on their south wall – let’s use that.

“I mean, it’s the closest thing we can do while the physical space is closed,” Trépanier said.

“We’ve been using the windows for years, but now we’re actually programming and in a more thoughtful, cheery kind of way.”

Choosing James Carl’s graphic art

Trépanier said he’d had a deeper conversation with Carl about his work, particularly the graphic art. Carl’s primary work is as a sculptor and he’s not as well known for this kind of art, yet he’s been doing it for 30 years, Trépanier said.

“That was another reason why I thought, ‘well, let’s expose that work.’ Let’s show that work to people. And some of it’s really fun,” he said.

Much of the art is relevant right now. The centrepiece in the windows involves toilet paper and men’s underwear. There are also pictures of a lot of bottles – something Carl used to draw using early 90s technology. It’s inspired by time he spent working with a hoarder in New York.

“Of course, now everybody’s buying bleach and hand sanitizer, detergent, and you name it right. And so, we thought, well, this is kind of relevant to what’s going on,” Trépanier said.

They’ve delivered the installation in a way that catches the eye and has people stop to enjoy the piece.

“You can see it, it’s right there. And it’s quite visceral,” Trépanier said.  

“It’s not ideal. It’s not the best way to see work, but it is, I think, an extension of our space. And it does allow artists to engage with the public.”

Set up for coronavirus public health measures

Obviously, you can’t tour the gallery to view the Carl exhibition. You can’t touch it either.

He’s hoping it draws a few more of those people looking for a little exercise, out to see the exhibit.

Trépanier said they’ve got decals made up by Calgary artist Ron Moppett that they’ve laid on the sidewalk out front of the 10 Avenue SW gallery location. The footprint decals are spaced at least two-metres apart so any passersby can stop and look at the exhibit and maintain their distance.

There will be instructions posted on how viewers can interpret the installations from different viewpoints along the 10 Avenue SW sidewalk.

“We can’t go to sleep on that we have to figure out interesting, creative ways to keep (the artists) and their work in the public eye,” he said.

To bolster the physical exhibit, Trépanier said they’ve ramped the online aspect as well; they’ve made the whole exhibit a multimedia affair. Audio, video and written work accompany the exhibit online.

The whole coronavirus pandemic has forced Trépanier to pivot just like any other business. He’s had the Calgary gallery for nearly 30 years. He said he’s interested to see the influence it has on artists and their art.

Right now, he just wanted to find a way to keep delivering people good art by talented artists.

“I knew that people love art, but they had music, theater, literature, whatever,” Trépanier said.

“I think we must find ways to kind of maintain a presence for our artists and for the public to enjoy it. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”