EDMONTON, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - Nov. 27, 2012) - Every six or seven months, the Art Gallery of Alberta hosts a party called Refinery. It is a late-night cabaret for Edmonton's business and cultural communities to meet, to witness strange and unforgettable art and performances, to drink, to scheme. The Art Gallery of Alberta, designed by Randall Stout, is a swooping form of glass and zinc in Edmonton's central square. Stout was inspired by the Northern Lights, and by winter.
Each party has different creative directors, each of them from Edmonton. The latest theme is "Monstrous Baroque," and it is the meeting place between the opulent and the supernatural, the 17th and 21st Centuries.
Refinery parties are Edmonton reduced to its essence: built from the ground up, a meeting place of business and the arts, coloured with the strangeness that comes from the north and from the best aspects of cultural isolation.
The Art Gallery of Alberta has paired its marvelous permanent collection with the Baroque for the final months of 2012. Misled by Nature: Contemporary Art and the Baroque is an exhibition of artists inspired by the beauty, the theatricality, the romance, and the excess of the era. To bring us back to the source, we have Beautiful Monsters: Beasts and Fantastic Creatures in Early European Prints.
Edmonton has been a centre for contemporary art since the early 1970s, when Latitude 53 launched. The arts society has been dedicated to building and sustaining the avant-garde in Edmonton for nearly 40 years. Clement Greenberg, arguably the greatest art critic of the second half of the 20th Century, spent most of his time in New York.
After New York: Edmonton.
The geography and spirit of the place, he thought, made for an unusually supportive environment for modern art. The Art Gallery of Alberta and its provocative cousin down the street, Latitude 53, prove that Greenberg was on to something.
On Edmonton's near west side, overlooking the North Saskatchewan River, the Royal Alberta Museum tells another version of the city's story: its natural and more ancient history. People have lived and passed through this corner of the North Saskatchewan River for over 8,000 years. It is one of the oldest settlements in this part of the world and, going back much farther, a place where the dinosaurs roamed.
Aboriginal culture is one of the highlights of the museum's permanent collection, along with an introduction - for urban children - to the geological history and wildlife of this rich corner of North America.
Art, culture and history are aligning to build an Edmonton of the future. Early construction is underway for the new Royal Alberta Museum, which will move from its riverview location to just a block north of the Art Gallery of Alberta - part of a re-imagined downtown Edmonton, anchored by cultural institutions and, possibly, a downtown arena.
There is still time, of course, to visit the current Royal Alberta Museum on one of the prettiest banks of the river. If you orient yourself carefully on the grounds, and squint past the mansions, you can imagine birch bark canoes arriving here from the continental divide: to trade, to prosper, to build.