After serving its community for 51 years, Saskatoon’s Mendel Art Gallery closed in June 2015. An exhibition called “The Fifth World” was the last to grace its walls. Curated by Wanda Nanibush, the exhibition showcased the work of 11 emerging and mid-career Indigenous artists from across North America. It was presented by the 20-year-old Tribe Inc., a local itinerant artist-run centre that partners and collaborates with galleries to put focus on Indigenous art. (“The Fifth World” was Tribe Inc.’s eighth such collaboration with the Mendel.)
In one room, a volley of 50 handmade porcelain arrows, the work of Tlingit/Unangâx artist Nicholas Galanin, hung in an arch from the Gallery Three ceiling. It was the picture of precarity. According to its curator, “The Fifth World” referenced the Hopi prophecy of an impending choice between conflict and harmony, and, quoting writer Leslie Marmon Silko, “a new consciousness…that the earth is shared and finite, and that we are naturally connected to the earth and with one another.”
Artist, curator and Tribe Inc. executive director Lori Blondeau remembers when she was on-site for installation. It was the first time Mendel CEO Gregory Burke, a New Zealander who had arrived in Saskatoon after six years at the Power Plant in Toronto, approached her to discuss the vision of the gallery that would replace the Mendel and the role of Indigenous art, artists and cultural workers there. “He kind of gave me hope,” Blondeau says. And really, “The Fifth World” was a show about hope.
Now, the Mendel is an interzone. Gallery One is an extension of vault storage, a stopover for canvases and crates as they’re prepared for the big move. Gallery Three has become Project Central. A long conference table holds the centre of the room; monthly planning calendars, floor plans and notepads decorate the walls where paintings once hung. Out the nearby office windows overlooking the South Saskatchewan River, about two kilometres upstream, just past where the river bends out of sight, construction is well underway on the Remai Modern Art Gallery of Saskatchewan, the Mendel’s breathtaking $106-million successor.
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