Art Insight #14: Gregory Burke
The Executive Director and CEO of Remai Modern
The Remai Modern, a new art museum in Saskatchewan, Canada, set to open in 2017, was made possible by donation from philanthropist Ellen Remai. The donation is the largest of its kind in Canada and will be used for the museum’s four-floor, 11,582㎡ space and supporting programs over the next 30 years. The Remai Modern is currently under construction at River Landing. Local residents, business and the government are providing their ceaseless support, thanks to which the museum has already acquired about 7,700 pieces of art in addition to a collection of Picasso linocuts.
The Mendel Art Gallery, which played a crucial role in Canadian modern art before its close in June 2014, has donated its collection to the Remai Modern. The museum will be at the forefront of Canadian modern art and is expected to attract 220,000 visitors a year, contributing to a revival of the local economy. Gregory Burke, the Executive Director and CEO of the Remai Modern, is busy with the forthcoming opening. He spoke of his insights into Canadian and Korean art and the world beyond.
Remai Modern is a thought leader and direction setting modern art gallery that boldly collects, develops, presents and interprets the art of our time. Our mandate is to enable transformative experiences by connecting art with local and global communities. - Gregory Burke -
Q. Congratulations on the Remai Modern and beginning your term at its helm. How are you feeling in regards to the upcoming opening and could you tell us its mission, as one of the leading institutions of contemporary art in Canada?
The vision is stated as: “Remai Modern is a thought leader and direction setting modern art gallery that boldly collects, develops, presents and interprets the art of our time. Our mandate is to enable transformative experiences by connecting art with local and global communities.”
We are excited to be building a new museum and establishing a new vision and program identity. It leads us to ask what an art museum can and should be at this point in history and what can a museum’s impact be both in local terms and in international terms. We would say that local and global are now more interconnected that ever, but with the risk that globalization is impacting negatively on the valuing of local knowledge. The reciprocity of the two is something we wish to address and promote. We are excited by the direction of the program, which in part will seek to engage audiences in arts relationship to urgent social, environmental, technological and ideological changes affecting humanity.
Q. What will be the Remai Modern’s focus and could you speak more to the process behind the preparations?
Our focus will be on the modern period (20th and 21st centuries). This reflects our collection, which includes much contemporary work as well as work from the period of classic modernism, such as our collection of 406 Picasso linocuts. So we will be programming many exhibitions focusing on contemporary practices, but just as importantly we will look back also to the classic modern period, and address that period from a contemporary context. This means that rather than simply presenting a survey exhibition on someone like Picasso that reflects what is already known about the artist, we will also be looking at Picasso from the point of view of how his work relates to contemporary issues and practices.
Q. What exhibitions and programs do you have planned thus far? Can you provide any details about the inaugural exhibitions?
We will not be announcing our program for about another year, as we are not opening until 2017. Of course, given that the exact opening date has not yet been established we therefore cannot confirm exactly the order of the opening exhibitions. In the meantime we have a pre-launch program that serves as an indicator of the programs that will follow. For example, we recently collaborated with e-flux journal on “Super community Live–The climatic Unconscious” a two-day program of presentations, films and performances. This event followed on from the super community publishing project that was part of the 2015 Venice Biennale.
Q. Remai Modern received a major donation from Ellen Remai, but also contributions from locals, corporations and government bodies. Could you provide more detail about the funding behind the museum?
Our main donor Ellen Remai has contributed over $50 million to the establishment of the museum. About $60 million has come from government sources and a further $10 million for other donors and sponsors.
Q. The museum has already amassed a collection of more than 7,700 artworks. What are some key works you would like to highlight and what future direction will the collection take?
We have works by the pioneering Canadian Group of Seven artists, such as Emily Carr and Lawren Harris. One work by Harris is currently on show at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles as part of a survey exhibition there curated by the actor Steve Martin. In addition to the Picasso linocuts we own 23 Picasso ceramics. We also hold works by artists such as John Cage, Kenneth Noland, John Baldessari and Jack Goldstein, as well as many works by contemporary Canadian artists, including indigenous artists. As we head toward the opening we will be making a number of significant acquisitions of leading contemporary artists.
Q. What do you think is most important when private commissions come into the museum from global corporations? What is the relationship between Remai Modern and businesses?
Any donation from a corporation, whether it is an artwork or a cash donation, must meet our policies. This means that any donation of artwork is not automatically accepted. It must fit the policy and vision of the museum. Financial donations from corporations are important as a source of funding for the museum. Donations are usually for capital to help building costs or for program support. In this case we will define the program and the funding needed, and then seek a donor or sponsor according to our needs.
Q. Could you share your insights and thoughts on the Canadian art scene? Who are some artists that interest you in particular?
The Canadian art scene has a long history and is quite diverse. It reflects the enormous geographical reach, but also the cultural spread. The Canadian population is increasingly multicultural. One of our more recent purchases was by the artist Raymond Boisjoly, who is of indigenous descent and who is very articulate on indigenous issues as they relate to contemporary art. He featured in the Montreal Biennale I curated in 2014 and was also a speaker at our recent super community event.
Q. What are your thoughts on the Korean art scene? What do you think about Korean art?
I have long found the Korean art scene to be interesting and visited such great biennials including the first Gwangju Biennale. I am surely aware of many Korean artists who work worldwide. I find Korean artists interesting in terms of how aspects of tradition are drawn on in works that address how to be in the world at this current moment. I used to visit Korea often, but sadly I haven’t had the opportunity in recent years.
Q. It seems that boundaries are globally disappearing from the contemporary art scene.
Yes, some boundaries are breaking down as with the greater acceptance of art from Asia in the global art world. But other boundaries are being established. The attention is increasingly on artists represented by the top global galleries. These galleries may represent artists from around the world, which fits with the recent emergence of the global gallery that has outlets in different parts of the world. One downside of this trend is that artists who do not meet with current global market tendencies are finding it harder to gain attention for their work.
Q. As a leading figure in the world of contemporary art, do you have any advice for aspiring young artists and curators?
For me, art has always been about asking questions and taking risks. So my advice to young artists and curators is to not shy away from that approach. It may be a harder path to tread in the short-term but the results are more likely to be rigorous and of interest to a discerning viewer. ■ with ARTINPOST
Emily Carr <Pine Forest> 1934 Oil on paper 60.8×91.4cm Collection of Remai Modern. Gift of the Mendel family 1965
Lawren Stewart Harris <Untitled(mountains near Jasper)> 1934-1940 Oil on canvas 127.8×152.6cm Frame/Pedestal: 143.8×168.5cm Collection of Remai Modern Gift of the Mendel family 1965
Raymond Boisjoly Supercommunity Live Remai Modern
Mohammad Salemy Supercommunity Live Remai Modern
View of Remai Modern
Kader Attia Supercommunity Live Remai Modern
Kenneth Lum <Cheeseburger> 2011 Chromogenic print 196×257×5cm Collection of Remai Modern Purchased with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance program 2012 Image courtesy the artist and Remai Modern
Edward Poitras <Optional Modification in Six Parts> 2002 Encaustic 244.4×732.6cm Collection of Remai Modern Purchased with the assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Mendel Art Gallery Foundation and the Gallery Group, 2003 Image courtesy the artist and Remai Modern
Althea Thauberger <Marat Sade Bohnice> 2012 HD video 47minutes Collection of Remai Modern. Purchased with the support of the Mendel Art Gallery Foundation 2014 Image courtesy the artist and Remai Modern
Gallery Lounge of Remai Modern under construction Photographed Sep 2015
Gregory Burke is the Executive Director and CEO of the Remai Modern. Burke is an acclaimed gallery director, curator and writer with a 30-year career, including his tenure as director of The Power Plant in Toronto (2005-2011). Prior to coming to Canada in 2005, Burke held senior curatorial and management roles in his native New Zealand. A graduate of the University of Auckland, Burke was Director of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth, New Zealand, the country’s largest contemporary art museum, and Assistant Director/Chief Curator of the Wellington City Art Gallery. He was also Manager of Arts Development/Arts Adviser for the Arts Council of New Zealand. Increasingly, Burke has been in demand as an international museum consultant, writer and independent curator. He was the commissioner for New Zealand’s inaugural pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2001 and again in 2005. He curated for the Site Santa Fe International Biennial in 2008.