Sugar Cube Gallery has begun a new — but not necessarily improved — relationship with its property managers; ties between the two parties recently became strained after the latter censored a performance exhibition hosted by the gallery, a move that could drastically effect the future of the art space.
You’ve likely passed by Sugar Cube, nestled between the Coup and Hemporium, when you walk down 17th Avenue S.W. with your cup of Beano blend. Active since December 2010, this unassuming yet purposeful little gallery space was started by local artists Angela Inglis, Jane Grace and Lisa Brawn. These Sugar Mamas, as they’re affectionately known, began Sugar Cube in the hopes of “inﬁltrating and subverting the dominant shopping and drinking culture of the neighbourhood”.
The most recent exhibition there, Calgary-based artist Sally Raab’s Naked, Not Nude: The Slow Dissection of Sally Raab, a performance work in which the artist stood behind the gallery’s window and faced the viewers outside while holding up an anatomical drawing of her inner-muscular structure. Naked, Not Nude sought to discuss the art-historical meanings of the two title terms — “naked” and “nude.” According to Raab, the show mainly references the former term, as is suggested by the title.
“The body’s anatomy is a very academic thing,” says Raab “The [exhibition] is more clinical than exposing.”
For her performance, timed to coincide with the peak of rush hour, Raab, dressed in regular street clothes, entered the space’s window and stood behind her drawing — which begins at her shoulders and continues to her thigh. Posing like this for an hour, she wouldn’t interact with or react to any of the traffic. Afterward, the drawing remained fixed to the glass, along with a notice informing viewers about the next live performance.
Or that’s the way it should have played out.
Unfortunately, the artist’s exhibition — her first solo venture since graduating from art school — has been cut short. Originally due to run until mid-July, it was pulled by the property manager, View West, due to the fact that it was not, as they stated, “the type of art we feel should be displayed at the building based on the type of tenancies at the site.” This statement, sent via email to the gallery, asked Sugar Cube to “ensure that all art displays are first approved by our office prior to them being displayed in the showcase.” This has created an extremely problematic situation for the gallery.
“The point of art is to open up a conversation,” says Raab. “When you censor something, that’s the end of the dialogue. At the very most, what needs to happen is [a] conversation.”
The Sugar Cube’s window now lies dormant, for the first time in two years.
“That little space... has been a small but vital institution for the exhibition of independent, non-commercial, contemporary art for a very long time,” says gallery co-founder Jane Grace. “It seems both absurd and highly unjust that it is now being threatened with censorship or possible closure.”
Sugar Cube believes it provides an important service to the city, allowing artists to exhibit contemporary work to a variety of viewers, in a convenient, high-traffic area. The gallery is not keen on a third-party with no formal artistic training or background making the ultimate decision on their exhibitions. Without the ability to function as an independent venue, this important fixture on 17th Avenue S.W. could soon be extinguished.
Naked, Not Nude: The Slow Dissection of Sally Raab has fortunately found a place to continue. After its weeklong hiatus, it will be up and running again at Pages on Kensington. The bookstore graciously offered its space upon hearing the news of the show’s premature closure. The performance runs Monday to Friday during rush hour until July 13.