As the result of a two-year relocation project, the Nickle Galleries (formerly the Nickle Arts Museum) has found a new home.
The University of Calgary campus gallery reopened last week in a purpose-built space as part of the imposing Taylor Family Digital Library. Christine Sowiak, curator of the Nickle Galleries’ inaugural exhibition, We Tell Ourselves Stories, says that she is “excited about the fact that the Nickle... has moved from this standalone building off the beaten track into such a high-activity location.”
As a curator, she says the new Nickle “is daunting because it’s a very strong space and the architectural details in it are strong, but I think for me that’s more a good challenge than a bad.”
Indeed, We Tell Ourselves Stories is meant to show off many facets of the Nickle, including the physical attributes of the gallery itself.
“In laying out the show, I had to consider sightlines and the brand new dynamics of the space, and really think about how one work would flow into the next or one section into the next,” explains Sowiak.
After a few steps, visitors enter the long, wedge-shaped main gallery that boasts plenty of headroom for tall sculptures, and which is bordered by plain concrete. Further in, following the stairs (or elevator) will take you to a second landing, showcasing MFA graduate work as well as the main exhibition.
The works currently being housed are unabashedly eclectic, and not all of the objects fall into a traditional definition of gallery art. Yes, you’ll find the expected paintings and sculptures, videos and other media works, but also Afghan rugs, ancient coins, architectural drawings, and handwritten letters by the likes of Rudy Wiebe, Alice Munro and William Aberhart.
Much of this ephemera comes from the university library’s various collections, which safeguard often little-known treasures on campus. The Nickle itself lays claim to a large collection of contemporary art, a textile collection with about 700 pieces, and a numismatic (coin) collection. In addition, there are items from the university archives, its special collections, and the Canadian Architectural Archives.
Another thread uniting the show is evident in its title, a quote from writer Joan Didion: We Tell Ourselves Stories. Each of its pieces, whether the sculpture of ravens standing vigil, the architectural sketch of the Calgary tower, or the Afghan rug woven with Soviet iconography, has its own tale worth illuminating.
“It came down to the very basic idea that — whether it’s a work of art that was made last year or a 3,000-year-old coin — objects travel with ideas,” explains Sowiak. “I think what became really exciting once we settled on the idea of storytelling was... to allow for the objects to resonate in the space and also with each other, because ideas connect across different media.”