A native New Zealander, Gregory Burke took the helm at Saskatoon’s Mendel Art Gallery in 2013 as the gallery was transitioning into Remai Modern, an $84.6-million art museum on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River. In addition to a collection of about 8,000 works of art housed in 11 galleries, the newly opened museum has a learning centre, a restaurant and truly spectacular architecture.
Q: The Remai opened on Oct. 21—how does it feel?
There’ve been many frustrations and delays, so it feels great. The building is jaw-dropping; it’s so beautiful, and the opening exhibitions are amazing.
Q: Tell us about the design of the building.
[Architect] Bruce Kuwabara tipped his hat to the Prairies. On every floor, there is the possibility for visitors to engage with the outside [thanks to] floor-to-ceiling windows, a terrace and a rooftop patio. The museum’s architecture generates a sense of warmth and openness.
Q: What is one of your favourite design elements?
The generous community spaces as you move from one gallery to another.
Q: Which of the opening exhibitions are you most excited about?
Field Guide is a museum-wide exhibition introducing the strengths of our collection. One of the key components is the Faces of Picasso exhibition, a presentation of our Picasso collection curated by UK artist Ryan Gander, featuring 142 of Picasso’s linocuts. Gander has incorporated his own drawings of all 406 linocuts into the exhibition.
Q: What is a linocut?
In the 1950s, Picasso developed a technique using linoleum to produce a sophisticated image. He carved out an area on lino, rolled paint onto it and pressed it onto paper, carved out a little more and repeated the process to build up layers.
Q: How significant is museum benefactor Ellen Remai?
Mrs. Remai not only [contributed to the cost of] the building but also had the foresight to set up a financial program to support the museum moving forward.
Q: What are your hopes for the Remai Modern?
We’ve tried to be bold and box above the weight of people’s expectations. Even if visitors come away saying, “I don’t know what that was about,” I hope that they’ve been blown away by the experience. It may not be the biggest art museum in the country, but it’ll surely be considered the most beautiful.
More about the Remai Modern
The building is made up of four horizontal volumes stacked on top of each other with three cantilevers: the first cantilever faces to the east, the second toward the river and the third toward the west.
Admission to The Connect Gallery on the main level is free. This floor is also home to large-scale art commissions and the museum restaurant, Shift, where dishes include Blackened Diefenbaker Trout.
A collection of Picasso linocuts valued at $20 million was gifted to the museum by local philanthropist Ellen Remai who also gave a substantial donation toward the cost of the building and exhibition programs.
Exit through the Art and Design store and pick up a copy of UK artist Ryan Gander’s book, which features his drawings of all 406 of Picasso’s linocuts. You’ll also find home decor like throw pillows and more.
What to Do in Saskatoon’s Riversdale Neighbourhood
One of Saskatoon’s oldest neighbourhoods has been steadily reclaiming its pre-Depression-era glory as restaurants, boutiques and art galleries set up shop along its main stretch—20th Street West. Recharge at The Underground Café, shop at Green Ark Collected Home and see live music at Village Guitar & Amp Co.