A New Museum
“The art museum’s biggest challenge now is how to adapt to the massive changes resulting from the continuing aftershocks of colonization, climate change, globalization and technological advances. The relevancy of the art museum depends on its response.”
—Gregory Burke, Executive Director & CEO
Remai Modern is a new museum of modern and contemporary art coming to life in Saskatoon, a growing city on the vast and ever-changing Canadian Prairies.
Opening in 2017, Remai Modern offers a unique perspective on art and culture in the 21st century, with an eye on the future.
Remai Modern is a thought leader and direction-setting art museum 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.
Remai Modern is...
- Defined by artists, and supports their work and vision to the fullest extent.
- Committed to interrogating the idea of “modern” from multiple cultural, historical and contemporary positions.
- Respectful of Canada’s Indigenous communities and aims to be a leading centre for contemporary Indigenous art and discourse.
- A leader in developing new models for sharing knowledge and engaging diverse communities.
- A platform for rethinking the role of the 21st-century art museum.
- A museum that invites everyone to actively participate in the artistic process.
Courtesy of University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, Henry Kalen fonds.
University of Regina Archives & Special Collections, Ken Lochhead Fonds, 86-29.
Remai Modern is informed by the rich culture and history of the Prairies, including Indigenous artists and nations, distinct modernist influences, and a legacy of progressive support for the arts.
Indigenous Land and Culture
The province now known as Saskatchewan has long been home to the Plains Cree, Woodland Cree, Swampy Cree, Dakota, Lakota, Nakota (Assiniboine), Saulteaux and Dene First Nations. Remai Modern is located in Treaty 6 Plains Cree territory and the traditional homeland of the Métis. The museum respectfully acknowledges the historic and ongoing care of these lands, and affirms The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Keeping in close dialogue with Indigenous artists and communities, Remai Modern endeavours to be a leading centre for contemporary Indigenous art and discourse.
Art in Saskatchewan
Saskatchewan has a history of progressive politics and support for the arts.
In 1944, the province elected the first democratic-socialist government in North America, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. In 1948 the Saskatchewan Arts Board was founded to provide vital funding to artists in all disciplines. At the time, it was only the second agency of its kind in the world.
Saskatchewan’s art history demonstrates an often self-conscious and experimental attitude. In the 1950s and 60s, influential modern artists and critics flocked to the Emma Lake artist workshops, just north of Saskatoon. Workshop leaders, including Clement Greenberg, Kenneth Noland, Barnett Newman, Donald Judd, Frank Stella, Anthony Caro and John Cage responded to the wilderness landscape and introduced new concepts. These retreats had a lasting impact on regional aesthetics, and fostered exchanges between Canadian artists and the international art world. Generations of Saskatchewan artists have incorporated abstraction and the landscape into their work, alongside other visions of folk, pop, funk, new media and performance art.
The Mendel Art Gallery
In 1940, entrepreneur, philanthropist and art collector Frederick Mendel fled Nazi Germany and came to Saskatoon with his family. He envisioned a place for the public to access art and culture, and in 1964, with buy-in from the city and province, the Mendel Art Gallery opened its doors in a modernist building on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River.
The inaugural exhibition featured works by international artists including Franz Marc, George Grosz, Juan Gris, Marc Chagall, Georges Braque, and Francis Picabia, and important Canadian modernists such as Emily Carr, Lawren Harris, William Perehudoff, and Eli Bornstein.
In 1965, the Mendel family donated 13 paintings to form the nucleus for the permanent collection, including work by prominent Canadian modernists. This foundational gift shaped five decades of collecting activity with strengths in Canadian and regional art practices. The collection now totals more than 8,000 works by artists of local, national and international significance. Notable artists include: John Baldessari, Bob Boyer, Georges Braque, Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, Anthony Caro, Marcel Dzama, Larry Fink, General Idea, Jack Goldstein, Dan Graham, Rodney Graham, Ken Lum, Louis Marcoussis, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Michael Snow and Nancy Spero. This valuable resource for research and exhibitions will be designated as the “Mendel Art Gallery Collection at Remai Modern.”
Between 1964-2015, the Mendel Art Gallery presented a unique and timely program, gaining a national reputation for its exhibitions and achieving one of the highest per-capita attendance rates in Canada.
In 2009, Saskatoon’s growth and the physical limitations of the Mendel prompted plans to build a new museum. In 2013, construction began on a site in south downtown, as part of a newly developed River Landing.
board members Keitha McClocklin and Alain Gaucher.
Gift of the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation, 2012. © Picasso Estate / SODRAC (2016)
Purchased with the support of the Mendel Art Gallery Foundation, 2014. Photo: Jan Faukner.
Grants program, 2015. Photo: Tom Arban.
In 2011, Saskatoon entrepreneur and philanthropist Ellen Remai announced a donation of $30 million to the new museum on behalf of the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation, to support construction and enhance the exhibition program.
In recognition of this generosity—unprecedented in Saskatchewan, and one of the largest private donations to the arts in Canadian history—Saskatoon City Council unanimously voted to name the museum in Ellen Remai’s honour.
In 2012, the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation donated 405 linocuts by Pablo Picasso—the most comprehensive collection in the world—to Remai Modern. Art specialist and philanthropist Frederick Mulder complemented the gift in 2014, with the donation of an additional linocut and 23 ceramic pieces by this iconic modern artist.
“Through the Picasso linocuts, Ellen Remai brought something of great significance to Saskatchewan. This gift was foundational to the development of Remai Modern’s vision: to be a stage on which globally circulating knowledge is infused with a locally relevant perspective.”
— Gregory Burke, Executive Director & CEO
Gregory Burke was appointed as Remai Modern’s first Executive Director & CEO in 2013, bringing an international perspective and dynamic vision to the museum. Burke is widely respected for his past programming and direction at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Zealand and the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto. In 2015, Sandra Guimarães, previously of the Serralves Museum in Porto, Portugal, was appointed Director of Programs & Chief Curator, rounding out the international experience of the senior leadership team.
Building on the legacy of the Mendel Art Gallery, Remai Modern is setting a new direction for art in Saskatchewan. With increased capacity and a diverse team, Remai Modern is advancing as Canada’s museum of modern art.
Remai Modern’s new building was designed for transformative experiences. The museum’s spaces were thoughtfully developed for art and people, recognizing that both are variable and unpredictable.
From its placement on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River, Remai Modern connects architecturally with a Prairie Modern style and responds to the low, flat topography of the landscape. Parts of the exterior will be clad in a mesh screen of copper, a material inspiration from the nearby Bessborough Hotel, an architectural landmark built by the Canadian National Railway in 1932.
Inside and out, the museum has a human dimension, with sensitivity to materials, light and scale. It provides intimate spaces as well as dramatic expanses, with an atrium and outdoor terraces offering stunning views of the river and sky. Art experiences will animate the building throughout.
The ground floor of the museum will always be free to the public, featuring large-scale art commissions, a changing gallery space, and an active learning studio. This floor also provides lively environments for gathering, with a fireplace and open lounge areas, cutting-edge art and design store, and exceptional restaurant.
The second and third floors contain a variety of spaces for programming, including collection galleries, a Picasso gallery and sizeable spaces for temporary and internationally touring exhibitions. Films, performances and talks will be hosted in a fully outfitted 150-seat theatre.
A variety of multi-use spaces are found on every floor, and will be available for happenings, performances, members’ nights, private rentals and community events.
A bold architectural statement where the river meets downtown, Remai Modern has a dramatic impact on Saskatoon’s skyline. Capturing the spirit of this fast-growing city, the museum will be gathering place for the community, a draw for visitors from the rest of Canada and the world, and a cultural legacy for future generations.
Remai Modern’s building was designed by Bruce Kuwabara of the renowned Canadian architectural firm KPMB. The museum won a 2011 Award of Excellence from Canadian Architect magazine, well before construction began.
Kuwabara’s career has been marked by a commitment to environmental sustainability, and a distinct sensitivity to the needs of arts and cultural institutions. His projects of note include the Gardiner Museum, Toronto; TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto; Canada’s National Ballet School, Toronto; Art Gallery of Hamilton; and the Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa.
Remai Modern’s visual identity, including logo, website, printed matter, signage and wayfinding, was designed by karlssonwilker, Inc., the New York studio of Hjalti Karlsson and Jan Wilker. Together with renowned Art Director Sandra Shizuka and recent addition Kenny Batu, they work with an eclectic international mix of cultural and commercial clients.
karlssonwilker fosters a culture of openness, playful curiosity and sincerness that is reflected in their output, leading to close relationships with clients and within the tight-knit studio team.
Studio v-a is the development partner of the website.
While developing the visual identity for Remai Modern, karlssonwilker explored a wide range of approaches. Very gradually, the "lower/UPPER" direction emerged as the best expression of Remai Modern's intention to embrace critique and constantly question itself. The lower and upper case initials are a built-in reminder for the museum to avoid being clearly defined, from within or by others.
Saskatoon has a large and growing population of Indigenous people, and Remai Modern is located on Treaty 6 territory. A dialog is actively sought with the Indigenous leaders in the region. The addition of Cree syllabics (phonetical “Saskatchewan”) to the vocabulary of the identity serves as signifier for the museum's location and ambition to be a leading centre for contemporary Indigenous art and discourse.
While rummaging around the Saskatoon Public Library during one of their research trips, the designers stumbled upon an issue of the Saskatoon Sentinel, a handwritten local newspaper from 1884 (back then, the one original was handed around from household to household). Bringing its energetic amateurishness into 2016, the idiosyncratic layout became the starting point for Remai Modern’s program-related design.
Remai Modern gratefully acknowledges contributions to support building construction from: