The institutions of café and gallery go so well together that many small towns have combined the two, ensuring that no roadtripper can stop to use the facilities and consume a homemade donut without being exposed to the local creatives’ wildlife paintings. They’re in cities too, these establishments, and why shouldn’t they be? Galleries are too often sterile and filled with pompous scensters, and café owners can’t all have bare walls.
Problems arise, though, when café owners choose their own art or gallery directors try to run a restaurant. Managerial talent and aesthetic sensibility, it seems, rarely coexist. That’s why Stella’s Café on Osborne recruited Gillian King, a thesis-year fine arts student at the University of Manitoba, to decorate their walls for them.
King was curating the ongoing exhibition of SOFA students’ work at Edna Fedya, the Smartpark cafeteria owned by Stella’s, when she got the call to do something similar at Stella’s on Osborne. She responded with Gallery Ingenue, a student-centric exhibition space with shows that change monthly.
King says the name — a French loanword meaning innocent or naïve — is meant to reflect the featured artists’ youth and promise. In King’s words, ingenue is “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.”
While the artists featured aren’t all students, most are past or present members of the U of M’s fine arts faculty. The current show, for example, features the work of SOFA students Lauren McPhaden, Jill Peters and Julie Coss, as well as the Manitoban’s Graphics Editor, Leanne Roed, a graduate of the U of M’s fine arts program.
The current show at Gallery Ingenue is called Canadiana, and it’s easy to see why. It’s packed with outdoor themes and symbols of Canada. One of McPhaden’s works, for example, features a bison staring defiantly out at the viewer; a piece by Jill Peters shows a bonfire in progress (maybe that’s not exclusively Canadian, but it is outdoorsy, which is how we Canadians seem to like to see ourselves) and one of Roed’s wall sculptures features the jawbone of a caribou.
King’s curating approach has been casual thus far, and her academic network has proved essential. “I’ve basically just been asking people whose work I think will fit well with a theme,” she explained. It was in this manner that Canadiana was conceived, said King: “I was talking to Jill, and we were looking at her work. There’s a lot of kind of hunting themes, lots of barren land and snow, so we were thinking ‘Canadiana’ was a good word to describe that. I thought of Leanne right after that and the work that she was doing while she was in school here.”
Gallery Ingenue and places like it are beneficial to both the arts community and the casual eating crowd, but combining art and eating has some potential drawbacks. For one, art in an eating environment is often understandably subject to some censorship. Not many of us would savour (ha) the prospect of a casserole in the presence of one of Damien Hirst’s sphincter paintings or some pinot grigio next to a hanging print of Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ.” While she understands the potential need for oversight, King says content has not been a problem so far. “They’ve been really accommodating so far,” she said. “There have been no disagreements as to what we can put up, but I think just because there’s kids running through there, you might not want to have the most controversial art in there.”
Despite the potential difficulties, King is intent on bringing more of the gallery to the café. “I try to pick art that you wouldn’t normally see in a restaurant,” she said, citing a summer schedule that includes even video art.
Canadiana is currently exhibiting at Gallery Ingenue. More information on the gallery can be found at galleryingenue.blogspot.com.