As you take the elevator up to the second floor of the Pavilion at Assiniboine Park, there’s a sense of adventure. Over the entire second and third floors stretches the WAG@ThePark exhibit.
Started in 2016, the Assiniboine Park Conservancy partnered with the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) to bring free WAG-curated exhibitions to the public.
The current exhibits include works by English-Canadian artist Walter J. Phillips and Saskatchewan-born artist Ivan Eyre. As well, the Community Gallery is currently playing host to Through the Eyes of a Child and the Pooh Gallery features the exhibit The Best Bear in All the World: The Many Sides of Winnie-the-Pooh.
Phillips’s exhibit, curated by Nicole Fletcher and located on the second floor in the John P. Crabb Gallery, showcases the natural and art nouveau elements of the late painter’s vast collection.
Reading as a love letter to the Canadian wilderness, Phillips’s work is spectacular — taking you from the grandest mountains to the intricate delicacy of water lilies floating on a pond and a simple sunset over Lake of the Woods in Ontario. These are all paintings to see in real life, the depth of the clouds and skylines looking as real as a photograph.
There are also many nods to Manitoba, and even Winnipeg, in Phillips’s work. Most impressively, you can hear the rushing waters in his river paintings and feel the bitter cold in his winter landscapes.
The John P. Crabb Gallery is immense, but there are plenty of places to sit and take in the gallery — perfect for moments of reflection as you take in Phillips’s visual accomplishments of the sublime.
There are also ceramic collections from the WAG scattered throughout the gallery, giving a nice variety of art nouveau objects complimenting the paintings in the room.
The Pooh Gallery is across the hall from the Phillips exhibit. The gallery is alive in bold and bright colours of yellow and green, announcing the playfulness of the exhibit.
You are immediately confronted by the commercialism of Winnie-the-Pooh — a display of collectibles greeting you as you enter.
The story of the real Winnie the bear and Winnipeg’s Harry Colebourn is told in photographs before transitioning into the fictional Winnie-the-Pooh’s story, alongside photographs of Winnie-the-Pooh author A. A. Milne.
Inviting you to spend time reflecting on fond childhood memories, two comfortable reading chairs frame the famous painting of Pooh himself by Ernest H. Shepard.
Leaving the Pooh Gallery, the Community Gallery’s Through the Eyes of a Child exhibit is steps away. The exhibit is a delight with nearly every version of artistic creation — collage, painting, needlepoint, 3D art and pottery — made by children enrolled in the WAG Studio’s art classes.
Travelling up to the third floor, the Ivan Eyre exhibit loudly announces itself the moment the elevator doors open. Even though the gallery is a large space, it’s stifling. The exhibit immediately confronts you with image upon image of naked women.
This current collection of Eyre’s art arguably perpetuates age-old myths of women as nature and women as sexualized objects. Though the exhibit intends to combat Eyre’s obsessive art of the naked female body — Audrey Bews curated the exhibit with paintings from five female artists in order to fight the male gaze of Eyre’s work — a breast for a breast makes constructive criticism blind.
Even with the best intentions in mind, there isn’t enough of the five female artists’ work to combat the entirety of Eyre’s collection.
Ultimately, each exhibit at WAG@ThePark leaves you swimming in your thoughts to reflect and contemplate, as well as makes you anticipate the ideas of what the next exhibits will bring.
For more information on the current exhibits, go to assiniboinepark.ca.