Masterworks Opening in the Sarnia Observer
Masterworks from Beaverbrook exhibit opens to the public this Friday
Build it, and the world-class art will come.
Only three years after opening its doors to the public, Sarnia’s Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery unveiled its first world-class exhibit – Masterworks from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery – to local dignitaries Wednesday afternoon.
“I can honestly tell you as warden of Lambton County that I did not in my wildest dreams think we would score one of the three Canadian stops for Beaverbrook Masterworks,” Bev MacDougall told a crowd gathered at Wednesday’s opening reception.
“I never thought we’d make such an early success as we have with this exhibition.”
Seventy-five masterpieces – including Salvador Dali’s four-metre-high “Santiago El Grande” – will be on display for four months of public viewing starting this Friday.
With works dating back as early as 1530, the exhibit features art from the who’s-who of master artists – Matisse, Freud, Delacroix, Gainsborough and Turner, to name a few – all collected by Lord Beaverbrook.
A larger-than-life Canadian entrepreneur and confidante of Sir Winston Churchill, Beaverbrook built a collection of the best American, Canadian and European works using his connections in the arts world.
“Beaverbrook only wanted the very best – the crème de la crème,” said Terry Graff, chief curator of the New Brunswick-based art gallery and its travelling exhibit.
“(Beaverbrook) did everything with purpose. He built the gallery – the Beaverbrook Art Gallery – but also developed the collection with a clear mandate, a vision and put it together as a gift to Canada.”
During his lifetime, Beaverbrook also funded the filming of both world wars, established the war memorials program, and even donated 1,000 works of art to the National Gallery of Canada.
Even after his death in 1964, Beaverbrook has continued to make recent news when his collection become engulfed in an ownership battle between the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation and the gallery in 2004.
But despite the costs associated with the decade-long legal battle finally settled last year, Graff told media Wednesday the public battle actually raised the profile of the collection.
“The 10-year dispute is the best advertising you can buy,” he said. “It put the collection on the international stage.”
Graff has been travelling with the Masterworks exhibit across North America since 2013. Its Sarnia stop, however, will be the only one in central Canada and northeastern United States, with the potential of attracting visitors from both sides of the border.
Tourism Sarnia-Lambton has been working with the local gallery to promote the exhibit. Several school and other group tours have been booked so far.
A full-slate of programming – including a lecture series with art experts – will be offered during the four-month exhibition.
Local businesses have played an important role in the more than a year-long preparation for the show, said Lisa Daniels, curator of the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery.
“We’re working with three of the security companies in Lambton County – Lyndon, Hughes and Ultra Guard – to keep the art work safe 24/7,” she said.
“Preferred Towing was the only towing company in Lambton County who was willing to step out of their box of towing trucks and cars and help us to figure how to get the Dali cart and some of the other things off the truck and into our space without damage.”
For Judith Alix, the county-operated gallery hosting a world-class art exhibit is exactly the vision her late husband Norman had for the old Sak’s building.
She and her husband donated $1.5 million towards the construction of the $10-million gallery.
“(Norman’s) foresight and seeing what was needed in this community – from the library to Bayside Mall to this old building that at one point they wanted to tear down – we preserved, saved the facade, and like the phoenix, this has rose out of the ashes.”
Admission is free to the Masterworks exhibit, but a ticket system is in place with specific entry times to control traffic through the show. Visit masterworksatjnaag.ca to book free tickets and for more information.
IF YOU GO:
What: Masterworks from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery
When: Opens this Friday and runs until Feb. 7, 2016
Where: Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery, 147 Lochiel St.
Hours: Wednesdays and Fridays, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursdays, from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; and Saturdays and Sundays, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Gallery open to 9 p.m. on First Fridays
Admission: Visit masterworksatjnaag.ca to book free tickets