Once upon a time, in a far away lab

By Gurman Sahota

Fables and monsters and genetics, oh my! In the Glenbow Museum’s newest exhibit, viewers are treated to an extraordinary display of creativity through the works of both national and international artists. They have transformed the tame, watered-down Disney stories we know today into the raw and mature tales of caution and danger they were originally — with added panache of genetically mutated creations and a healthy dose of monsters. 

Fairy Tales, Monsters and the Genetic Imagination is a high concept art exhibit featuring works of artists from Canada and around the world. The exhibit is originally from Nashville’s Frist Center for the Visual arts, under the careful care of Mark Scala, but will reside at the Glenbow from September 28 to January 2, courtesy of in-house curator Katherine Ylitalo. 

“People seem to really respond well to it,” says Ylitalo. “We’re glad to have it at the Glenbow, and people should really come down to see it.” 

Ylitalo, who is also an art and art history professor at the University of Calgary, said that curating the exhibit piqued her interest in monsters and the impact they have had on society.

“I want to look at the nature of monsters and how they functioned in society . . . and how they might have worked today,” says Ylitalo. 

The show is host to three 
Canadian artists, including Marcel Dzama, a Winnipeg native turned New Yorker, who created La Verdad Está Muerta (The Truth is Dead). It features wooden marionettes of Pinocchio with his nose extended, and is one of the most popular pieces in the gallery. Another featured Canadian artist is David Altmejd, the creator of Sans titre. L’idée dure de l’homme lui sort par la tête (Untitled. Man’s hard idea comes out of his head). It is a very intricate bust of a businessman with the head of a chicken, and is another patron favourite. The works of other well-known artists can be seen throughout the display, such as a monstrous piece by the influential American photographer Cindy Sherman. 

The gallery starts slowly, easing the spectator into a path of whimsy and wonder. But then the fairy tales begin to fluidly move into the realm of monsters and then into a more abstract area of genetic mutations. With so many pieces displayed, it is possible for the Glenbow’s visitors to walk away with many different interpretations of the exhibition’s message. For example, one of the prevailing themes is parasitism, and it is left to the viewer to discover meaning in this motif.

“[Many of the pieces] show one thing feeding off another,” says Ylitalo. “It just gets the mind making connections.” 

The Frist Center released information about a possible second show in the same vein, with the current exhibit becoming the first of a potential trilogy. Ylitalo mentions that the museum would indeed be interested in future shows, which will take about two to three years to come to fruition. 

“We would absolutely be interested,” says Ylitalo. “We’ve had a great relationship with the Frist, and it would be wonderful if we could continue that.”


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