Picasso Bonanza

See a world-class museum where you least expect it — Saskatoon

BY ELAINE GLUSAC — Winter 2018

n the late 1950s, Pablo Picasso became obsessed with linocuts, a printmaking process that uses cut linoleum to create patterns that can be painted and pressed onto paper. Working in the south of France, the master embraced the everyday flooring material as pliable and lightweight compared with woodcuts or etching on metal. As with painting, he brought invention to the medium, using a single piece of linoleum for each image as a pattern was printed then cut again and printed in successive colors from light to dark, resulting in what Christie’s auction house called “some of the most luminous and joyful images in Picasso’s entire oeuvre.”

Now see those radiant works — or at least 406 images, the most comprehensive Picasso linocut collection — in an unlikely locale, Saskatoon, the largest city in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, in the intriguing Remai Modern museum, which just opened in October. Local philanthropist and collector Ellen Remai donated the Picasso linocuts that form the nucleus of a nearly 8,000-piece collection. They newly reside in a 130,000-square-foot modernist downtown building designed by Toronto architect Bruce Kuwabara with cantilevered wings and a mesh exterior that creates Instagrammable light patterns on the polished concrete floors within.

But the Remai, according to executive director and CEO Gregory Burke, will not be defined by its architecture, such as the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain, or limited by its holdings. Contemporary U.K. artist Ryan Gander curated the linocuts shown in the museum’s inaugural exhibition, combining his own work with the Picasso linocuts that influenced him. Running through Feb. 25, the show underscores the museum’s mission “to start a conversation through art that brings the works of 50 to 100 years ago back into the contemporary moment,” says Burke.

Functionally, as well as culturally, the museum aims to become a community nexus. Its entire first floor, home to a welcoming fireplace, a suspended sculptural work from South Korean artist Haegue Yang, and a sizable gallery, is admission-free. Its riverfront restaurant Shift, from Toronto’s distinguished Oliver & Bonacini group, aims to draw visitors during and outside of museum hours. With its combination of art, architecture, and food, the Remai takes its programming cues — including performances and talks — from remote cultural destinations such as Fogo Island in Newfoundland and Marfa, Texas. These are places that, says Burke, “take a day to get there and then take you outside of your bubble. This sense of a journey — I think we have that in Saskatoon.” 306-975-7610; remaimodern.org

AWAY FROM THE MUSEUM

Edged in mustard fields, enriched by the indigenous Cree culture, and enlivened by the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon — the second-youngest city in the country with a median age of 37.7 vs. 41 — is invigorating Canada’s flyover country. Remai Modern is a fitting entrée to a city that will pleasantly surprise and please you with its energy.  Here, your post-museum entertainment plan.

Where to stay: Even when the new Remai-neighbor Alt Hotel Saskatoon opens late this year, the nearby James Hotel will remain the town’s top luxury hotel, home to 59 spacious river- and city-view rooms and suites and an intimate lobby bar stocked with regional beer and wine. From $225. 306-244-6446; thejameshotel.ca

Where to eat: Dale Mackay won TV’s Top Chef Canada in 2011 and two years later moved back home to Saskatoon, where he now runs a trio of thronged downtown restaurants that champion Saskatchewan-grown-and-raised ingredients, including the original Ayden Kitchen & Bar (306-954-2590, aydenkitchenandbar.com). Around the corner, his new pan-Asian spot Sticks and Stones (306-979-1919, sticksandstonesyxe.com) serves rich Japanese ramen, homemade Korean kimchi, and creative cocktails.

Neighborhood to explore: Just blocks from the Remai, the once-scruffy Riversdale neighborhood is quickly filling with new condos while its thoroughfare, 20th Street West, attracts startup retailers and restaurants. Hit the ’hood to order custom-made Oxfords from Last Shoes (306-974-7463, lastshoes.ca), pick up a funky T-shirt from Hardpressed (306-384-5488, hardpressed.ca), have a bite at the new Latin restaurant Picaro (306-242-0116, picaro.ca), and order a nanobrew at the newly expanded 9 Mile Legacy Brewing Co. (306-373-2337, 9milelegacy.com).

What to take home: Grain-farmers-turned-spirits-makers John and Barb Cote opened the farm-to-flask Black Fox Farm & Distillery just two years ago. Last year, it earned the title of best cask gin at the World Gin Awards in London for its spicy, barrel-aged quaff. Try it in the tasting room and take a bottle home for $68. 306-380-6278; blackfoxfarmanddistillery.com

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