Calgary’s ‘dome’ artwork by internationally renowned artist Marianna Gartner saved! Will be preserved by new tenants, The National Bank

Art treasure will live on by Jessica Ernst, May 14, 2016, Calgary Herald

Re: “Dome mural will be preserved, says new tenant of ATB building,” May 13.

Many thanks to Eric Volmers for his excellent reporting on Marianna Gartner’s dome artwork, and to the Herald for publishing it. A grand, heart-lifting example of how a little media coverage can go a long way.

Infinite gratitude to property manager Morguard and writer Alberto Manguel for raising the alarm, and to the National Bank for promptly looking into the matter and saying it will preserve the Gartner mural.

Thanks to them and the Calgary Herald, an Alberta treasure is saved.

Jessica Ernst, Rosebud

Dome mural will be preserved, says new tenant of Stephen Avenue ATB building by Eric Volmers, May 12, 2016, Calgary Herald 

1996 Calgary Dome 8 Panel Mural painting by Marianna Gartner, photo by Zoltan Varadi

The new tenant of a downtown ATB building says it will preserve the dome mural by renowned painter Marianna Gartner, and said it isn’t clear why an e-mail was sent directly to the artist from the building’s property manager stating the artwork would be painted over.

Renovations of the Stephen Avenue building, built for ATB Financial in 1996, will begin in mid-June for the new tenant, The National Bank. But Meghan Meger, president of National Bank’s Private Banking 1859, said they have no plans to destroy the mural.

“Preservation of Canadian art, and western Canadian art, is very important,” Meger said. “The National Bank actually has the largest modern-art collection in Canada. I reached out to our art curator in reference to the work and to familiarize ourselves with (Gartner’s) work.”

Meghan said the conversations between the property manager, Morguard, and the corporate real-estate group that manages projects for The National Bank “were at a very high level” and final details of design have yet to be determined. She was reluctant to speculate on why the email was sent to Gartner last week, but said it was the result of some sort of miscommunication. When Meger read a story in Thursday’s Herald about the mural being at risk, she called her superiors at the National Bank to ensure they knew of the artwork and the importance of it being preserved.

“As an Albertan, of course this is very, very meaningful,” Meger said. “As soon as I read it, that was my initial reaction: ‘Oh my goodness, stop the presses.’ This is important, not only for Calgarians, but Canadians.”

The news came as a relief to Gartner, the Winnipeg-born, Calgary-raised painter who won a provincewide competition to create the mural back in 1996. The massive, eight-panel work was meant to represent Calgary’s diversity and the artist created the work on rolling scaffolds and ladders 30 metres off the ground.

In the past 20 years, Gartner’s reputation in the contemporary art world has grown dramatically, particularly in Europe. Her paintings have fetched more than $50,000 at auction and she has held solo shows in Prague, Berlin, Vienna and Zurich.

“When it was on my Facebook a lot of people, who I hadn’t heard from in awhile, were sending messages saying they had heard about it,” said Gartner, who now lives in Victoria. “So it was kind of nice that people rallied quite quickly.”

Calgary’s ‘dome’ artwork by internationally renowned artist Marianna Gartner at risk of being painted over by Eric Volmers, May 12, 2016, Calgary Herald

It’s one of Calgary’s hidden artistic gems created by an internationally renowned painter, but Marianna Gartner’s work in a downtown building could be painted over next month.

In 1996, Gartner won a province-wide competition held by architecture firm Culham Pedersen Valentine to create a mural in the dome of the newly constructed Alberta Treasury Branch on Stephen Avenue.

But the artist said she received an e-mail last week from property manager Morguard saying that ATB Financial is moving out of the three-storey building and the new tenants were planning to paint over the dome.

“When I got the email it was a bit of a punch in the stomach when I read it,” says Gartner, in an interview from her home in Victoria. “It doesn’t seem that long ago when it did it, but it has been almost 20 years. I always thought ‘What if some day, someone paints over it?’ But I thought it would happen when I was 85 or something and completely forgotten. This was kind of out of the blue. ”

Gartner isn’t likely to be forgotten any time soon. Since painting the mural 20 years ago, her reputation as grown substantially in the art world, particularly in Europe.

In the past five years she has held solo exhibitions in Prague, Berlin, Vienna and Zurich. Born in Winnipeg, Gartner moved to Calgary when she was a young child. She has become well-known for her wonderfully strange, and occasionally eerie, paintings that are often inspired by early photographs. Her paintings can fetch more than $50,000 at auction and many are in the collection of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts.

The dome painting, which she didn’t name but was referred to as The Rotunda Dome Mural, Alberta Treasury Branch, was her first major commission.

Gartner said it was a blessing at the time because she needed the money. Scared of heights, she nevertheless did the work 30 metres off the ground, perched on a precarious combination of rolling scaffolds and ladders.

1996 Marianna Gartner working on the Calgary dome mural, photo by Zoltan Varadi

The eight-panel work was meant to represent Calgary’s diversity. The figures were inspired by old mug shots the artist got from the Calgary Police Department, old family photos and random photographs she had picked up at flea markets.

“They represent different people of the province: Native, African, European, Chinese,” she said. “There’s a changing sky behind it that goes from day to night.”

Alberto Manguel, an Argentine-Canadian essayist and novelist who became familiar with Gartner’s work when serving as the University of Calgary’s writer-in-residence in the late 1990s, said the city would lose a significant piece of artwork if it were to be painted over.

He wrote about Gartner in his 2001 book, Reading Pictures: A History of Love and Hate, alongside essays on Picasso and classical painter Philoxenus of Eretria.

“I hope this can be saved,” said Manguel, in an interview from New York City. “Especially because it is so emblematic of Calgary, even if it wasn’t well known. The depiction of the people who founded Calgary, who lived there, who are Calgary — she got it so right.”

Manguel’s writing about Gartner helped put the artist in the spotlight internationally. She was the only Canadian artist he wrote about in his book.

“Her work is very important and recognized, mainly outside of Canada,” he said.

Gartner said she was grateful to receive an e-mail from the property manager last week at Morguard letting her know that the mural would be painted over by the new tenant in mid-June, as it gave her time to get some more photos of it. Still, she says that painting over it seems “unnecessary.”

“When (the bank) opened, I remember one of the architects on the job told me he had gone into the bank and some German tourists were lying on their backs looking up at it,” Gartner says.

Herald calls to the Alberta office of Morguard were not returned. A spokesperson from Morguard’s Corporate Marketing office responded to an e-mail from the Herald, saying the company is “working on getting clarification” on the matter. No more information was forthcoming as of press time.


Heather Edin · Pigeon Lake Regional High School
These new tenants need to be re-educated !! This talented artwork conveys who we are, …who lives here ! No matter “how” old this painting is, …it’s part of our heritage.

Marilee Sharpe
Who are the new tenants and why are they against public art?

Marianna Gartner’s Facebook Page

One of the comments:

Steve Gin I’m sitting underneath Marianna’s dome right now. It horrifies me not only that a work by such a significant artist might be destroyed, but also that such a powerful visual representation of Alberta’s ethnic diversity be obliterated. Or maybe that’s the problem the new occupants have with it. I’d like to think they would reconsider if they understood the sigificance of this work.

Marianna Gartner’s Website

[Refer also to:

FrackingCanada Slick Water, The Devil is in the Details

Slick Water is a true-life noir filled with corruption, incompetence, and, ultimately, courage. It is a deeply informative, disturbing, and important book.

—Elizabeth Kolbert, 2015 Pulitzer Prize Winning author of The Sixth Extinction

Slick Water Excerpt

Oil and gas companies made a lot of mistakes in those days, and Ernst dutifully cleaned up many of them. She made sure that roads and fences were repaired, that land was reclaimed, that livestock was replaced, and that landowners were properly paid for their leases. When Ernst started in the business, she recalls, companies such as PanCanadian, a regular client, readily admitted to their errors and hired people to set things right with landowners. “Now,” she says, “the industry is in total denial about everything.”

Denial takes many forms, as Ernst knows all too well. She collects art, or at least she did. She has twenty pieces by Marianna Gartner, a great contemporary painter. All are slated to be sold to fund the lawsuit. Gartner, born in Winnipeg, takes old photos and uses them to create otherworldly portraits of “disturbing ordinariness.”

Some of her recent paintings display skeletal remains and organic matter together. For Ernst, the skeletons “remind us how empty our bodies really are, and what is important is our spirit.” A painting called Skull Girl covers most of Ernst’s living-room wall. It shows a young girl in a white dress skipping a rope on the lone prairie. A human skull covers the girl’s face. Ernst bought the painting the same year Encana fracked local aquifers. She believes that in Skull Girl, Gartner unwittingly captured the state of Ernst herself as a nine-year-old. Ernst says that’s the year she died inside.

2015 09 03 Slick Water by Andrew Nikiforuk, Ground Zero Book Launch and Tour

Photo of Ernst with Gartner’s Skull Girl, Image by FrackingCanada

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