The new gallery is the latest iteration of Sarnia’s public gallery initiatives, which originally began in the late 1910s and early 1920s with library exhibitions of artists including members of the Group of Seven. Most recently, the institution was known as Gallery Lambton, which was its moniker since 1991.
The gallery’s new name pays tribute to the Judith and Norman Alix Foundation, which donated $1.5 million towards the purpose-built Category A facility. (The overall budget for the new building was approximately $10 million.)
More than 2,000 people in the county of 128,000 came out for the grand opening festivities from October 5 to 7, with the gallery then closing from October 8 to 12 and reopening for regular public activities on Saturday, October 13.
Opening exhibitions include The Diversions, a commission by Montreal artist Adad Hannah. To create the work, Hannah has been visiting Sarnia for two years, collaborating with local teens and children to manifest a school-house brawl/prison-break narrative in tableaux vivant form.
As Hannah told Canadian Art earlier this year, “The work ends up being a bit humorous and a bit eerie, like a skit or a school play broken apart into frozen scenes.”
Vancouver’s Ben Skinner, who was raised in the Sarnia area, has returned to the region with “Something Had to Be Done,” an exhibition of interventions in the gallery and community that draw on his childhood memories. It includes a light work viewable from the street that states “Show Me With Your Arms How Much,” a wristband handed out to the first 500 gallery visitors, and the web project askmeaboutmyfirsttime.com.
The other opening exhibitions are “Canada on Canvas,” organized by the Winnipeg Art Gallery, which looks at painting in Canada from the 1840s to the 1970s, and “Core Sample: Points of Departure,” featuring selections from the 1,100-work permanent collection ranging from the Group of Seven to the Painters Eleven.
The 18,000-square-foot JNAAG is housed in what was once a Saks—Sarnia’s Thom Building, built in 1893 by local photographer Major John Strathearn Thom to accommodate his photography studio. The new facility was designed by Alar Kongats of Toronto’s Kongats Architects.
This article was corrected on October 17, 2012. The initial text incorrectly stated that Gallery Lambton had not been a Category A facility; it also referred to Saks as “Saks Fifth Avenue.”