Honoring Dr. Ferdinand Eckhardt
Stephen Borys, Director and CEO, exhibition curator
There are actually more than one hundred works in this exhibition. Faced with the quandary of how best to represent the WAG’s collection in this historic undertaking, I selected ten of the Gallery’s most significant paintings, bringing the total pieces in the exhibition and accompanying catalogue to one-hundred-ten. The addition of six paintings from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Walker Art Center may seem to buck the exclusivity of Canadian loans for 100 Masters. However, the long-standing relationship between Winnipeg and Minneapolis, including collaborations between the WAG and these two institutions, is one that warrants special status on the occasion of our centennial. In 1970, the year the Gallery prepared to move into its new home on Memorial Boulevard, Canada’s Consulate in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was opened, one of six established across the United States that year. Aside from the current twenty billion dollars in trade between Canada and Minnesota, and the six hundred thousand Canadians who travel to the state each year, there is the long record of cultural exchanges between Winnipeg and Minneapolis.
When Vienna-born Ferdinand Eckhardt became the director of the WAG in 1953, he launched the Gallery into the modern era and eventually into its first permanent home. With his directorship came a renewed focus on building the permanent collection and expanding the exhibitions program. While he often turned to other Canadian museums for loans and partnerships, he also looked to opportunities in Minneapolis, the closest metropolis to Winnipeg with an international art collection. Recalling his first days as director, Eckhardt wrote: “My tendency was to show art of the highest possible quality, and when I looked around in the west of Canada, there was no art museum of any standard. Everything else was in the east, in Toronto, more than a thousand miles away.” He wanted to make the WAG a centre for Canadian and international art, and he did this by bringing world-class art to Winnipeg through acquisitions, loans, and touring exhibitions. I think that 100 Masters honours Dr. Eckhardt’s legacy by presenting artwork of the “highest possible quality” from twenty-eight museums across Canada and two American institutions. It is worth the trip; in fact it may take you a few trips to really experience – and enjoy – this special collection of artworks.