Title page of the exhibition catalogue to the Winnipeg Museum of Fine Arts opening exhibition, 1912

WAG Painting in the Park students, c. 1960.

The WAG Century

Through 2012 and 2013 Canada’s oldest civic art gallery celebrates its first one hundred years. The WAG Century is an anniversary exhibition that explores the complex and exciting history of the Winnipeg Art Gallery from 1912 to the present day. 

In 1912 Winnipeg stood at an historical peak. Business was booming and civic optimism was at an all- time high. Winnipeg was the country’s third largest city, and while it stretched the truth, rumour had it that more millionaires lived here than in any other place in Canada. Yet it was also a city that had grown up virtually overnight. Even while its architecture bespoke a “Chicago of the North,” Winnipeg lacked arts institutions. The establishment of an art gallery on December 16 1912 helped solidify Winnipeg’s reputation as not only an economic “Gateway to the West,” but a cultural one as well.

The WAG Century investigates the Gallery’s history through four overlapping “lenses,” beginning with an overview of the three different structures that have housed the WAG since 1912. These range from the Winnipeg Industrial Bureau Exposition Building—the city’s early seat of commercial enterprise—to the third floor of the Winnipeg Civic Auditorium—then a hub of high culture and popular entertainment and today the home of Manitoba Archives—to the current landmark building with an international reputation.

The exhibition also pays tribute to the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s vital human building blocks. A wall of photographs will introduce audiences and pay homage to key individuals who have played important roles in making the WAG the place it is today, from Board Presidents to Directors and staff, committed volunteers to generous financial and artistic donors.

In the third lens The WAG Century unfolds the history of the Gallery through an archival timeline of impressive exhibition and programming initiatives. Through a display of catalogues, ephemera, and photographs audiences will have the opportunity to revisit defining exhibitions from Inuit carving to artefacts from the tomb of Tutankhamen to the work of Vincent Van Gogh. Visitors will also discover a Gallery activated by art-making and creative thinking. From the earliest Saturday Morning Art Classes for children to today’s rich array of Studio Programs, from envelope-pushing film screenings to lectures by world renowned minds, the WAG has always been a multifaceted centre of artistic exposure.    

Finally, the exhibition will illuminate stories behind key works within the WAG’s 26,000-object collection. Through a series of displays, which will rotate periodically throughout the year, visitors will be connected with the first art work purchased for the collection, momentous windfall acquisitions, works donated by historically significant personalities, as well as those pieces that stirred public controversy.    

The WAG Century represents the first time the Gallery has mounted an exhibition focusing on its own history. It is an exhibition that not only unveils the past but, just as importantly, helps build the momentum that propels the Winnipeg Art Gallery forward into its second century.

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