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Major art exhibition coming to Sarnia

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Cathy Dobson

Gallery officials are calling it a game changer.

“This is the big one,” says Lisa Daniels, curator of the publicly-owned Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery in downtown Sarnia.

“This is why we’ve worked so hard for the past three years to build a gallery that has a Category A status.”

In eight months, the Christina Street venue will host a travelling exhibition featuring 75 paintings from the famed Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

It’s a world-class show with the “crème de la crème” of Canadian works, including Cornelius Krieghoff, Emily Carr, Tom Thompson and the Group of Seven, says curatorial assistant Darryn Doull.

The exhibition also features paintings by renowned European artists from the 16th to the early 20th centuries, including Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse and Lucian Freud.

Dali’s Santiago El Grande is a giant masterpiece measuring about 13 X 10 feet, and is one of the superstars of Masterworks from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.

“Many of the works are familiar, so familiar they’ll give you goosebumps to stand in front of them,” Doull told a recent Central Forum presentation.

The gallery has been preparing for Masterworks since learning in 2013 it had won a slot on the tour.

Sarnia’s $10.3-million public art gallery is relatively new. It opened in 2012 and is still trying to raise the final 15% of its $3-million capital campaign.

The three-storey gallery has attracted about 20,000 visitors a year to exhibitions and programs, which is about the same numbers that visited when it was located in the nearby Bayside Mall.

There’s been criticism in the community that the gallery isn’t busy enough and that it cost too much.

Daniels believes the Masterworks show will put those concerns to bed.

Though still eight months from now, inquiries have begun from motorcoach tour companies, she said.

“We expect there will be so much interest that we’ll have timed entry only. Otherwise we won’t be able to fit everyone in,” said Daniels.

General admission will be free but paid entry is also planned for people who want exclusive viewing.

“Beaverbrook will be the exhibition that will prove the case for cultural tourism and our ability to draw people to downtown Sarnia,” said Daniels’ boss, Robert Tremain, general manager of Lambton County’s cultural services.

“It’s something you’d normally have to go to the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) or some other large gallery to see.”

In fact, Sarnia is the only regional stop on the exhibit’s three-year tour of North America.

The cost to bring the Masterworks show to Sarnia for four months is $50,000. That’s about the same as what the gallery would spend to exhibit several smaller shows over that time.

“So at the end of the day, this has the potential to be a wash in terms of budget,” said Tremain.  “We’ll have tour groups and souvenir sales too. We’re very excited about it.”

WHAT: The Masterworks exhibition from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery collection.

WHERE: Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery, Christina Street.

WHEN: Oct. 2, 2015 to Feb. 7, 2016.

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