Saskatoon’s awe-inspiring new Remai gallery has vast ambitions. But does the overspend and hype about indigenous art justify all the bluster?

‘This isn’t just a gallery, it’s an act of making a city,” says Bruce Kuwabara, founding partner of KPMB Architects, at the opening of the Remai Modern, a vast glass-and-steel art museum in Saskatoon. The C$84.6m (£51m) project would be a major event for any city, let alone a small university town of 250,000 in the wheat-filled Canadian prairies.

Saskatoon is on the cusp of something. It’s the third fastest growing city in Canada, has one of the country’s youngest demographics and its economy is growing (though not as fast as it was). The latter fact is thanks in great part to an oil and gas industry that, controversially, is charged some of the lowest tax rates in the world and has helped create more than 8,000 millionaires in the province of Saskatchewan. The Remai Modern – four horizontal cantilevered volumes in a raised position by the South Saskatchewan river – is also the recipient of one of the biggest philanthropic arts donations in Canadian history.

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