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Kent Monkman's The Collapsing Of Time And Space In An Ever-Expanding Universe is one of the works of art that will be exhibited at the Maison Rouge gallery in Paris.

JOHN WOODS/john woods The Globe and Mail

The Centre of the World is found at the corner of Portage Avenue and Colony Street, just inside the doors of the newly opened Buhler Centre.

The art installation, the full title of which is Pole to Mark the Centre of the World (At Winnipeg), is by the U.S. artist Jimmie Durham. Sitting outside Winnipeg's Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art, it seems to have accurately located the new focal point of the Canadian art scene.

Next month, the gallery will co-present an exhibit called My Winnipeg at the Maison Rouge gallery in Paris. The Manitoba capital will be the first star of a series of annual exhibitions highlighting the art of cities around the globe.

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Approximately 200 works by 70 artists will be in the show, which will include the likes of Kent Monkman, Guy Maddin and Daniel Barrow.

It's the latest coup for Plug In, a contemporary art space that has created an artistic hub in an unlikely urban setting.

"It's an affirmation that the work that's being done here is relevant and carries meaning beyond a particular locality," said director Anthony Kiendl. "It's great exposure for the artists and for Plug In."

The gallery will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year, but its attendance has risen dramatically since it moved into a sparkling new building on Portage last fall. With a long history of innovative curation, the gallery is also profiting from the city's determination to revitalize its downtown and promote existing cultural attractions at a time when there is a good chance that the NHL will soon return to Winnipeg after a 15-year absence. A $4-million fundraising campaign launched by Plug In two years ago has already garnered $3.3-million, and the gallery is a darling of Canadian art publications.

The invitation to Paris came through Hervé Di Rosa, a French painter and gallery owner who had apparently developed an obsession with Mr. Maddin, the Winnipeg-born filmmaker, illustrator Marcel Dzama and the Royal Art Lodge, a former art collective co-founded by Mr. Dzama.

Curious about the city that produced these idols, Mr. Di Rosa visited Winnipeg and Plug In two years ago and soon arranged for the Paris show, which will be followed by an exhibit at his own gallery in Sète, in the south of France.

"It started as an obsession," said Paul Butler, one of the artists whose work will be featured in the show. "And now we've developed this incredible relationship."

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Mr. Butler, who sat on the gallery's board for 10 years, will travel to France next month, along with Mr. Maddin, Mr. Kiendl and Plug In president Noam Gonick, who was one of the show's six curators. About 20 Winnipeg art enthusiasts have also signed up to make the trip.

"Winnipeg's just been gaining momentum. I keep secretly fearing it's just a trend, but it's really being taken seriously on an international level and it's right up there with all the big art centres," said Mr. Butler. "For a city of that size it's just amazing the amount of artists it's produced."

The Paris exhibit will feature a bilingual publication in the format of a travel guide, introducing gallery-goers to Winnipeg's geographic and historical details, as well as each of the individual artists.

Plug In has become a central part of Winnipeg's cultural scene, especially since moving into its new gallery on the main floor of the Buhler Centre, an eye-catching triangular glass building that officially opened last November.

Located next to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the new Plug In space occupies the site of a former army surplus store and shares the building with the University of Winnipeg.

This week, the gallery will open an exhibit by Frontrunners, a group of native artists known as the Aboriginal Group of Seven.

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Mr. Kiendl said that Manitoba artists are generally regarded as reflective of a style known as Prairie Surrealism, but the city has produced a wide range of work from video to illustration and film.

With a temperature-controlled main exhibition space, Plug In has also become a popular destination for international artists.

In June, a group of artists from South America, France and Iceland will arrive for the gallery's summer residency. Now in its third year, the program aims to bring the art world to Winnipeg, strengthening the gallery's connections around the globe in the process.

"They're always surprised; they never know what to expect at all," Mr. Kiendl said of the artists. "Most people have heard of Winnipeg, but they can't really locate it on a map."

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