When you think of great art cities of the world you probably don’t think of Vancouver. I don’t really blame you either. There are plenty of cities that outrank Vancouver when it comes to art exhibitions of famed and historic artists. But once in a Pacific blue moon we are treated to historic greats and the art scene in Vancouver becomes even more alive.
As you can probably tell I am not much of a contemporary art lover. I favour nostalgia, artists who have come and gone and the only thing left to do is dig in to their context, their mysteries, their pasts in association with their work. Can you tell I am the nosy one in the family?
But before I get too ahead of myself let me first explain what ArtSmart is. If you’re unfamiliar, we are a group of bloggers who have a passion for travel and art. We write each month usually posting the first Monday on a designated topic or theme. This month we are writing about an art city of our choice. To see what my colleagues have written take a look at the bottom of this post.
As I was saying, Vancouver can get some real art exhibition gems. I was blown away by Vancouver Art Gallery’s Surrealism exhibit in 2011 where I saw my first works by Leonor Fini, Dali’s classic lobster phone, Duchamp’s ready mades and more. Since then I have been pinning for another grand exhibit like this and my calls were answered when the “Cézanne and the Modern” banner was hoisted tightly over the iconic columns of VAG. But during my visit I also found myself eating my words and loving something much more than the past…The contemporary!
The Cézanne exhibition featured works collected by Henry and Rose Pearlman who were able to put together an impressive collection of works my modern masters during the 1940s and 50s. Their collection includes 26 Cézanne works among other greats but the exhibit focuses on the Modern masters in conversation with his work, citing Cézanne as the founder of Modern art.
It really is a thrill for me when I can see works like this within British Columbia. As you can imagine it doesn’t happen often enough. It’s a happy moment when I walk along the walls of the Vancouver Art Gallery and come face to face with an unexpected art piece by Toulouse-Lautrec or Van Gogh as it turned out during this visit.
But sometimes what you go to see isn’t always what most caught your attention. The Vancouver Art Gallery is also showing a contemporary Chinese art exhibit called “Unscrolled” where works are jarring compared to what I saw at the featured exhibit just a couple floors down.
From Al WeiWei’s Bang – where over 886 three legged stools, both antique and reproductions are stacked in a sublime state as the viewer cautiously wanders beneath them – to Liu Jianhua’s Traces where ominous porcelain ink blots drip down the walls as light blue porcelain vessels sit in the centre of this large room filled with what looks like blood – I was enjoying the stark contrast of the Modern European masters to the stark and sublime of the Chinese contemporary artists.
Well worth the visit, the Vancouver Art Gallery is holding two of their most impressive exhibitions in years (according to me).
Venturing away from Downtown Vancouver we head to the lesser visited False Creek where the Olympic Village was erected for the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games in 2010. The entire neighbourhood, which wasn’t in existence before the announcement of Vancouver as the host city, is LEED Platinum. This certification means that the neighbourhood is doing its hard to reduce its carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions. Some buildings are Net Zero energy, others are LEED Gold and some are LEED Platinum but together they make up a neighbourhood that had achieved LEED Platinum, the highest rating of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
A large part of LEED is ensuring that the inhabitants of the community are happy, healthy and have outdoor spaces where they enjoy being apart of nature. In False Creek you can wander the neighbourhood and find community gardens, a habitat for birds where they are resurrecting the Bay area which has brought in a whale in to the English Bay, something that hasn’t happened in 75 years.
But an integral part of the community is outdoor art spaces. One example are these sparrows (see above), fitting called The Birds by Myfanwy McLeod, set in the European inspired square (Olympic Village Plaza) where the community comes to eat outdoors, enjoy the views of the Bay and Downtown Vancouver. The Sparrows are jarring when you first enter the square. They peer at you no matter where you walk within the terrace. Despite their size they are realistic looking and actually have a implicit meaning.
Sparrows are not native to North America and were in fact introduced in the 1850s when there was a need for pest control. The little bird could provide it and did a much too efficient job. The Sparrows became an invasive species.
Thus such a small bird caused a big environmental issue in offsetting the ecosystems of North America.
While not everyone likes The Birds there was talk of popular Canadian artist Douglas Coupland installing his Digital Orca (see above) in lieu of the sparrows. This idea was shot down but has since become a favourite installation at Vancouver’s Convention Centre, also a LEED Platinum building with over 400 place species and 60,000 bees upon its roof.
Another example of art in False Creek is the Human Structures installation (see below) by American artist Jason Borofsky. With 64 cut out steel figures assembled and standing at seven metres tall the piece overlooks the bay and Downtown Vancouver.