Wednesday, May 26, 2010

In response to Allen Garr's May 26 piece in the Vancouver Courier:

Re: “City holds power on VAG’s future”

After reading Allen Garr’s Wednesday May 26 “Opinion” piece on the proposed relocation of the Vancouver Art Gallery, I was left wondering, Where’s the opinion part?

Garr’s failure to opine echoes a story that appeared in the May 19 Globe and Mail, where mention was made of the mere seven emails the City had received on the question of the gallery’s relocation. Clearly many Vancouverites, not just Garr, are indifferent to the issue.

As someone who writes on art, and who agrees the current gallery site is problematic, it seems to me that the starting point for any conversation concerning the gallery is not a new site, and what “icon” might be dropped on top of it, but the insufficiencies of the current site in relation to the gallery’s long-term plans.

And what are those plans? Has anyone asked? Does the VAG want to be a modern and contemporary art gallery that buys onto blockbuster touring shows of Renaissance masters? Does it want to be all those things under one roof?

If that is the only reason to build such a roof, then I say no, spread it around, ask more of our city’s Contemporary Art Gallery, keep the current VAG site for historical wall work and, yes, explore what remains of Robson Square, or an aspect of the Sears Building, for video, film and installation works.

It is only through conversation, in the broadest sense, that new questions emerge, some of which will speak to the root of this indifference and invariably propel us forward. Because like many, I am of the opinion that it is the way the VAG does things, not the ends it is trying to achieve, that alienates its publics.

VAG director Kathleen Bartels has accomplished a great many things since arriving from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2001, such as boosting membership, increasing attendance and mounting successful fundraisers. But the bar was low. And the means by which she achieved these feats came with more than a few bruised toes.

Now the bar is high, the stakes even higher -- and Bartels, who appeared to us as Hillary Clinton, is in danger of becoming the next Sarah Palin. She wants a new building but, after nine years, has learned little of the city (and indeed, the country) on whose lap it will sit. How else to explain our indifference?

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