Friday, September 21, 2012

Visual Arts Professionals in Favour of a New Vancouver Art Gallery

A few days ago I received an email from a friend in the arts, sent to him by another friend in the arts.

Dear Friends,

A small group of artists has begun a letter of support for a new, stand-alone iconic Vancouver Art Gallery. Once we have a group of 30 or so original signers we will publish the list and invite other visual arts professionals to sign via Facebook, emails and other media.  If you would like to be one of the original signers please respond and we will add your name. Please also state your profession or occupational title. Please pass this on to other visual arts professionals you think may like to sign.

Visual Arts Professionals in favour of a new Vancouver Art Gallery

The Vancouver Art Gallery is presently planning to build and move to a new, stand-alone, iconic building. We support this goal and we support the director, Kathleen Bartels  and the VAG Board as they work towards its realization. We believe it is time for a new gallery and that the benefits it will bring to visual arts culture in Vancouver, British Columbia and Canada are beyond question and will be shared by everyone. We are visual arts professionals; artists, critics, art writers, curators, gallery workers and gallerists, we feel it is time our opinion was heard. If you are a visual arts professional and want to see a new Vancouver Art Gallery, add your name to the list.

Although I did not feel comfortable with some of the information included (and excluded) in this open letter, I added my name nonetheless.

Rather than speak to what bothers me about this letter, let me say instead that its appearance, with signatures from those in the visual arts community, is something that should have come at the beginning of the VAG's campaign to move the gallery into a space that could accommodate its vast collection, something the VAG has conveyed on numerous occasions, but without explaining why -- at least not in a way that excites the public imagination. So in the absence of that explanation, let me provide my own.

As someone familiar with the VAG's collection, let me say that it is indeed vast, and that it contains within it the many stories that make up the material and symbolic history of this city, this province and this country, but also the histories of this city's biggest contribution to modern/contemporary art -- photo-based work. Would Vancouverites (and visitors to this city) not like to see a civic gallery with areas dedicated to the permanent display of these histories? Rooms where we can experience the work of First Nations artists such as Charles Edenshaw and Bill Reid, the early modern paintings of Emily Carr and Jack Shadbolt, the abstractions of B.C. Binning, Audrey Capel Doray, Roy Kiyooka and Takao Tanabe, the photographs of Fred Herzog, the intermedial collages of bill bissett, Maxine Gadd and Al Neil, the art-as-life manifestations of Glenn Lewis and Michael Morris, the photo-based work of Marian Penner Bancroft, N.E. Thing Company, Jeff Wall and Ian Wallace, the videos of Kate Craig and Paul Wong, the neo-expressionist paintings of Angela Grossmann and Attila Richard Lukacs, the "history" paintings of Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, the installations of Geoffrey Farmer, Brian Jungen and Myfanwy MacLeod, not to mention the many national and international holdings these artists were influenced by, and inspired? I would.

So that is why I held my nose and signed my name to this letter, why I set aside my tendency to favour means (the way things happen) over ends (the desired outcome).

Vancouver needs an art museum with the ability to display and debate our at-times challenging yet enriching cultural histories, for they are as important to us as the mountains, forests, oceans and rivers that remind us, and others, not just where we live, but how we live. Yes, the VAG went about it backwards, and I think they realize that. Hopefully there is time to resume the discussion. But this time from the ground, up.

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