Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Selling Emptiness

Klein's Zone works continue to be played out long after the artist's death, albeit grotesquely. A local variation is provided by real estate agent Bob Rennie, who sells emptiness in the form of condominium apartments, along with a lifestyle that parallels that emptiness.

Rennie's version also differs from Klein's in that instead of gold he accepts money, which he collects for the developers who hire him to do their selling. In return, the developers throw a percentage of that money at him.

Like Klein, Rennie is aware of the imbalance that comes from selling emptiness. In an effort to correct that, he buys art, displays it in his home/office and throws parties to demonstrate his own sense of balance.

But Rennie has proven himself unbalanced of late, so whatever balance he is offering should be considered in that light. For those in the visual arts (artists, curators, directors, critics, collectors and audiences), Rennie has sought respect through acquisition, patronage and dealmaking, the effect of which has artists and institutions reluctant to criticize him, or to be seen supporting people and projects that he has spoken out against, like the Vancouver Art Gallery's current director and her efforts to better share with the public the gallery's massive collection.

The original mandate of the Western Front, one our city's oldest artist-run centres, is "to promote and encourage the role of the artist in determining the cultural ecology." Rennie has done the opposite: he has indentured artists by de-accessioning the work of those whom he perceives to be against him, as well as making those who would benefit from his patronage frightened to say anything that might limit their prospects. The same applies to institutions to whom he gives money.

And now Rennie is initiating a city-wide exhibition of one of our best-known, most-respected senior artists, an exhibition that will involve some of our finest public institutions, led by Rennie's private gallery.

Is this something that will benefit our cultural ecology, or will it represent a more literal expression of Rennie's administration of it? If this exhibition should come to pass, it has the potential to mark yet another turning point in our city, where artists and the institutions that serve them are less an autonomous presence than co-opted agents of emptiness, motivated not by curiosity but by its opposite: fear.

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