It’s hard to believe that Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics almost seven years ago. I well remember the buzz of the city during that period and the world’s attention on Vancouver as the Games unfolded. Since then, there have been significant economic, artistic, and cultural changes in the city and in the globe at large.
In that lovely contemplative period between Christmas and New Year’s, I visited the Vancouver Art Gallery in order to take in one of their new exhibitions, Vancouver Special: Ambivalent Pleasures, which opened this month and runs until April 17, 2017. It covers Vancouver artistic creation in the post-Olympics period.
I went during the day, but I’d highly recommend visiting on a Tuesday evening (5-9pm) when admission is by donation. It makes for a great cheap date activity.
The name of the Vancouver Art Gallery exhibition, Vancouver Special, first of all takes its inspiration from a cookie cutter architectural style that became popular (almost pervasive) in Vancouver between the 1960s and 1980s.
Its box design, slightly sloping roof, and front balcony are an icon of that era. More recently, they have seen a revival, with many Vancouverites buying and renovating them due to their relative affordability compared to newer houses. For instance, a friend of mine is in the midst of doing exactly that on a house she and her husband recently purchased near Main Street.
The subtitle, Ambivalent Pleasures, refers to how ideas of pleasure have shifted in the twenty-first century. While consumerism and desire are still prioritized, there is an increasing willingness (and need) to pay heed to the repercussions of pursuing these pleasures. What are the environmental and societal costs of rampant consumption and excessive living? As well, how can more ethical and sustainable pleasures be pursued through lifestyle and artistic creation?
The exhibition at the VAG explores these fairly weighty questions in a provocative, even joyous way. Vancouver Special is a survey exhibition that will occur every three years (Ambivalent Pleasures is the first) and brings together the work of forty artists from the post-Olympics time-frame (the last five years). They are a diverse group, with some having been in Vancouver for a long time, and others being new to the city or fairly transient. Career-wise, some are well established and others just beginning to clear their artistic throats.
DERYA AKAY | MAYA BEAUDRY | RAYMOND BOISJOLY | ELI BORNOWSKY | REBECCA BREWER | COLLEEN BROWN | MATT BROWNING | MARK DELONG | KIM DORLAND | BARRY DOUPÉ | MICHAEL DREBERT | JULIA FEYRER | JENEEN FREI NJOOTLI | TAMARA HENDERSON | COLLEEN HESLIN | JULIAN HOU | ALLISON HRABLUIK | GARETH JAMES | GARRY NEILL KENNEDY | TIZIANA LA MELIA | KHAN LEE | ARVO LEO | LYSE LEMIEUX | GLENN LEWIS | ANNE LOW | ELIZABETH MCINTOSH | JORDAN MILNER | ANTONI OKO | RYAN PETER | SYLVAIN SAILLY | RACHELLE SAWATSKY | WALTER SCOTT | KRISTA BELLE STEWART | ANGELA TENG | MINA TOTINO | RON TRAN | TRISTAN UNRAU | CHARLENE VICKERS | BRENT WADDEN | ALISON YIP
Walking through the exhibition itself, which spans the second floor of the gallery space, is a fascinating experience. The first work that greeted me was The Scarecrow’s Holiday by Tamara Henderson, an effigy-like statue composed of textile, wood, glass, sand, pigment, and rope.
Inspired by mythology, science fiction, and Surrealist literature, Henderson investigates “shadow states and other realms of consciousness.” A series of paintings entitled Mourning Clowns, which encircle the scarecrow, are meant to depict “wandering fools in a land of plenty.”
From there, I toured a wide range of different artistic practices, media, and messages.
The exhibition includes paintings, sculptures, mixed media installations, video, and ceramics.
While there isn’t a unifying theme per se, the various pieces speak to one another in a variety of ways, such as confronting the complexities of contemporary society, as well as both surrealist and abstract ways of representing.
For example, a large mobile by Derya Akay called Cylcodrum was created when Akay searched for objects in the Gallery’s storage and technical facilities and repurposed them, along with ceramics, preserved foodstuffs, and other found materials.
The result is both familiar, yet strange as Akay takes the everyday and mines it for new meaning and knowledge.
Another favourite of mine was a room devoted to Garry Neill Kennedy’s Finchwell Revisited. Kennedy is one of Canada’s top conceptual artists.
The project revisited for this exhibition showcases large stenciled heads meant to parody bosses and workers.
Each artist and each work deserves minute attention and engagement since their artistic creation is unique while still interwoven with twenty-first century concerns. Together, the forty artists in Vancouver Special: Ambivalent Pleasures form a conversation about our times and about the exciting and rich cultural and artistic production that is occurring in Vancouver.
A new video guide is also available for download featuring video interviews of the curators and artists.
For further information (eg visiting hours, admission rates, more info about the exhibition), visit the Vancouver Art Gallery website.