The most valuable purchase I have made since moving to Vancouver was to buy memberships to the Vancouver Art Gallery for myself and my son. When I brought the memberships home and showed them to my son he was interested. When I told him that the membership came with two extra passes and if he wanted to take a girl on a date to the Vancouver Art Gallery he was welcome to use one, he was impressed. “I think that would be a really great idea mom!” Yes, I was using trickery to find out if he was considering dating girls and my suspicions were confirmed. At least he is interested in taking them somewhere classy. And that’s exactly what the Vancouver Art Gallery is, classy.
We visited the gallery on December 17, 2016. It had been quite a few months since our last visit and things had changed significantly. Here’s what to expect: On the first floor you can find photography in the Walker Evans exhibit and a collection of photographers in the exhibit Stare; on floor two prepare yourself for the eerie in Vancouver Special: Ambivalent Pleasures; floor three gets colourful and fun, but no less edgy with the exhibit Juxtapoz X Superflat; and floor five speaks for itself in the title to the exhibit: We Come to Witness: Sonny Assu in Dialogue with Emily Carr, but must be seen to be appreciated. As always, the VAG succeeds in its goal to impress and I had to go back once more to feel like I had seen enough to do the shows justice.
OCTOBER 29, 2016 TO JANUARY 22, 2017
Walker Evans takes up the majority of floor one and was a pleasure to discover. His photography heralds back to a time before digital, selfies and social media and asks you to slow your eye down and truly look. Images like his portrait of a farm family and photographs of Cuba have no story, they just are. What roles do the people in the family have? What are the people’s names standing on the street? He doesn’t say, so we are pushed to connect with their humanity, not their story. In an age where people are branding themselves and our lives are for public viewing, these images are refreshing and beautiful.
Evans’ photography however, does not sit still or remain frozen in time. He captures the evolution of photography in his portraits of people in the New York subway with a hidden camera. When polaroids came out the potential in a new tool did not escape him and he similarly took multiple portraits and allowed this new medium to influence his work. His interest in cultural markers shows up in his collection of signs including Pepsi-Cola and Happy Jim Tobacco.
The exhibit Stare is a small exhibit consisting of a collection of photographers. The Barbara Astman and Dana Claxton photographs are some of my favourites. Astman’s photos, consisting of short and wide framed photos of magazines and newspapers stacked together with images and faces peeking through, seem to reach through time asking the viewer to come find out what they missed. Claxton frames her photograph of a woman – whose face is completely concealed by a beaded headdress – in front of a light giving a breathtaking effect.
DECEMBER 3, 2016 TO APRIL 17, 2017
On floor two I realized why it’s so important to expose 16-year-olds to art. There is fantastic art in this exhibit, but what was memorable was the interesting conversations that it prompted. Some of the art on this floor (as well as the music) gave my son the feeling that the art was lacking in humanity. There was something about that that made him feel eerie and out of touch. Perhaps this was the purpose of the art. I have categorized art in many ways, but never have I sorted art into art with a sense of humanity and art without. Some of the art in this exhibit gave a sense of endless expanses and unknowns that are beyond what we can comprehend and although there is a beauty in that, it can sometimes be overwhelming. Thanks to the third floor practically dripping with human obsessions we were brought right back down to earth in a hurry.
NOVEMBER 5, 2016 TO FEBRUARY 5, 2017
This exhibit is just fun, plain and simple. From the anime figures on canvas as you enter the exhibit, to Big Bird from Sesame Street holding a sign that says “fuck off” this floor is full of surprises. But just because it’s fun doesn’t mean it doesn’t push the viewer in their experience. I honestly did not know how to engage with the 10-foot naked man who peed into a bucket on a schedule and requested your participation with easels and paper. This, however, was my son’s favourite piece in the gallery. His creative aspirations however, let him down as he sat, pencil in hand, waiting for the flow. Oh well, maybe next time. We do, after all, have a membership.
DECEMBER 3, 2016 TO APRIL 23, 2017
The title of this exhibit speaks volumes about what you will see. Sonny Assu is literally in dialogue with Emily Carr, or more specifically, her paintings. In his very modern use of the formline design he overlays 3-dimensional looking shapes onto Emily Carr‘s imagery of the Northwest Coast. In this exhibit you again find that sense of something other than humanity, especially in one image that threatens to beam the viewer up into the mothership. Old world and otherworld come crashing together in this room and as unsettling as it is, it brings up all the right questions. “We Come to Witness” takes on a whole new meaning when considering colonization and how we view the “other” in light of the potential for an extraterrestrial presence.
So bring your kids, your hubby or your visiting alien, because there is something for everyone right now at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The holiday season is a perfect time to explore the world around us and the world beyond. The solstice, Christmas and the passing of another year, bring with it the potential to reflect on our humanity – what’s working and what isn’t; is there a better way? And, as we are inclined to do, wonder whether there is something else, somewhere out there, that is doing it better – or worse – than us.