New VAG show challenges voters to embrace gallery expansion alongside vision of new creative space

Emily Carr's War Canoes: are those high rise condo towers on the horizon?

The breathtaking new show at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Shore, Forest and Beyond: Art from the Audain Collection, can be read two ways.

It is both an extraordinary review of BC art from earliest contact to the present, but it’s also a challenge to voters to think about the future of the gallery itself on the eve of a civic election.

The show is a stunning collection of masterworks of BC art. The remarkable First Nations masks, that date from the pre-contact days to the present, are a show in themselves. But they are juxtaposed with work by Emily Carr and E.J. Hughes, as well B.C. Binning and Jack Shadbolt, in ways that force the viewer to think critically about the province’s past and future. (The amazing collection of work by Mexican Modernists like Diego Rivera seems both utterly out of context and a surprisingly good fit. It is, at least, a glimpse into the Audains’ world view.)

Will it incorporate First Nations or exclude them? Will the arts be seen as fundamental to to our future? Or will we remain the resource extraction economy that is so evident in Hughes’ work?

Equally critically, will the gallery expand enough to allow exhibits that could even raise these questions?

All of these pieces, enough to fill two floors of the current gallery, are from the private collection of Michael Audain and Yoshiko Karasawa. Audain, he founder and chair of Polygon Homes Ltd., is an art gallery patron who has been a driving force behind the VAG’s search for a downtown location to create an iconic new gallery.

Vision Vancouver’s election platform promises significant new creative space in Vancouver. But where does the VAG fit in that new reality?

A lengthy council debate earlier this year opened the door to new options for the VAG, all based on the need for expansion.

The Audain show throws down the gauntlet. The masterpieces in this show give a glimpse of how great a new, expanded gallery could be.

But expansion, despite the VAG’s current $800,000 operating deficit, is a consensus position.

The real question is how to finance that expansion. Can a new gallery project raise the $300 million required for a new building? Should it include condo development? Into the view corridor? Or is there another way?

One vision of the future sees a new gallery at Larwill Park, the old bus depot site, funded by the profits of a condo tower piercing the view cone that crosses that site.

There will be many who oppose that approach. The new VAG show challenges voters to think beyond “forest and shore” to consider the future of the gallery itself.