Category Archives: Art (by others)

OCAD University vs Emily Carr University: Toronto Complaining vs Vancouver Complaisance

Does anyone else find it odd that there has been so much overt controversy surrounding Toronto’s Ontario College of Art and Design since it was granted university status, yet so little surrounding its Vancouver close counterpart, Emily Carr University?

There have been loud complaints from OCAD staff members, alumni, and potential employers of OCAD grads since it was first decided twelve years ago to convert Toronto’s venerable old art college into a university. In a Globe and Mail newspaper article published on February 13, it was claimed that OCAD also is now experiencing serious financial problems, a declining enrollment, a relatively low program completion rate among its undergraduate students, and a great deal of internal strife. According to this article, there is even speculation that OCAD University may soon be swallowed by the University of Toronto or merged with George Brown, the downtown community college.

In the same week that the Globe and Mail article was published, it was announced by the BC government that a contract had been signed to begin construction on a new and expanded campus for Emily Carr University, with the BC provincial government investing up to $101.65 million. There hasn’t been any public complaining of which I’m aware about Emily Carr University by staff, alumni, potential employers of graduates, or by BC taxpayers in general, prior to or even after this announcement.  (Some students and ex-students have commented negatively, about which I shall say more later.)  Indeed, the BC government paints Emily Carr’s current situation, and future prospects, as extremely rosy. But this is not to say that problems don’t exist, and that the expansion and relocation of Emily Carr University may be an even bigger mistake than deciding in the first place, about seven years ago, to follow the OCAD example and turn Emily Carr into a university. It seems quite possible that similar problems now exist at Emily Carr University as those that exist at OCAD University yet, due to several significant differences between Vancouver and Toronto, the problems at Emily Carr are not being openly discussed here in Vancouver.

As a key example, faculty grumblings are less likely in the Vancouver context because there are far fewer good jobs in Vancouver in the arts and cultural sectors than there are in Toronto, so anyone working at Emily Carr now who wants to stay in Vancouver is likely to keep any misgivings they may have to themselves.  The same goes for those who don’t work there now but who may wish to work there in the future. From my own experience, I considered Emily Carr a possible employer when I first moved back to Vancouver, my hometown, after doing a Ph.D. in Higher Education at Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. This was around this time that plans were in the works to turn Emily Carr into a university and, despite my concerns, I held back because I thought speaking out could jeopardize my chances of one day working at the school.  By now, I’ve given up any hope of ever working at Emily Carr, so I’ll say what I please.

There’s also the issue of Canada’s mainstream media being concentrated in Toronto.  For example, the Globe and Mail is officially a national Canadian newspaper, yet it is based in Toronto. Toronto issues naturally get more coverage in this newspaper than Vancouver issues, or issues of special relevance to other Canadian regions.  Yes, we have local newspapers here in Vancouver; but, in my view, these newspapers tend to be extremely conservative with respect to most post-secondary education issues. The Internet does provide opportunities for voices other than those directly associated with, or otherwise authorized by, the big media outlets to enter into public debate–including through blogs like this one.  On the Internet, I have come across various complaints by students and recent ex-students of Emily Carr University relating to the transition from a college to a university.  But, of course, we must ask who is actually listening to these other, non-mainstream, voices–including, for that matter, my own.

Then there’s the issue of weather. Most of Canada, including Toronto, is still being wracked by an uncommonly cold and snowy winter. Yet, here in Vancouver, we’re already bewitched by crocuses and cherry blossoms.  Vancouver is such a pretty, pretty, city–especially this time of year. Although I wouldn’t want Toronto’s weather, especially this winter, at least in that city there is a vigorous public debate about issues such as OCAD University–and, occasionally, the debate even leads to positive change.

* * * * * * * * *

As my Twitter followers already may be aware, the basic reason I haven’t published any new material here in recent months is that my mother had a major health crisis shortly after I published my last blog post, back in November, that put her in hospital for six weeks. Besides dealing with Mum’s health problems, both during her hospital stay and since she returned home (I live with her), I’ve been dealing with strong division among family members about what is best for Mum. That’s all I can say about these issues here, other than to point out that they have preoccupied me in recent months, so that the only writing I’ve done during this period, apart from a few Tweets, has been emails to family members. It’s wonderful to have a subject sufficiently engage me that I can get away from family problems for a few hours. Also, Mum is by now almost back to her old self.



Update: Vancouver Art Gallery “Flamingo” Advertising for “Grand Hotel” Show

A friend who read my previous post in this blog, about the Grand Hotel show at the Vancouver Art Gallery, suggested that those making marketing decisions for the show may have been familiar with the infamous Flamingo Hotel in Whalley (a part of Surrey, just outside of Vancouver), and chose to feature in the show’s advertising the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas partly because they realized many local people were likely to confuse the two hotels, and thought the confusion might boost attendance at the Art Gallery show.

It’s an amusing idea–although probably not true.

Bring on the Strippers: A Not So Grand “Grand Hotel” at the Vancouver Art Gallery



Surely someone associated with the show that opened at the Vancouver Art Gallery last week, Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life, was sufficiently familiar with the Greater Vancouver area to know that we have our own famous Flamingo Hotel in these parts.  “World famous”, which is how the hotel is described in the banner from the hotel’s website (that I’ve copied and pasted above), may be stretching the truth; but it’s definitely well-known throughout Greater Vancouver.  Its striking pink neon sign on the busy King George Highway in Whalley has been an iconic Surrey landmark for many decades–since at least when I was a kid, and our family would drive by the Flamingo Hotel when we were making a trip into Vancouver from White Rock or Crescent Beach.  The hotel’s pub and lounge have long been popular Surrey drinking spots.  Following the introduction of strippers in the pub, the hotel on the whole has become strongly associated with adult entertainment–and I don’t mean art shows.

It’s very unfortunate that the Vancouver Art Gallery chose to feature another Flamingo Hotel (the one in Las Vegas), with not only the identical name but also similar signage, in its advertising for its current show, since this advertising is likely to give many people from our region an entirely erroneous idea about the show.  No, it’s not a stripper show, or even a show about the ‘art’ of stripping.  Too bad, because either would probably have been more interesting and entertaining than the show I saw at the VAG a few days ago.

Besides the various failings of this show that already have been enumerated in various newspaper reviews–including the well-written and insightful review by Robin Laurence in the Georgia Straight, with which I generally agreeI was very troubled by the apparent lack of awareness of, or even interest in, the local scene by the curators of this show.  Even in Los Angeles and New York, whose hotels and cultural products are apparently of greatest interest to the curators, a mediocre Master’s thesis plastered all over the walls, with scant illustration, is unlikely to go over well in an art gallery–or in any other setting.  But when such a show is run at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and Vancouver hotels, and their relationship to artistic production in this region, are virtually omitted from the show, and when the advertising for the show treats our own Flamingo Hotel as if it didn’t exist, I feel that people from this area who attend shows at the VAG, and who otherwise support the Gallery, are being exploited.

The show was not entirely without local content.  I saw the Waldorf Hotel, on Hastings Street, listed among various hotels from around the world in a text block concerning how some hotels accommodate performance art.  There was only the name of the hotel, with no particulars (not even that it was in Vancouver).  I also saw a video loop, shown on a very small screen, probably no more than a foot wide, and dwarfed by text, of the ballroom of the Vancouver Hotel going through many transformations over the course of what seemed to be a couple of days, speeded up to a couple of minutes.  (One of my earliest jobs was working as a banquet waitress at the Vancouver Hotel, a job that sometimes involved helping to set up and take down tables.  In days of yore, I was one of those little worker ants scurrying about on the screen.)  Also, in the ‘chapter’ of the show about the relationship of hotels and transportation (going through this show really was like reading a thesis), I saw a small illustrated map on the wall showing what were formerly the Canadian National Railway hotels, including the Vancouver Hotel.  Other other than these token local references, I didn’t see anything, or read anything, in the show itself about Vancouver hotels, or about the relationship of Vancouver hotels and artistic, or cultural, production.  (Granted, I may have missed some other token references in all that text.)

In the show itself, I didn’t see, or read, any reference whatsoever to English Bay’s Sylvia Hotel, which is famous in arts circles throughout Canada–and is also likely to be familiar to many artists and writers in other countries.  In one of the blog posts about the evolution of this show, this important Vancouver landmark is mentioned; but, not even in the blog post, is the significant function of this hotel’s lounge as a hangout and meeting place for Vancouver, and other Canadian, artists and writers mentioned.  In local terms, this establishment is almost, if not just as, significant as New York’s Algonquin Hotel is to New York culture and, in a show of this nature at the VAG, should have received at least as much attention as the Algonquin–even if this meant giving less attention to the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles.  (How many visitors to the VAG who reside in Greater Vancouver give a hoot that Lindsay Lohen frequents the Chateau Marmont when she is in Los Angeles?)

And what about the beautiful, recently renovated, Georgia Hotel, right across Georgia Street from the Vancouver Art Gallery, where, in the past, I’d gone for drinks several times with Vancouver theatre friends?  Coming upon the Georgia Hotel immediately after leaving the show at the art gallery, it seemed so unfair that this lovely old neighbour of the VAG had been entirely left out of the show–including the blog.

I’ve wondered since seeing Grand Hotel last week if the curators may have put so much emphasis on hotels outside of our area, and given such short shrift to local hotels, for some well-considered, well-intentioned, reasons that weren’t immediately apparent to me.  Last week, the VAG received approval from Vancouver’s Mayor for a new and expanded gallery on the old bus terminal site, at Georgia and Cambie–provided that the Gallery can raised $350 million in the next two years.  That’s a whole lot of money, especially during tight economic times.  (Readers of this post may wish to read an article by Marsha Lederman published last week in the Globe and Mail about the VAG’s current fundraising challenges.)

Perhaps the show was designed to possibly be exported to other galleries, to generate additional revenue for the VAG.  (I’m no expert in such matters, but I imagine some money changes hands when a show that is put together at one art gallery is shown at another.)  If this were the case, more of a focus on Vancouver hotels may have been seen as making the show less attractive to ‘buyers’ in other cities.  (Due to its strong emphasis on American hotels in general, and the Chateau Marmont in particular, the show would seem to be an especially good fit for Los Angeles–disregarding, for now, the other problems with the show.)  It also may have been thought that certain well-heeled, globe-trotting, potential donors to the VAG’s relocation and expansion fund, from Vancouver and elsewhere, would be more inclined to donate if they saw (and read about) their own globe-trotting lifestyles in this show.  (There was a story in last Sunday’s Province newspaper about a swanky fundraising dinner for the VAG held  in conjunction with the opening of Grand Hotel that raised $350,000.  At least a few people with money liked this show–or at least didn’t hate it so much that they were deterred from donating.)

It is possible that the curators, and the Gallery Director, were allowing the VAG to be exploited to some extent for what they saw as the greater good.  But if that is the case, I’m not sure it’s worth it: even though they might have been OK with allowing themselves to be exploited (I’ve heard that some strippers feel that way about what they do for a living), they also stand to alienate a lot of local people.

Or, maybe they are all from elsewhere, and just didn’t know any better, plain and simple.  If they’d known better, surely they would have avoided using the Flamingo Hotel in the advertising for this show.

Or, maybe it was some combination of the two.

Dreaming Up a New Phone App, Part 3: A Vancouver Public Art Phone App


On the morning of November 15, after attending the Annual General Meeting of the Vancouver Art Gallery the evening prior, I woke up with an idea for a new SmartPhone app.  The basic idea is to make public art in Vancouver more accessible through a phone app, that locates public art works through a GPS tracking system and can immediately provide to the app user information about the works, and the artists, over and above what can be included on, or near, the works themselves.

This basic idea isn’t new to the world, although it was new to me, when I dreamed it up. When I did a little research on-line after my dream, I found out that there already are a few cities (not many at all) that have such apps–including, of all places, Surrey, BC, not far from Vancouver, that used to have a reputation for generally not being very culturally progressive, although things seem to have changed there a great deal of late.  The public art app for Surrey is called “ArtWalk”, and I recommend that anyone who is interested in such things have a look at it.  It’s available on iTunes, free of charge. There also are general city guides in app form, aimed mainly at tourists, for many cities around the world, some of which seem to incorporate public art as one of the elements coordinated with GPS, in addition to restaurants and so on: these apps probably don’t do as good a job with public art as those apps that are devoted to this subject, although I can’t be sure, since I haven’t actually looked at any of them.  These apps designed mainly for tourists all cost at least a few bucks.

Speaking of money, money can be made from apps and app ideas and, if my idea were entirely novel, I’d be reluctant to share it with members of the general public in a blog.  But, at least the basic idea isn’t entirely novel, so I will discuss that here.  More detailed aspects of my idea, some of which also came to me in my dream and others of which I thought of afterwards, I’ll be keeping closer to my chest, for the time being.

I’m not entirely sure how I made the leap from attending the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) Annual General Meeting the previous evening, and the show at the VAG, Ian Wallace: At the Intersection of Painting and Photography, the previous week, to dreaming up a phone app that focusses on public art, but I feel strongly there was a connection–or connections.  Both the Ian Wallace show and the Meeting had got me thinking about digital technology in relation to art, including the production of art and the consumption of art.  The Meeting, which, as I discussed in my last blog post, I found disappointing, had made think about why I go to galleries like the VAG.  My reasons for going to  art galleries have changed over the course of my life, and I generally tend to go less now than when I was younger and eager to learn about all kinds of art; however, when I’ve travelled, I’ve always made an effort to visit local galleries (and museums), even if their current shows haven’t been of particular interest to me, because I’ve thought that a visit to these galleries could help to orient me to the city, or region, in question.  In my dream state, I may have made the connection that, in the digital age, an at least equally good–and possibly sometimes better–art-related experience that could help to orient a visitor to a new city, or region, and to its art in particular, could be achieved using a mobile phone app, that focussed on public art.  Then, too, my annual membership at the Vancouver Art Gallery is expiring very soon, and, in relation to the VAG, I’ll soon be out on the street, where most public art is located.

At any rate, I woke up that morning not only with an idea for a phone app that focussed on public art, but also with a strong compulsion to really look at the public art in my environment.  In the past, I haven’t paid a great deal of attention to most public art–or at least not as much attention as I’ve paid to pieces that were displayed in galleries.  But, beginning with that dream, I wanted to really open my eyes, and my mind, to public art.

Over the course of the next few days, I tried to find out more about pieces with which I already was familiar, and sought out other pieces about which I’d heard but hadn’t actually seen.  As my chronicle below of that experience illustrates, the kind of app that I am proposing would be useful not only to visitors to Vancouver but also to local citizens, to help us appreciate the public art in our city–and to save us some aggravation. I should emphasize that the pieces discussed below by no means consist of all of the public art in downtown Vancouver, or even in the specific areas downtown that are mentioned, nor are the pieces discussed necessarily my favourites–or those I most despise. They are just some of the pieces I happed upon in the couple of days immediately following my app dream, about which I chose to comment here.



Every weekday, on my way in to work, I pass the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library.  Outside the front entrance is a “light installation”, or essentially a ‘sign’, made up of white light bulbs on a metal frame.  The bulbs spell out “THE WORDS DON’T FIT THE PICTURE,” which is highly apropos in front of a building filled with books. The ‘sign’ has intrigued me for a long time, but I’d never previously stopped to find out who the artist was, and to learn more about the work.  On this day, I stopped, and took not only the above picture of the piece, but also a picture of the piece of blue plastic, affixed to its concrete base, which carried basic information about the piece.


I learned from this ‘label’ that the artist was Ron Terada, and that the piece was commissioned by the City of Vancouver for the Winter Olympics that we had here in 2010.  But when I wanted to learn more about the artist and the piece, and dialed the phone number that was indicated on the label, I found that the number was disconnected!  I tried the website address on the label, and website also was inactive.  (I eventually found information about Terada and the piece at the City of Vancouver’s on-line Public Art Registry.  You can follow the link if you’re interested in getting further information–and have some of the experience I had trying to find out more.)

That very day, there was a picture in one of our daily newspapers of a new piece of public art called Persian Wall in the downtown area, and I decided to track it down after work.  I had more trouble finding the piece than I expected (the short article accompanying the picture provided just the name of the building where it was located, and the street, West Georgia), so I dropped into the lobby of an office building on West Georgia, where I could see from outside that there was an attendant on duty, to get some help with directions.  Once I was inside the lobby, I came upon this stunning painting–that few were likely to know about other than those who work in, or otherwise enter, the building.


That’s me reflected in the metal plate, below, taking a picture with my phone of the plate, since it had on it basic information about the painting, including the name of the piece and the artist. (Taking a snap is so much easier than writing down such information.)  When I wanted to find out more about the piece,  Vancouver’s Public Art Registry provided no assistance, which I initially assumed was because the piece isn’t owned by the City; but I did, eventually, find the information I was seeking in a press release on, a business website.  Additional information about the artist, Scott Plear, is available on his website.


Once I had the exact address of the building where Persian Wall is located, I proceeded further down West Georgia.  Eventually I found the piece, on the side of the building, and not on the front, as I had expected.


Unfortunately, there wasn’t even any basic identifying information about the piece, or the artist, on the outside of the building–although it seemed likely there was some such information inside the building.  Unfortunately, this building was a condo tower and not an office building, where members of the general public usually have easy access at 6 p.m.  Maybe I could have gained access to the lobby, but I didn’t bother to try.

Contrary to what I expected, there is information about Persian Wall in the City of Vancouver’s Public Art Registry, even though the piece is part of a privately-owned condominium building.  Maybe the fact that the piece faces out onto the street makes it eligible for inclusion, whereas lobby art isn’t eligible.

As I was heading back towards Burrard Street along the south side of West Georgia Street, in the dark, I vaguely saw some thin, oddly-shaped, pieces of what seemed to be plywood within a recessed area, that may or may not have been art.  I wasn’t going to get too close, because it appeared from the sidewalk, where I was situated, that there might be a drop-off of several feet, and I didn’t want to fall into the possible cavity.  Probably–or so I thought at the time–it was just a construction site, that hadn’t been properly cordoned off.

I continued past the presumed pit with its jutting pieces of wood to The Shangri La Hotel, outside of which were the two, matching, lion sculptures pictures below. Taking a picture of the hotel lions was a little frivolous of me (they’re not really public art, or are they?), and I didn’t expect that I would be including this picture in this blog. The reason I’ve included it is for what is in the background of the picture–the oddly-shaped white figure against the wall, that is part of what I described above, that I initially concluded was a poorly-maintained construction site.


A few days after my “Art Walk” along West Georgia, I came across some VAG literature that noted that the Vancouver Art Gallery Offsite, a space outside the gallery itself where the VAG exhibits art, is located beside The Shangri La Hotel.  Because I didn’t get down to this part of West Georgia very often, I’d never actually visited the Offsite space–although, particularly since I’d become a member of the Gallery, I had wondered about it, and thought I should visit.

I checked out on the VAG’s website what was currently showing at Offsite and, sure enough, that supposed construction site was actually the current exhibit, Large Painting and Caryatid Maquette in Studio at Night by Damian Moppett.  If you check out the piece on the VAG’s website, you’ll see why, in the dark,  I mistook the piece for a construction site, and steered clear of this prominent sample of public art in downtown Vancouver, when my mission was to find more of it.

At the Burrard SkyTrain Station, I came across my final piece of public art for the evening, an abstract black granite sculpture that has been there as long as the SkyTrain itself (over 30 years).  Once again, I could find no identifying information on the piece.  (Had such information originally been on a metal plate, that had been stolen?  Maybe installers of statues should consider using plastic labels, like on the piece at the Public Library.)  Although this sculpture had no identifying information, the name of the band whose poster was glued to the base, “Day Trippers”  would have made a good name for a  sculpture outside a transit station, don’t you think? You can follow this link if you want to know more about the sculpture.


Lest my readers assume that many of the problems I had finding out more about public art in downtown Vancouver–or just finding it, period–on my first “Art Walk” were due simply to me having been wandering around in the dark,  the next day I set out, in broad daylight, to find another piece I’d wanted to see, and experienced some very similar problems.

In the past few years, I’d seen a few interesting pieces by the Vancouver artist, Liz Magor, and I wanted to check out one of her public art pieces that I thought I’d heard was on the water near Yaletown.  Not true. (It’s actually at Coal Harbour.)

What I found instead was a beautiful language piece I’d never heard of before, that went on, and on, and on, for 100 meters or so, along the railing beside the water. (The three segments pictured below together comprise only a very small part of the total piece).  I couldn’t find any information about the piece when I was in its presence (not even the name of the artist), although I eventually found out the piece is by another talented Vancouver artist, Henry Tsang, and is called, Welcome to the Land of Light.  I wasn’t living in Vancouver when the piece first went up, in 1997, and I never get down to this part of the waterfront, but I’m still extremely surprised I’ve never heard of it.  Finding this piece more than compensated for not finding the Magor piece that day.

Even without knowing the story behind this piece, it’s quite entrancing.  But, knowing the story behind it, including the language of the non-English script, and why these particular words were chosen, the piece becomes an important homage to Vancouver’s history.  I wonder how many of even those people who regularly pass the piece know what this piece is about.




The final piece I’m mentioning in this blog post I encountered as I was heading home after finding the Henry Tsang piece (and not finding the Magor piece).  It was a relatively modest mosaic on the ground, in a park that I think is named “David Lam Park”.  As I’d come to expect, there was no information about the artist, or artists, beside the piece; but also, in this case, I couldn’t find any information on-line.

I suspect it might have been done by the same group, comprised largely of homeless kids, that created the mosaic beside the building at 411 Dunsmuir a couple of years ago, some of whom I spoke with when they were working on that mosaic. The style is very similar.

In the app that I dreamed up, both of these mosaics, although unassuming, and their creators, would receive recognition–and this infomation would be easy to find.


I was going to write a concluding section here; but, I’m pressed for time (Christmas is so soon!), so, for now, I’ll leave it at that.  You can draw your own conclusions.

Dreaming Up a New Phone App, Part 2: Annual General Meeting of the Vancouver Art Gallery

Shortly before I attended the recent Annual Meeting of the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG), held on November 14th, I learned that, if the VAG were to move, there was a good possibility that the Museum of Vancouver, currently located in a very small facility near the beach in Kitsilano, would move to the Old Courthouse Building that now houses the VAG.  If that were to happen, it would be good for the Museum, and the grounds that now surround the VAG likely would be able to continue to serve the same important community functions that they now serve, as a park and meeting place in the centre of downtown Vancouver.  I therefore wasn’t as worried as I had been before about the proposed relocation and expansion of the gallery, which had been the main reason I had wanted to attend the Annual Meeting. Yet I went along all the same.  Unless I’d missed something in the various emails and brochures I’d been sent by the VAG over the past year, since I acquired a VAG annual membership for the first time as a Christmas present last Christmas, this was the only meeting of the VAG during the entire year to which general Members, like myself, were invited.  My membership was expiring soon, and this could have been my one and only chance to attend a Members’ meeting at the VAG.

Although I was now less worried about the ongoing use of the current building and grounds, after attending the Annual Meeting, I was more strongly opposed to the relocation and expansion of the VAG than I had ever been.  Even though the meeting was extremely short, only about twenty minutes–and, in part, because it was so very short, and perfunctory–I got a strong sense that the VAG has fallen behind comparable institutions in terms of its responsiveness to the full range of its stakeholders, and in terms of its awareness of, and use, of digital technology.  Even Canadian universities, of which I’ve been so critical (including elsewhere in this blog), generally seem to have been doing better in these areas than the VAG.  If the VAG erects a new facility now, designed according to an already outdated view of what a public art gallery could and should be, I fear that, in just a couple of years, the expensive new facility will be a complete anachronism.  Thinking again of universities, it would be much like now erecting an expensive new university, modelled after traditional universities, when we know that some major changes likely are in store for universities, although we don’t yet know exactly what these changes will be.

Only about 80 people were in attendance at the Annual General Meeting, a large number of whom were employees of the Gallery.  The small attendance (according to the VAG, it currently has approximately 30,000 members) could have been due in part to the early start time (5:30 p.m.), which would have made attendance virtually impossible for any Members with day-jobs who worked other than in downtown Vancouver.  (I currently work downtown, a couple of blocks from the VAG.)  But I think the main reason so few people attended was that any Member who had attended an Annual General Meeting in the past, at least in recent years, or who had just heard from someone who had, would have known that attendance was a great waste of time and, unless they absolutely had to attend this time, because they were a Gallery employee or whatever, wouldn’t have bothered.

The preliminaries went well enough.  After signing in, I was handed a “voting card,” a flimsy slip of institutional-green paper, but which nevertheless made me eligible to cast my vote on decisions that would be made at the meeting.  Entering the meeting room, I was handed a copy of the Annual Report, the cover of which I’ve reproduced above, and copies of two sets of Minutes.  The graphic on the cover of the report is a photograph of a portion of the installation, Hand Vote, by Kota Ezawa, that was exhibited at the VAG earlier this year.  Being presented this document upon entering the meeting room, with a cover-graphic depicting the democratic process,  I was further led to assume that I would be given the opportunity to make a real contribution to VAG policies by attending this meeting.  But this was not to be.

In the first ten minutes of the meeting, there were three opportunities for me to vote, but I felt completely unqualified to vote on the issues under consideration, and didn’t vote even once.  The two sets of Minutes were passed unanimously–‘unanimously’ among those who actually voted.  Once I did get to actually reading the Minutes, I found out that one was from the last Annual General Meeting, held in September of last year, and the other from the Extraordinary General Meeting held in December of last year (before I became a Member), which dealt mainly with the amendment of certain By-Laws.  (One of these amendments dealt with increasing the maximum term of certain Trustees from the normal 10 years to 12 years.  Even ten years seems too long, if the Trustees, and the Director, are the only ones making any real decisions for the Gallery.)  The third opportunity to vote came after the Financial Report was presented.  (The VAG does seem to be doing well financially now.  According to the Report, the VAG had an annual operating surplus for the past fiscal year of $336,954, which was a major turnaround from the previous fiscal year, when it was $886,080 in the red.)   Attendees were given the opportunity to vote on employing the same accounting firm next year that the VAG had employed this year to prepare its Annual Financial Statements. What?!  I would have thought that was more of an administrative decision than a decision to be made by general Members of an Arts organization.

The second half of the meeting, which is to say the last ten minutes, consisted of the Gallery Director, Kathleen Bartels, providing a summary of Gallery activities during the past year.  Bartels incorporated in her presentation slides of some of the art that had been shown at the Gallery in the past year, and I was reminded of what a mixed bag the shows at the Gallery had been this year.  If I didn’t have the Annual Membership, there were probably only two shows I would have attended through the year: Beat Nation (the contemporary Aboriginal arts show I wrote about in my earlier blog) and Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore (nearly 50 works from one of the world’s great holdings of early European Modernism).

Bartels also showed a slide with the rankings in certain categories of the VAG in the most recent Association of Art Museum Directors Survey of 149 art museums across North America.  According to the rankings included in the slide, the VAG seemed to have been doing extremely well recently relative to other North American art museums in some key areas.  But I had many questions about that slide, beginning with the obvious question of whether there were categories in which the VAG didn’t rank well that were omitted from the slide.  I also had to wonder whether the relatively high attendance by school groups at the VAG may have been due to the fact that school groups in other jurisdictions were now making much greater use of on-line galleries and on-line arts education opportunities than those in the Greater Vancouver area, in which case the relatively high ranking of the VAG in this area might actually be an indication how backward our schools’ arts education programs are here as opposed to the VAG’s superiority in attracting school groups.  I wondered, too, if the relatively high general attendance at the VAG might be due, at least in part,to the VAG not having its permanent collection on-line, whereas the galleries in these other jurisdictions, or at least some of them, do have their permanent collections on-line.  Of course, there was no opportunity to ask such questions at this meeting.

Another supposed indicator of the VAG’s success in the past year mentioned by Bartels was that the VAG has acquired a large number of new art works during the past year for its permanent collection, through both purchase and donation. The enthusiasm Bartel expressed at the meeting for new acquisitions made me nervous. The retrospective of Ian Wallace’s photographic work I’d seen the previous week had got me thinking about how many photographic works produced in recent decades, of which the VAG has a large collection (including works by Wallace), have become passé in the past couple of years because of recent developments in digital photography, and digital graphics in general–and that, although some of these works may still have some historical interest for the current generation, they are likely to be of little or no interest to future generations.

In her ten-minute presentation, Bartels did manage to squeeze in a reference to the status of the VAG’s possible relocation and expansion.  Several months ago, the City of Vancouver had agreed in principle to allow the VAG to move to the proposed new site, on land owned by the City, and the VAG now has until February to meet certain conditions, when the City will make its final decision.  Bartels mentioned at the Annual General Meeting that the VAG has been making good progress in meeting these conditions (presumably, the major one is raising sufficient money).  But she never did get around to asking us, we the General Members, if we thought a new Gallery was actually a good idea.  I concede it’s very late in the proceedings to expect her to be asking such a question of us, but my impression is that General Members were never asked.  Possibly they were, and I just wasn’t around then; but, based on my experience of this Meeting, I very strongly doubt it.

The next morning, I woke up with the sense of delight and disorientation, all rolled into one, that one might experience waking up after a listless sleep on an overnight train in a sunny new clime, not knowing quite how one had got there.  I had dreamed up an idea for a new phone app that could provide roughly the same kind of experience as going to a major art gallery in a city such as Vancouver without even entering a gallery–and I’m not referring to a simple on-line art gallery, of which there are now many.  I’ll be discussing this app idea in my next blog post.

Dreaming Up a New Phone App, Part 1: The Ian Wallace Show at the Vancouver Art Gallery

A few nights ago, I dreamt up a new app, literally.  I woke from my slumbers with an idea, unusually rich in detail, for a new app for iPhones and other mobile devices that could help to revolutionize how we consume art and how we think about art–not necessarily in that order . . . and maybe not necessarily ‘revolutionize’.  But I think it’s a decent idea.

I’d been thinking quite a bit about art and its relationship with modern technology in the several days prior to my dream–and, if that dream is any indication, maybe during the nights, too, while I was asleep.  The week before, I attended the current main show at the Vancouver Art Gallery (or VAG), Ian Wallace: At the Intersection of Painting and Photography.  The night before my dream, because I was given an annual membership to the VAG as a Christmas present last year and because the proposed relocation and expansion of the Gallery is apparently still up in the air and I thought my input might help to quash this ill-conceived idea–or maybe, just maybe, some impassioned debate at the meeting would convince me I was wrong–I attended the Annual General Meeting of the VAG.

Ian Wallace, for those not familiar with his work, has been a central figure in the international photoconceptualism movement that developed in Vancouver, beginning forty or so years ago, sometimes referred to as the Vancouver School.  Before attending the current show, I was relatively familiar with Wallace’s theoretical work.  (About 20 years ago, back when I was doing my MA at Simon Fraser University and I did some temping to finance my studies, I had a temp job for a couple of weeks at the VAG transcribing tapes of lectures given at the Gallery by Ian Wallace and Jeff Wall, formerly a student of Wallace.)  I was less familiar with Wallace’s actual art: as far as I can recall, I’d seen only a few of Wallace’s pictures here and there.  (I recall having seen more of Jeff Wall’s work, including several of Wall’s large, staged, photographic images, and some of his smaller works mounted in light-boxes.)

Wallace’s work in the current show at the VAG is generally more playful than I had anticipated, and seemed somewhat at odds with the wordy, professorial, theorizing he used to talk about his work– at least on those tapes I transcribed.  (Wallace was a professor at UBC until he retired from that position a few years ago.)  A comment made by Wallace in an interview done relatively recently (I’d say within the past couple of years), a video of which was included as part of the show, suggested to me that Wallace himself recognized this disjuncture:  Wallace mentioned in the interview that, in the creation of his art works, he effectively just followed his instincts and, only afterwards, did he figure out how he would talk about them. (These aren’t his precise words.)

Regarding the techniques employed by Wallace, Wallace seemed to take considerable pleasure in basic experimentation that stretched the boundaries of what we think of usually think of as photography.  Incorporated in the show are images that combine photography and colour-field painting; images that incorporate superimpositions of photographs, or other materials superimposed on photographs (such as the pieces of plywood glued onto the large photographs from the forestry protests at Clayoquot Sound, on Vancouver Island, in the early ’90s); multiple photographs arranged in a narrative sequence to create one cinematic piece; images that employ what I call a “cut and paste” technique, involving taking visual material from one source and “pasting” it elsewhere (such as the many human figures in the monumental, around twenty-feet long, panorama of a verdant nature scene); and just the creation of basic panoramic views–which, when Wallace created his panoramas, involved taking multiple shots and assembling them to make one image.  To me, Wallace’s exploration of technique was, for the most part, quite a bit more interesting than the strictly photographic content of these images.

While these techniques may have been enough to garner Wallace wide acclaim thirty or forty years ago, in the early days of his experimentation, or even ten years ago when he created the Clayoquot series, or maybe even just a couple of years ago, by now these techniques are very easy to achieve, thanks to digital technology, and they’re commonplace.  Just for the illustrations I’ve created for the couple of posts in this new blog, using my iPad, that I’ve had for about a year, and my iPhone, that I’ve had for only a couple of months, I’ve incorporated some of these techniques–including superimposing images (for the header graphic and my picture of raccoons) and a panoramic shot of Crescent Beach, using a 99-cent app on my iPhone.  I wasn’t thinking of creating great art when I was creating these images, but only of creating some serviceable illustrations to spruce up my blog.  (There are many similar examples in my earlier blog, “The Tomatoes Diary.”)

(I had the idea when I was at Wallace’s show at the VAG of using the Panorama app on my iPhone to take a panoramic shot of Wallace’s 20-foot panoramic picture to use as an illustration in this post.  Because there was a guard standing near the picture, I thought I should ask her first about using my phone to take a picture, which I did, and she said it’s against Gallery policy–even though I have seen other Gallery visitors using their phones to take pictures of artworks. Maybe it’s a good thing she stopped me, because I could have got into trouble for copyright violation.)

A much more interesting show, in my view, would have been combining Wallace’s work with some current digital art, including iPad and iPhone art, that incorporated some of the same techniques.  (Maybe the title of the show could have been Ian Wallace and the Next Generation: At the Intersection of Analog and Digital.)  But then, shows at the VAG  probably are usually planned at least a couple of years in advance: even just two years ago, many of us (including myself) wouldn’t have realized that, by now, much of Wallace’s experimental photography work, including his panoramas, would seem passé.

(As I wrote in a blog post in “The Tomatoes Diary” about attending the show at the VAG last winter that incorporated some of Jeff Wall’s light boxes, in an age when we see so many visual images with back-lighting, including on computers, tablets, and phones, the same could be said about these works.)

Another comment made by Wallace in the interview to which I referred earlier struck me as quite sad.  Commenting on the acquisition by the VAG of some of his works for its permanent collection, Wallace remarked that “generations to come” (his words) would now be able to see his work. This was an older man speaking, and I couldn’t help but think that he was concerned about his own mortality, and hoped to achieve a kind of immortality through his art, and its ongoing display at the VAG.  But, frankly speaking, if the current generation of technologically savvy people is likely to now see his experiments with photography mainly as historical curiosities, I wonder if succeeding generations would be interested at all in this work.  Although many of his works were undoubtedly highly captivating when Wallace’s work was novel, and the effects he produced were difficult to achieve, at present, using basic digital tools that are widely available, fundamentally the same effects can be achieved by amateurs with no special training or talent, in a fraction of the time that it probably took Wallace to create his more ambitious works.

Wallace’s show was still fresh in my mind when I attended the Vancouver Art Gallery Annual General Meeting the following week, the evening before I had my dream about a new iPhone app.   I’ll be discussing that meeting, and my dream, in upcoming posts.  (Sorry I couldn’t get it all into one post.  That was my plan.  Now you’ll all have to wait, digital devices at the ready, to find out about my ‘revolutionary’ app!!)