I’m rarely ever one of those people who see things as soon as they’re open (whether it’s movies, plays, exhibits, etc.), but it just so happened that I was in Whistler the 2nd weekend since the Audain Art Museum opened, and so I visited it, and I’m glad I did.
I was a little put off by the steep admission price ($18) but was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was a lot more art inside than I was expecting, even though the 2nd floor wasn’t open to the public yet. The permanent collection comprises 14 000 square feet and the temporary exhibition space (currently showcasing Mexican Modernists) has a generous 6000 square feet.
I spent about two hours in these two sections, with the majority of that time in the permanent collection. One of my first thoughts: “Wow, this is a lot of art for one individual to own!” The artworks are curated from the private collection of Vancouver homebuilder and philanthropist Michael Audain and his wife Yoshiko Karasawa.
I’m thankful they’re sharing their collection with the public. It’s quite diverse, in media and time periods.
When you first walk in to the permanent collection, you enter The Art of Coastal First Nations, a gallery full of masks and an impressive floor-to-ceiling wood sculpture called The Dance Screen (The Scream Too) by James Hart that expresses traditional Haida beliefs.
Passing through this room, you then find yourself in the Emily Carr and Art of the Coastal First Nations gallery, where dozens of paintings by the famous BC artist are displayed, along with objects from the Gitxsan and Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations that she may have encountered on her trip up the coast. On the didactic panel, it says, “Emily Carr paved a different way for many Modernists to experience and depict the British Columbia landscape.”
On display are Carr’s quintessential dark, brooding forest scenes and her more colourful trees and seaside images, which are actually my preferred ones.
From here, the next gallery is E.J. Hughes and Depictions of Place. I had never heard of Edward John Hughes (1913-2007) before, but this is the only single artist room in the Audain Art Museum. Hughes is known for his distinctive, colourful depictions of maritime life on BC’s coast, blending the natural with the industrial.
What came next was my favourite gallery: Exploring Land, People and Ideas. Even though the permanent collection is divided into galleries so you can do bits here and there, there was a strong chronological and historical flow to it if you go from beginning to end. The works in this section reflect the Modernist movement sweeping through the Western world leading up to WWII. Artists explored new modes of expression in the 1920s and 30s, such as “the spiritual aspects of nature and how to represent, in art, a personal response to the vastness of British Columbia” (didactic panel).
Winter Landscape by Gordon Smith was one of my favourites . . .
. . . as well as this mesmerizing Jack Shadbolt painting called Butterfly Transformation Theme (1981, 1982) which very much reminded me of his similarly vibrant wall-length work at VGH.
I also like the Mondrian-esque qualities to this oil on board, Comment on Horseshoe Bay by Charles Bertrum (B.C.) Binning from 1949.
Step into the next gallery, Photography and Vancouver, and you have firmly landed in modern/postmodern BC. It is the 1980s and Vancouver is at the forefront of Photo-conceptualism, a blend of photography and idea-based art. Artists shown here include Stan Douglas, Rodney Graham, Ken Lum, Ian Wallace, and Jeff Wall who turned to the city as their subject and sought to communicate larger ideas of its changing political, social, economic status through the camera lens.
I like the ephemeral, poetic quality of Schoolyard Tree by Rodney Graham, which kind of looks like a heart (and no, I didn’t take this picture upside down).
Last, but certainly not least, comes Art of Our Time, celebrating BC’s thought-provoking artists and the different forms they use to express their ideas, whether it be through newer forms (like photography) or classic forms like painting, sculpture, installation, or what I like to call “classic with a twist.” Among the artists featured here are Dana Claxton, Brian Jungen, Tim Lee, Landon Mackenzie, Sonny Assu, Arabella Campbell, Attila Richard Lukacs, and Marianne Nicolson.
Grande-sized coffee cups take on new meaning in this copper installation 1884-1951 by Sonny Assu:
Marianne Nicolson combines glass and wood in this sculpture Max’inus – Killer Whale (Fin #2):
Pictured in the foreground is a pyramid of snowballs (bronze with white patina) stacked up like munition. It’s called Arsenal by Gathie Falk.
Brian Jungen’s towers of golf bags are one of the more obvious examples of “classic with a twist”—a contemporary take on the totem pole:
And that’s a quick tour of the permanent collection in the Audain Art Museum.
Would I go back again? Absolutely. My days of snowboarding are over so it’s nice that Whistler has an art destination of this calibre to give me another reason to visit.