At the Audain (Again)

The best art exhibit I’ve seen this summer is the current one at the Audain Art Museum in Whistler—Masterworks from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. The Beaverbrook Art Gallery is located in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and I remember feeling a little disappointed when I realized it wasn’t going to work out make it there on my Maritimes trip in 2014. So when I heard that 75 paintings were travelling to Whistler for this temporary exhibit (I believe it was the only stop in BC), there was no way I was going to miss it. And it did not disappoint.

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The description of the exhibit reads:

Masterworks from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery was initiated to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in 2009. The focus of the exhibition is the Gallery’s founder William Maxwell Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook) and the artists he collected and cultivated, who in turn influenced the passion he had for collecting. 75 paintings are presented by world-renowned artists, such as Cranach, Copley, Delacroix, Gainsborough, Constable, Reynolds, Romney, Sargent, Sisley, Turner and Freud; and by prominent historical Canadian artists, such as Krieghoff, Morrice, Carr, Milne, Gagnon, and members of the Group of Seven. A highlight of the exhibition is Salvador Dali’s monumental painting Santiago El Grande.

I spent a lot of time in this exhibit. There were so many paintings in so many styles  (e.g. Realism, Impressionism, Romanticism, Surrealism) and from different time periods. There were also quite a lot of “stars” whose work I had never seen in person until now: Dalí, Gainsborough, Sargent, Delacroix—the list goes on.

Here are some highlights (and I apologize for my crappy camera phone):

This is one of the first works you see when you walk in. Lots of symbolism going on in this surrealist painting (the description is helpful at pointing out things I would have otherwise missed). The Catholic Church and nuclear physics were big influences on Dalí.

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Salvadaor Felipe Jacinto Dali, Santiago El Grande, 1957.

This is considered one of Gainsborough‘s most brilliant full-length portraits:

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Thomas Gainsborough, Lieutenant Colonel Edmund Nugent, 1764.

When I first saw this painting below, I thought, “Now there’s a woman you don’t want to mess with.” Helena Rubinstein apparently created one of the first worldwide beauty brands and was the world’s first female self-made millionaire. She looks the part. The description reads, Although she was only five feet tall, the cosmetic magnate is shown from a low viewpoint and with her left arm held to her hip, which serves to enhance her strong and dominant personality.

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Graham Vivian Sutherland, Helena Rubinstein, 1957.

I remember learning about Eugène Boudin in a French Impressionism art course in university. He was a precursor to the Impressionists and one was one of the first French landscape painters to paint en plein air (outside). He taught Monet.

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Eugène Boudin, Personnages sur la plage, before 1898.

The Impressionism works were my favourite. Alfred Sisley was a founding member of the Impressionist movement and, something new I learned from the description, he was the only Englishman among the French Impressionists. His seascape shows the rugged beauty of Wales:

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Alfred Sisley, La falaise de Penarth, le soir-temps orageux, 1897.

A painter of dramatic scenes, I learned Eugène Delacroix, a leader of French Romanticism, was often inspired by the writings of Dante, Goethe, and Shakespeare as subjects for his art.

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Eugène Delacrois, Lady Macbeth Sleep-Walking, 1850.

This next one stood out to me because the style was so different than anything else in the exhibit—almost cartoon-like characters, or as the description calls it, “matchstick figures go[ing] about their everyday life.” This is a scene in Northern England that highlights the sense of alienation that often accompanies urban life.

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Laurence Stephen Lowry, Industrial View, Lancashire, 1956

This large and dreamlike painting was done by William Turner, English Romantic landscape painter and forerunner to the Impressionists.

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Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Fountain of Indolence, 1834.

Lucian Freud, grandson of Sigmund Freud, worked in a hyper-realist style. I spent a while trying to figure out what was going on in this painting, the man in shadow, the woman somewhere else. Even though the title is “Hotel Bedroom,” I keep wanting to call it “Hospital Bedroom.”

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Lucian Freud, Hotel Bedroom, 1954.

The exhibit had several Group of Seven paintings depicting their signature Canadian landscapes, but I was more drawn to this inner city portrait that you don’t often see from them. Indeed, the description states: When [Harris] settled in Toronto in 1910, he turned his attention to making drawings and paintings of dilapidated old houses and working-class shacks in the city’s fringe area, a theme which is unique within the work of the Group of Seven.

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Lawren Stewart Harris, Morning, c. 1921.

And my favourite one in the whole show, hands down, is this one below. Those blues! Those golds! Those reflections of rocks in the water! The picture doesn’t do it nowhere near justice nor gives you a sense of the large panoramic size it actually is, but believe me, it is incredible. I always associate Sargent‘s name with portraiture (and apparently he was the highest paid portrait painter in the world for some time), but by 1907 he announced his intention to retire from portraiture as a business, which he referred to as a pimp’s profession, and devoted more of his time to landscape painting. I’m glad he did so the world has this:

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John Singer Sargent, San Vigilio, Lake Garda, 1913.

Masterworks from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery is on until September 11. I highly recommend going to see it!

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The lovely “treehouse”space on the 2nd floor

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A Visit to the Audain Art Museum

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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On display are Carr’s quintessential dark, brooding forest scenes and her more colourful trees and seaside images, which are actually my preferred ones.

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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.

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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).

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Winter Landscape by Gordon Smith was one of my favourites . . .

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. . . 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.

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I also like the Mondrian-esque qualities to this oil on board, Comment on Horseshoe Bay by Charles Bertrum (B.C.) Binning from 1949.

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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.

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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).

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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:

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Marianne Nicolson combines glass and wood in this sculpture Max’inus – Killer Whale (Fin #2):

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Pictured in the foreground is a pyramid of snowballs (bronze with white patina) stacked up like munition. It’s called Arsenal by Gathie Falk.

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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:

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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.