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Professional curators of contemporary art were once as scarce as hen's teeth

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Gallery Views

In the crucible: Art Cities of the Future

By MARYSE DE LA GIRODAY
nano@frogheart.ca

Raymond Boisjoly, As It Comes (so also) (2013), installation view, inkjet prints and staples Courtesy of Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver

Raymond Boisjoly, As It Comes (so also) (2013), installation view, inkjet prints and staples Courtesy of Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver


Fire, the element with which creativity is most closely associated, is born of friction, and the art world is not short of friction. In Vancouver, British Columbia, and 11 other cities around the world it seems that friction has led to new status, as proclaimed by Phaidon Books in its Art Cities of the Future: 21st-Century Avant-Gardes, released September 23, 2013.

Vancouver could seem like an odd choice in a list of art cities that includes such hot spots (literally and/or historically) as: Beirut (Lebanon), Bogotá (Colombia), Cluj (Romania), Delhi (India), Istanbul (Turkey), Johannesburg (South Africa), Lagos (Nigeria), San Juan (Puerto Rico), São Paulo (Brazil), Seoul (Korea), and Singapore.

According to Reid Shier, author of the Vancouver chapter and director/curator at Presentation House Gallery, Vancouver’s inclusion is not a surprise. He says, “There are an incommensurate number of great contemporary artists, given Vancouver’s size, emerging from this city, and that’s well recognized internationally.”

Shier was asked, as were the authors of the other chapters, to select eight emerging, substantive artists resident in the city who he felt were about to achieve international stature. His eight choices were: Raymond Boisjoly, Rebecca Brewer, Andrew Dadson, Julia Feyrer, Gareth Moore, Isabelle Pauwels, Kevin Schmidt and Ron Tran.

You can hear regret in Shier’s voice when he says, “It was difficult limiting myself to eight artists, and quantifying Vancouver’s contemporary art scene in 1,500 words meant I wasn’t able to touch on how disparate it is.”

That notion of a disparate and dynamic art scene is something Wendy Chang, director at the Vancouver-based Rennie Collection, also touches on when discussing Vancouver and the world of contemporary art. Having worked in Los Angeles and elsewhere, Chang, whose hometown is Vancouver, says, “This city has a fantastic reputation. Part of what makes it so special is that it not only produces great artists; it’s also developing new ways to show and experience art.” The examples of unconventional venues she points to range from apartment-based enterprises and community gardens to neighbourhood-based initiatives in traffic-calming circles.

As it happens, the Rennie Collection has already been involved in displaying artists from two of the other cities in the Phaidon book. The collection opened its doors in 2009 with a display of work by Mona Hatoum, an artist born in Beirut. And in late 2014, the work of Mircea Cantor, an artist based in Cluj and Paris, will be featured.

Neither Chang nor Bob Rennie was aware of the book at any stage in its development. (Rennie is the art collector who displays his extraordinary collection in Vancouver and elsewhere on loan to such institutions as the Guggenheim Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Centre Georges Pompidou, Smithsonian, and Tate).

There are any number of reasons a city might produce a high number of great artists per capita – for example, friction that fuels creativity and collectors and institutions that buy the art. Says Chang, “The city has a ‘Wild West’ energy where anything can happen.”

\Shier proposes that teaching is one of the reasons: “Practising artists in Vancouver tend to teach in schools or institutions of higher learning, and that’s unique when compared to places like Toronto.” He has a point. The list of Vancouver’s renowned artist-teachers includes Jeff Wall, Ken Lum, Roy Arden and Ian Wallace and, of a previous generation, you can add Jack Shadbolt.

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