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CURRENT COLUMN

Visual Artists as Entrepreneurs and Marketers
September 2013
Visual Artists as Entrepreneurs and Marketers

Audain Art Museum
June 2013
Siting an Art Museum in a Forest

Gordon Smith Gallery
November 2012
Boosting the Profile of Artists for Kids

Equinox
September 2012
From glacial meltwater to contemporary art

Morris & Helen Belkin Gallery
June 2012
Professional curators of contemporary art were once as scarce as hen's teeth

Equinox Gallery
April 2012
Gallery owners have their eye on East Vancouver

Equinox Gallery
February 2012
Gallery owners have their eye on East Vancouver

Jacana Gallery
November 2011
Nothing is certain but death and taxes

Satellite Gallery
September 2011
Hope springs eternal


June 2011
The Hotel Waldorf
reimagined


April 2011
Education for the eye,
soul and mind


February 2011
Fine art inkjet prints
are here to stay


November 2010
SAAG endows the old
with new possibilities

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Gallery Views

Audain Art Museum:
Siting an Art Museum in a Forest

By ROBIN LAURENCE

Audain Art Museum, Whistler: architectural model

Audain Art Museum, Whistler: architectural model

Some two decades ago, when Canadian couple Michael Audain and Yoshiko Karasawa were travelling in the south of France, they visited one of Europe’s most esteemed private art museums. La Fondation Maeght, located near Saint-Paul de Vence, displays works by the leading lights of Modernism from the collection of the late Aimé and Marguerite Maeght. Audain and Karasawa were entranced. “We were very influenced by the nature of a small, very select collection,” Audain tells Preview. The CEO of Polygon Homes Ltd. – who also happens to be one of the most important patrons of the visual arts in this country – is seated in his spacious Vancouver office, surrounded by paintings, prints and sculptures, and also by spectacular views of the city. “Maeght was a Parisian art dealer, and he took some of the best works from his personal collection and put them in a rural setting on a Provence hillside.

Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght

The Audains were inspired by the small, very select collection of the Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght in Provence.

Launched in 1964, the Maeght Foundation building, courtyards and sculpture gardens were designed by Catalan architect Josep Lluis Sert in collaboration with a number of the artists represented in the collection, including Georges Braque, Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Alberto Giacometti, Fernand Léger and Joan Miró. This museum is renowned not only for the art it displays but also for the regard it gives to its natural location and the harmonious relationship between its interior and exterior spaces. “We said maybe one day we might want to do something like that,” Audain recalls

In the years since that visit, he and Karasawa have acquired a large private art collection with a special focus on the historic and contemporary art of British Columbia. Their collection includes stellar examples of 19th-century Northwest Coast First Nations masks, the most significant group of Emily Carr paintings and watercolours in private hands, and photo-based works by members of the internationally acclaimed “Vancouver School,” including Stan Douglas, Rodney Graham, Ken Lum and Jeff Wall. There is also representation by leading contemporary First Nations artists, such as Dana Claxton, Jim Hart, Marianne Nicolson and Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun

After deciding to create a museum to house their collection and make it available to the public, the couple then pondered where to build. In September 2012 they were invited to Whistler, a mountain resort town two hours’ drive north of Vancouver, to view potential locations for what will be the Audain Art Museum. “We wanted a site in a natural setting, and in BC that means trees,” Audain says. “And also a site with good access – pedestrian and public transit.” The spot they chose (and for which they were granted a 199-year lease) is in a coniferous forest opposite Whistler’s municipal hall and overlooking Fitzsimmons Creek

In October, when Audain and Karasawa announced their museum would be built in Whistler, the West Coast art world reacted with surprise – even astonishment. Many had assumed that the couple’s collection and future philanthropy would find their way into existing public galleries and museums. As well, Audain, who has served as board chairman of the Vancouver Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Canada, had been actively promoting the cause a new facility for the VAG. “I’ve been involved with the Vancouver Art Gallery and the National Gallery for a long time and will continue to support both of those institutions,” he says. “But we felt it would be nice for people to see our pictures and other art works in the manner that we collected and lived with them in our homes.” More pragmatically, the VAG relocation project looks to be a long-term one, and Audain is determined to open his museum by early 2015.

After the announcement, Audain flew to France to have another look at the Maeght Foundation, to remind himself of the ways in which it is structured and located. “But it’s a totally different setting,” Audain remarks now. “It’s on a sun-drenched hillside, with a lovely climate, so you can have the doors open all the time. Our architecture has to relate to the mountains and the northern climate.” Important considerations include heavy annual snowfall and the possibility of flooding from Fitzsimmons Creek.

Patkau Architects, the Vancouver-based firm engaged to design the Audain Art Museum, responded to these challenges with a proposal to put the long, low building on stilts, and to crown the structure with a sharply slanting roof to shed snow. The entire, modest-looking structure, with approximately 56,000 square feet of floor space, is designed to fit into openings in the existing forest, necessitating the removal of only one tree. The estimated $30-million cost of construction and installation will come from the Audain Foundation, which has already donated $40 million to cultural and academic institutions.

In the past, Audain has spoken about the personal nature of the relationship that he and his wife have with the art they collect, and how much they enjoy living with it each and every day. So, won’t he miss that intimate connection when his collection is housed in Whistler? “I’m recognizing that I’m not going to live forever,” he says. “One has to make plans for the future, and I’ve become comfortable with that.” Then he adds with a laugh, “If we have some empty walls, maybe that will allow us to refresh them in some way.”

Audain Art Museum, Whistler: site plan

Architect’s site plan of the Audain Art Museum

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