By Robin Laurence
The natural world meets cutting-edge technology in the new Gallery of Northwest Coast Masterworks at the UBC Museum of Anthropology. With softbox lighting that’s responsive to outdoor conditions, a north-facing window framing a forested view of the Coast Mountains, and fabric-clad walls and edge-grain hemlock flooring keyed to a West Coast palette, the new exhibition space stands in contrast to the older “black box” approach to museum display.
Converted from MOA’s former theatre space, the gallery is compact in size – 210 square metres – yet expansive in its aspirations. It will spotlight a private gift of 230 historical and contemporary Northwest Coast “masterworks” while also being the site of rotating temporary exhibitions. The inaugural show, In a Different Light: Reflecting on Northwest Coast Art, runs through June 2019.
Located at the University of British Columbia, MOA has long been acclaimed for its outstanding collection of Northwest Coast First Peoples’ art and its award-winning Arthur Erickson-
designed building. In this gallery, public and private funding has enabled the extensive renovation and the installation of state-of-the-art amenities including movable, seismically stabilized display cases, “Idea Chairs” with built-in audio, and other immersive audiovisual components.
An additional interactive feature consists of four monumental cedar boards from a Tsimshian house-front screen dating back to the early 1800s. Heavily weathered, their painted designs are scarcely visible under conventional lighting. A visitor-triggered sensor, however, switches on narrowly focused LED lights that “pop the original designs into relief” – an apt metaphor for the meeting of old and new in the Masterworks gallery.