‘The more they try to grind me down / the more I like Vancouver town.’ So has long sung Rolf Harris, a once frequent visitor (until his recent incarceration in London for indecent assault) to this spiffy city on the Canadian west coast. But North America’s most expensive housing market can be a bit of a grind, too. And we’re not just talking coffee which, to the first-time visitor, might appear to be the town’s only economic engine. The art scene, however, throughout British Columbia, is also percolating nicely. ArtReview sampled a few Vancouver art offerings between pour-overs, then lit out for the hinterlands to see what was on offer in the rest of the province.
Vancouverites don’t get many chances to see the prodigious output of photographs, videos, sculptures, installations and paintings by Graham, who is one of the city’s best-known artists internationally. This summer, however, he has no fewer than three big shows in Vancouver—one at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design; one at the University of British Columbia (his alma mater); and a third at the private museum of the city’s 'condo king', Bob Rennie, whose gargantuan art collection provided most of the works for all three exhibitions. A giant, spinning chandelier by Graham occupies pride of place in another developer’s development—a 52-storey twisting tower called Vancouver House. And finally, he’s bought his very own bakery/coffee shop on Main Street.
No less ubiquitous is Alan Storey, who adds two new kinetic sculptures to his growing body of public art this summer, one on the corner of 6th and Alberta in Vancouver, the other on the corner of Bonsor and Nelson in Burnaby next door. Anyone familiar with Storey’s work knows it’s way too complex to be described in a few words. Suffice to say that one work involves a rainwater cistern with a catch release, feng shui, a giant 360 degree revolving red door, and the site’s last 100 years of zoning history; the other uses sine waves from three phase step-down electrical transformers to represent, on a giant LED ‘oscilloscope,’ the electricity usage patterns of some 40,000 Vancouver households.
In 2000, Christos Dikeakos and his wife Sophie bought an apple orchard near Kelowna, in the Okanagan Valley, some 400 km east of Vancouver. Orchards once abounded here, until British Columbia’s growing thirst for locally made wine caused growers to tear out the trees and replace them with vines and mock-colonial chateaux. Dikeakos, a senior photoconceptualist of the Vancouver School, explores this melancholic history through images, texts and objects, including Donald Judd-like stacks of apple crates and a video update, with apples, of Glue Pour (1970), a locally famous Vancouver art intervention performed by Robert Smithson and documented by the then-student Dikeakos. The strongest elements, however, are the delicious reds and goldens in the trees—and in the inkjet photographs.
A short ferry ride brings us to Salt Spring, a pleasant island abundantly stocked with good goat's cheese, excellent organic greens and terrifically terrible hippie art. Curator Helen Mears’s gallery, Pod Contemporary has significantly boosted the local scene with consistently strong shows like this one, which pairs the mixed-media abstracts of Michela Sorrentino with the hand-felted ceramics of Laura Keil. The sensuous paintings and pots of these two longtime residents balance nicely in the exhibition space, and are, frankly, among the most finely crafted creations we have seen anywhere in a very long time.
Another ferry and a float plane takes us up to Bamfield, a tiny, rain-drenched ‘drinking village with a fishing problem’ perched precariously on the ‘côte sauvage’ of Vancouver Island. The newly opened Brady, continental North America’s most westerly art outpost, is chockablock with the works of local artists, but the standout pieces are sit-down hardwood figures— scavenged from the seashore, part Easter Island moai, part First Nations totem—by Andrea Butler, a Chilean-born artist whose larger, more colourful figurative works line the village boardwalk and poke out suddenly, where you least expect it, from the surrounding rainforest.