A couple of weeks ago I visited the Vancouver Art Gallery. I go once a year. It is a long day trip to get there and back, taking the ferry and the bus, but I always look forward to it. A book comes with me, along with my watercolour pencils, just in case, and also my camera. It is my little mini holiday: the gallery, lunch out, ocean ride, ample time to read and most importantly an opportunity to gather impressions.
I enjoyed the VAG but I must say that the shows this year were a bit disappointing. Grand Hotel, the main exhibit, seemed more suited for a modern history museum than an art gallery. The show examines how hotel culture influenced current lifestyles and also how it inspired artists. It was interesting but much of it I’d read or seen in books and it actually felt like walking through a book, the pages open for display.
I go to the VAG to see art; art that doesn’t communicate well through photographs in books or online. To see the real thing is to experience it properly. I peer at paintings to study their brushstrokes, the textures that cannot be seen on the printed page. I see how the artists created what they create, how they changed their mind and how the finished work looks while standing before it.
The exhibit showcasing work from 17th century Dutch and Flemish artists was more interesting in this regard. They were to be juxtaposed with more modern interpretations of portrait, still life and landscape, but the variety of examples from newer artists were a bit thin and did not really balance the art from the earlier period. The still lifes, portraits and landscapes from the Dutch were meant for a rising class of people desiring to show off their taste and money without being extraordinarily vain about it. The subject matter of these paintings was of commercial consideration. They were for artists to receive a paycheque.
The art from the modern exhibits were by artists who more than likely received grants for their work by foundations and corporations who would look at it once and forget about it. They are not meant for someone’s parlour or sitting room, dining room or bedroom. They are not meant to reside in a grand office to demonstrate the prestige. They reside a good part of the time in the vaults of the VAG. Bought by individuals who love the creativity of ideas. Modern art tends to be about ideas, and there is value in that, but ideas can be turned into something sublime when a skilled artist takes the time to sit before a canvas and allow the artistic process to unfold. I admire Rauschenberg and Basquiat for their ideas, not necessarily for their skill. I stand before a Rembrandt or a Picasso and become limp.
So while the Vag disappointed I did discover some interesting art there and had fun taking photos during the rest of the day. Two photos I will play with further; one because this view of Gastown reminds me of Renoir subject matter
and the slowly moving cruise ship of Turner's memorable ship paintings.
I’ve done some sketching based on the first photo but I'm not really in the mood to take it further. I find the lumbering ship moving slowly through the haze a more arresting image. Waiting till the ferry was just at this angle I took the shot. It obviously meant something to me, but I did not think of Turner till I got home. After seeing the image at home I cannot get the correlation out of my mind. So now I will play with the image with paint and see what transpires. Maybe something, maybe nothing, only time will tell.