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Vancouver Art Gallery

Jenny Brown visits
Gallery 83
East Pender Street, Vancouver
Tel: 604 605 3166
Director Stacey Nadine Malysh

What is the definition of an Artist? According to my definition, art should be shocking, beautiful, offensive - anything, as long as it evokes at least some kind of emotion. Why bother putting it on the wall if it’s not going to jump out and grab you?

These thoughts ran through my head as I viewed a recent display at the new Gallery 83 at 83 East Pender Street, Vancouver. Aside from an outstanding series of black and white Weegee style New York photographs by Hank Mann, the most memorable items were the spanking new carpet and the chair and table in the back with colourful, low bookshelf containing books and an African mask.

I stared hard at each piece, trying to understand the message of each one. But I found myself easily distracted and more intrigued by the babble of an older gentleman who was obviously trying to pick up the pretty young receptionist.

Perhaps I was put off by the first section that was a display of colour pictures by Doris Cheung of ordinary looking people with a blurb underneath explaining that these were foreigners living in Vancouver, and what they thought about living here. There was no being robbed on Hastings Street, no months of unemployment, no being discovered by a Hollywood director and cast in the next blockbuster. It would have been more interesting had the artist made up stories, give more spice to the otherwise bland visual experience.

Another section had a picture of the corner of a Lottery store sign by Hank Mann, slightly crooked like a child had grabbed the camera and taken a shot. Perhaps that one should have had an explanatory blurb aswell. Is a picture of a lottery sign more ‘arty’ if is off centre and crooked?

There was a series of nudes by Nausher Banaji that were interestingly enough displayed, digitally printed onto canvas. Unfortunately the naughty bits were covered, as were the faces by a scarf. They were intertwined in a way that said nothing in particular, perhaps a couple of dancers doing a dance of lust or mourning?

There was a long enlarged photograph - a strip of double exposed film representing globalisation by Nancy Bleck, a photographic accident that she has turned into a piece of art. It was a blur of oriental and western faces some with paint on them, mixed in with other ghost-like images of streets in Prague and cafe regulars. It’s political message may have been meaningful, but the pictures themselves weren’t unique. I’ve been to many other galleries with the same style of snapshots taken on soul-searching trips to Thailand. Was this any more about globalisation than those?

At the back was a tiny display of 5 boxes of industrial photos by Krisopher Grunert. It looked like it was supposed to be lit up but wasn’t. (This was a lighting experiment that did not quite work and were in fact withdrawn from this show.)

However, the 1940’s Weegee style pictures were striking - a heavily shadowed Humphrey Bogart looking man, and an old granny in a fluffy coat. These skilful and professional looking shots stood out from the rest, and perhaps had they been displayed at the beginning would have set a better tone.

The most evocative and memorable piece was an ancient looking square of wood at the back of the gallery outside the toilets that I don’t even think was part of the display. (Part of Stacey's own collection and is a photo transfer onto plaster, manipulated with paint and tar.) It had on it a image of some disturbing faces; one with eyes that were almost covered by a hat, and were unmistakably haunted and tortured looking. It looked like a bunch of men in the middle of a battle. (This piece by Andrew Bell -now showing at the Ingram Gallery in Toronto Nov '03)

All this makes me wonder, what exactly do they teach at art school aside from drawing tree after tree till you get it right? To play it safe; not risk offending anyone?

The pretty receptionist, originally from Montreal, was talking about the differences between Toronto and Vancouver art. She said it’s much more commercial here, art seems to be designed for corporate offices, people aren’t taking risks, nothing is too daring.
Is the bottom line commerce after all? Cater to the accountants and bankers, with dominant left brained thinking, not fussed by the nuisance of emotional extremes? Maybe lesson number one at art school is: Safe Art Sells - because who wants to be a starving artist?
Someone sent me an email of funny one liners, and this one sums it up brilliantly:
‘Just because no-one understands you, doesn’t mean you’re an artist’.

© Jenny Brown November 2002

Stacey Malyish writes: This exhibition was curated as a survey of contemporary photography by Vancouver artists. Vancouver has an international reputation based on some of our photographers, such as Jeff Wall, Ian Wallace, Ken Lum and Stan Douglas, to name a few, and it was my aim to illustrate the influence this tradition has had on the aesthetic, concepts and processes of younger photographers.
Stacey Nadine Malysh
Director and Owner, Gallery 83

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© Hackwriters 2002