Vancouver Art Gallery
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 its 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
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
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
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
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. Its political message may have
been meaningful, but the pictures themselves werent unique. Ive
been to many other galleries with the same style of snapshots taken on
soul-searching trips to Thailand. Was this any more about globalisation
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 wasnt.
(This was a lighting experiment that did not quite work and were in fact
withdrawn from this show.)
However, the 1940s 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
The most evocative and memorable piece was an ancient looking square of
wood at the back of the gallery outside the toilets that I dont
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 its much
more commercial here, art seems to be designed for corporate offices,
people arent 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
Just because no-one understands you, doesnt mean youre
© Jenny Brown
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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