Thursday, October 04, 2012

Some correspondents want to talk about the VAG.  Advance apologies to anyone not interested in a discussion of local artworld politics.

1.  I was at the VAG for sixteen months as a curatorial assistant, meaning I typed and filed and was routinely overruled.  If by some miracle I had survived another sixteen months I would still probably have been typing and filing. Once I was asked if the "kids" might be interested in a show about skateboarding. When I mentioned my surplus curatorial energies I was lectured on something called the "career path," which apparently begins in St. John's, or Regina, or Whitehorse.  This didn't work for me, just as it didn't work for Kitty Scott or Melanie O'Brian, two ambitious occupants of positions almost identical to mine, who also left.

2.  Just before I left, I curated a tiny exhibition out of the permanent collection with Alfred Pellan and Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun and some other good artists.  It was called Change or Die!, a title not lost on my regular coffee crowd in the preparation department.

3.  My proposal for a one-room contemporary project space somewhere in the building was nixed by my boss on multiple grounds, one of which was that it would cost too much money.  Undeterred, I opened Anodyne Contemporary around the corner from the VAG in a second-floor office, where I did two years of exhibitions on a curatorial assistant's salary and my then-partner's patience.  After a brief hiatus, I've now done six years and counting of exhibitions with my friends Steven Tong and Adam Harrison at CSA Space, this time on a bookseller/photographer's salary, which is to say, even less.

4.  The VAG's current programming is largely irrelevant to anyone under 45, with the exception of the excellent one-offs co-curated by its director, Kathleen Bartels, and Jeff Wall. (A permanent collection exhibition curated by Roy Arden, as a counterpoint to a VAG survey of his own work, was also pretty terrific).

5.  Vancouver doesn't lack for youngish curatorial talent.  Jordan Strom, Liz Park, Lee Plested, Aaron Peck, Steven Tong and many of the UBC curatorial studies grads are routinely producing interesting exhibitions.  Yet the VAG seems totally uninterested in engaging with them.

6.  Kathleen Bartels' tenure as director has been linked, by Bob Rennie and others, to a move to a larger building.  Bob wants to torpedo the move for reasons I don't pretend to understand, other than to observe that I have less in common with him, the consummate salesman, "creative capitalist" and political insider, than with just about any other member of the Canadian art world.

7.  Somehow #6 has evolved into a George W. Bush-style axis-of-evil equation.  Either you're with Kathleen, and for a bigger building, or you're with Bob.

8.  Put me in the not-Bob crowd.  I have no time or respect for what Bob and his job have done to my city.

9.  I think that Kathleen Bartels has done a good job under difficult circumstances, certainly the best job of any director since Willard Holmes.  But admiring Kathleen doesn't mean rubber-stamping the monomania of the current VAG board, who want a bigger building, but have no clear plan for how the cash-strapped institution will pay for it.

10.  Money will always be found for buildings.  Donors love having their names on things.

10a.   No one likes to fund light and heat, curatorial research, preparation, conservation, exhibition installation, & etc.  These costs are necessary, but not sexy.

11.  Cultural institutions are always, in the words of one of my more frequent correspondents, managed disasters.  Point taken.  But upping an institution's financial exposure at a time of unprecedented economic turmoil is counterproductive.  It makes the institution more dependent on politicians of all stripes, who are no friends of sophisticated art to begin with, and on donors with smug taste.  There will always be corporate money for Emily Carr and Douglas Coupland and Gordon Smith and EJ Hughes.  But Paul McCarthy?  Lady Brute?  Yuxweluptun?  Paul Wong?

12. As I wrote this morning, "The solution to a long-standing institutional problem is to reform the institution, not to kick the problem down the road, naively pretending that it will somehow resolve itself in the medium- to long term, despite all evidence to the contrary."

13.  Kathleen's supporters -- and I count myself among them -- would do her, and the city, a favor by nixing talk of a bigger building, focusing instead on holding the VAG to a higher curatorial standard.  That institution might then consistantly produce exhibitions of high quality which would put Bob Rennie and his private vanity gallery to shame.

Some other illuminating contributions to the discussion here and here.

Fair notice: I will treat all future correspondence pertaining to this topic as public, eg., available for attribution, citation, & etc.

<< Home

Powered by Blogger

.post-title { display: none!important; }