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An Art Lover’s Guide to Vancouver

Exploring local galleries.

Surrounded by deep forests and high mountains, with the closest American metropolis a comfortable three hours away, Vancouver’s isolation has, in theory, contributed to its distinct artistic identity and the styles of independent local contemporary artists like Jeff Wall, Katie Craig, Ken Lum, Stan Douglas, and Douglas Coupland. In support of such talent, Vancouver has established a dynamic artistic infrastructure. While rising rents and condensing neighbourhoods have run some smaller galleries out, historic ones remain, and new and innovative galleries arrive regularly.

One such recent and welcome addition to the city is Strathcona’s Wil Aballe Art Projects. The gallery, which began in engineer Aballe’s apartment off Main Street, is a gallery made for artists to aid in the growth of young careers. Tucked away on a historic East Hastings block, the gallery has made a name for itself showing challenging work by local artists such as Nicolas Sasson, Vanessa Brown, and Ryan Quast. Aballe, who is friendly and knowledgeable, has his finger on the pulse of the city.

For another take on what’s new and vibrant in Vancouver, long-running Winsor Gallery is a best-bet. Located in the trendy “the Flats” art district at the north end of Main Street (Monte Clark Gallery and Equinox Gallery are neighbours) owner Jennifer Winsor represents exciting emerging and mid-career artists such as Andy Dixon, Ben Skinner, and Jen Mann. Public art tip: just a couple blocks away at Hootsuite headquarters, be sure to check out a massive mural by Dixon, a reproduction of his Vancouver Studio (After Matisse).

A recent addition to the Flats neighbourhood includes Macaulay & Co. Fine Art. Owner Sarah Macaulay began her artistic endeavours in Vancouver with Blanket Contemporary Gallery, focusing on First Nations contemporary and traditional art before opening her latest space in 2012. Macaulay continues to show essential First Nations artists such as Shawn Hunt, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, and Walter Scott, as well as 2016 Sobey Art winner Jeremy Shaw. Her approach to curation is considered yet removed—the work here always feels unperturbed and shown in proper context.

Vancouver owes most of its current vibrancy to the legacy of artist-run centres in the city. Spaces such as the Western Front and Or Gallery established a dialogue between art organization and artists that can be felt throughout the city. The aforementioned are excellent locations, but a busy art-viewer would perhaps find more substance at Gastown’s Artspeak where exhibitions are often accompanied by generous text support and great cocktails are close at hand at neighbours L’Abattoir or Tacofino.

The city’s most internationally important gallery, Catriona Jeffries, undoubtedly owes a great deal to the artist-run centre curatorial method. The first gallery to make the Flats an art destination, Catriona Jeffries has played a hand in making some of the city’s most important artist such as Geoffrey Farmer and Ian Wallace the stars that they are—focusing on dialogue, theory, and narrative. The only Vancouver gallery to regularly show at art fairs such as Art Basel, this is the gallery Americans and Europeans think of when they think of Canadian art. Cerebral and always cool, Catriona Jeffries is an institution.

Vancouver’s art scene is varied, complex, and like any great art city, always evolving for the next generation of excellent local talent.


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