Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

Art makes my heart grow fonder



I loves me a good art gallery.

As the mythologist Joseph Campbell once wrote: "Artists provide the contemporary metaphors that allow us to realize the transcendent, infinite, and abundant nature of being as it is."

Once, upon completing a story on Greenpeace in Barcelona, I made a beeline to Madrid (halfway across Spain) in order to visit the Prado Museum. I wanted to see its room filled with triptychs of medieval visions of heaven and hell by Hieronymus Bosch (and the amazing works by El Greco, Velázquez and so many others).

I was in a garden of earthly delights. Visual art like painting and sculpture tends to be for me a pretty picture, a historical document, a snapshot of a culture, and an expression of creative imagination from a single mind. I can't remember a time when a good painting didn't hook me.

What I also remember from Madrid was feeling slightly sick because I didn't have enough time to check out Guernica by Picasso, which is displayed in another part of town.

Such moments or journeys revolving around art galleries are not unusual experiences for me.

Thus, I'm ridiculously happy about the Audain Art Museum setting up shop in Whistler in 2015.

The recent record purchase, for $3.393 million, of The Crazy Stair by Emily Carr gives Whistler an artistic crown jewel and will be one of 20 works by Carr to go on permanent display at the museum. Another is War Canoes, Alert Bay.

And keep in mind that we don't even yet know the details of much of the rest of the collection that owner Michael Audain will donate. We know it will be British Columbian with a strong component of historical First Nations art and artifacts. And we know there will be a space for touring collections.

So there's plenty left to discover in the next year.

The story about The Crazy Stair purchase, which broke this week in Pique and in national media, provides an inkling of how important this museum is going to be as a fine arts magnet.

The Audain Art Museum alone makes the dream of developing the cultural diversity of the resort an exciting prospect, and there is already so much more happening.

As a journalist who'd go the extra mile to see the Uffizi in Florence, or the Louvre in Paris, or the Courtauld in London (or the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto), I feel it will undoubtedly draw its many visitors who aren't at all interesting in careening down the mountain on a bike or on skis.

But there is more to it than visitors. There is also the impact on local artists.

Speaking to Penny Eder, owner of the White Dog Gallery at the Nita Lake Lodge, she gives a two-pronged response on the impact.

She told me, as a gallery owner in Whistler, so much of the work she shows from local artists is rooted in the achievements of The Group of Seven. Almost a hundred years ago, they executed an exaggerated realism that brought Canadian landscape painting into the 20th century by drawing on European innovations being made on canvas and giving them a Canadian twist.

"Looking at their work, you can smell the temperatures," she says.

She sees the Audain Museum as an opportunity for artists to directly experience the history. To have indigenous pieces side-by-side with 20th-century settler art is to see a thread that binds our artists together over a country we all love and to hopefully take new art ideas forward.

"It will give our artists a way to see and feel and assimilate that in their own work in the future," Eder tells me.

And as a sculptor, Eder spoke of the inspiration she will feel once this new resource opens in 2015.

"Art evokes emotion in everyone. It doesn't matter if it's good or bad. It's about talking," she says.

I am excited to find out how The Audain Museum will impact the development of an already strong arts scene in the Sea to Sky region. As shown in early planning for the gallery, there will eventually be a sculpture garden slowly filling with commissioned pieces — a great way to support local art.

We have over a dozen galleries tucked into hotels or gracing the Village Stroll. What's more, Whistler's annual summer ArtWalk starts June 28, with over 45 artists displaying their work until late August. Annual events such as the World Ski and Snowboard Festival also make displaying visual arts part of their remit, along with sporting events.

Once the doors of the Audain Museum open, these places and events can become even more successful.

I hope the impact of the Audain Museum on the community will be carefully monitored — along with tickets sales and gift shop receipts — from sales of contemporary art and other gallery visits to how local artists are shaped by the museum's presence. Not only will Whistler have a great new attraction that brings in outsiders and their tourist dollars, it will also feed the talent here for decades to come.