A&E » Arts

Buying art, sharing art

Michael Audain and Bob Rennie talk about their art collecting and philanthropy at the Audain Art Museum



I never forgot that Dali after seeing it for the first time in New Brunswick 40 years ago."

Seated before Santiago El Grande by Salvador Dali, one of the many Beaverbrook Art Gallery masterworks currently on loan to the Audain Art Museum, philanthropists and real estate entrepreneurs Bob Rennie and Michael Audain talked about their own journeys in collecting art and sharing it.

Audain's recollection reflected the impact that great art collectors can have on the public consciousness, in this case the collector being media magnate Lord Beaverbrook, builder of the New Brunswick gallery.

Around 170 people packed the Audain's temporary exhibition gallery to hear Rennie, Audain, and moderator and museum curator Darrin Martens in a panel — The Art of Philanthropy: Collecting and Museum Building.

First off, unsurprisingly, it helps to have deep pockets.

"You started off with a bigger budget than I did!" Audain — who started collecting as a young man in the 1950s and sometimes took months to pay off new purchases — told Rennie.

The comment raised laughter from the audience.

Audain also described Rennie as "one of the most important collectors of contemporary art" in the world.

Rennie said he goes with his heart when choosing work, starting off as a collector by purchasing paintings by Canada's iconic Group of Seven.

The real estate marketer said he committed to contemporary artists from around the world throughout the 1990s; this led to the opening of his Wing Sang Gallery in East Vancouver in 1999.

Much of his collection ends up on loan to major galleries around the world, including the Tate in London and the Guggenheim and MOMA in New York. Rennie is also chair of the Tate Museum's North American Acquisitions Committee.

The Audain Art Museum opened in Whistler earlier this year, built to house Audain and his wife Yoshi Karasawa's collection of British Columbian art.

Rennie pointed out that Audain and Karasawa started collecting with their own interests in mind, built relationships with artists along the way, and came later to the idea of housing their collection in its own museum.

Along with memories and anecdotes, there were questions about who were the artists to buy from those hoping for tips.

Audain responded that he was studying the work of two artists with the idea of buying their work, but refused to divulge who, other than to say one was dead.

Research and "spending a lot of time looking," plays an important part of his decision to collect a particular artist, he added.

"Finding a dealer you are comfortable with also helps," Audain said.

Rennie agreed, saying good relationships like this mean finding dealers "who understand your DNA."

The Masterworks of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery are on loan to the Audain Art Museum until Oct. 10. For more information, visit www.audainartmuseum.com.