Plans are underway to build a world-class art museum in Whistler Village to house one of the most important private collections of British Columbia art, Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden announced Tuesday.
The Audain Foundation, chaired by Michael Audain, a Vancouver philanthropist who made his fortune as CEO of Polygon Homes, handpicked the location to become the permanent home for an extensive collection that includes indigenous and contemporary pieces by well-known West Coast artists like Emily Carr and E.J. Hughes.
"My wife and I had been looking for a place where our collection of British Columbia art could be exhibited on a permanent basis for the public's enjoyment," Audain said. "I think Whistler will be an opportunity for us to showcase some of B.C.'s best art to international visitors so they can have a chance to see what we're all about here in British Columbia."
Wilhelm-Morden said she was overjoyed by the news, which fits with the Resort Municipality of Whistler's long-term plan to expand the area's arts and culture offerings. "I was hugely excited," she said. "We've been heading down this cultural tourism path and this was unbelievable. I kept saying, I have to pinch myself to believe it's real."
The Foundation, whose mandate is to foster the growth of visual arts in B.C., would finance the construction of the building and run the facility while the RMOW would provide the land. Currently, the municipality is examining whether the three wooded acres of land across from Millennium Place and the Whistler Museum between parking day lots three and four would be a suitable location for a 2,500-square-metre facility.
"The municipality owns that land and the idea will be to keep the vegetation (and) create a park-like setting for the museum," Wilhelm-Morden said. "This is really a significant opportunity for the Audain Foundation to finally have a British Columbia collection on a permanent basis here in B.C. and for Whistler to enhance our offerings and build on our reputation as a destination for recreation and arts and culture."
Enthusiasm from the municipality, as well as the potential site, made Whistler a top choice, Audain added. "I wasn't interested in a building on a very urban street, say in Vancouver. I wanted a treed location that could be park-like. It's also got good access to the village," he said.
Audain and his wife, Yoshiko Karasawa, are well known art collectors, with hundreds of pieces by artists ranging from Andy Warhol to Jeff Wall. Last October, 170 works from their collection were loaned to the Vancouver Art Gallery for an exhibit called Shore, Forest and Beyond: Art from the Audain Collection. (The pair has also donated pieces to the VAG's permanent collection in the past, along with significant funding and art to other institutions.) Besides West Coast artists, it also included paintings by Mexican modernist arts like Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siquieros and Rufino Tamayo.
While Audain said it's too early to say which works will make up the new museum's permanent collection, it will include pieces from the VAG show. "The curators will have to pick from our collection, but I can't say exactly. There will be some Emily Carrs, some First Nations work, both old and contemporary. There will be some B.C. modernists, people like Gordon Smith, E.J. Hughes and Jack Shadbolt. There will be some contemporary work of younger artists," he said.
The building will also include space for travelling exhibits by Canadian and international artists. "We'll be able to bring in work from important museums, both in Canada and abroad because the museum will be constructed to international standards," he said. "We'll be commissioning work especially for the museum. (There will be) a chance for the architect to collaborate with visual artists in the whole process."
There's no timeframe on construction, but Audain said he wants to move forward as soon as possible. Work is already underway to retain consultants and begin crafting a master plan. Audain is also travelling to the south of France this weekend to visit the Maeght Foundation, a small museum tucked away in a pine forest that he first visited 20 years ago, for inspiration.
"I can tell you that we're going to do this very expeditiously," he said. "One of the attractions of the Whistler site is it appears it can move a lot faster than some of the others we've been offered. I'm of a certain age that I want to see the museum open while I'm still alive. I've got to be pushing it from that point of view."