Since its inception in 1931, the Vancouver Art Gallery has regularly organized survey exhibitions of local art. Building on this robust history, which began with the BC Annuals (1932–68) and continued with significant curatorial projects of recent decades, the Gallery now introduces Vancouver Special, a survey exhibition that will occur every three years. The triennial model offers a sustained engagement with the contemporary artists who make Vancouver a dynamic art community. The title of this initiative, Vancouver Special, is borrowed from the housing archetype that was popular in Vancouver between the 1960s and 80s. Originally affordable and easily adaptable, this regional house style is experiencing renewed attention in the midst of the current housing crisis.
Ambivalent Pleasures is the first iteration of this series and it features works by 40 artists produced within the last five years—Vancouver’s post-Olympic period. The exhibition includes many emerging artists as well as those who are more established but whose ideas were prescient. Some are recent arrivals to Vancouver, while others are long-term residents who have already made significant contributions. Others are nomadic, less settled in one place and are working energetically between several locations.
The featured artworks do not adhere to a singular subject or style, but instead offer a set of overlapping conversations:
- A number of artists engage with Surrealist strategies and ideas. They explore the unconscious and diverse modes of perception, speaking to notions of alienation, escape, romanticism and even the grotesque. In some instances, the works exude a comic tone; in others, a sense of the uncanny points to spirits of unrest that lurk beneath the surface.
- Several artists present a range of approaches to abstraction. This naturally includes a number of painters, as well as sculptors and artists working with textiles who implicate the meaning of gesture or the history of modern painting without necessarily putting brush to canvas.
- Other artists are invested in the possibilities of working conceptually to address today’s social contexts. Questioning dominant systems of knowledge, these artists make sense of the world through material processes, recurrent gestures and other types of interventions.
The title of the exhibition, Ambivalent Pleasures, refers to the complex nature of pleasure in the early 21st century as we become increasingly aware of the social, economic and environmental costs of our desires, habits and patterns of living. We can see artists in this exhibition preserving capacity for pleasure in a variety of ways. Pleasure is present in the processes of making and the sensory nature of materials. It is discovered in the wilds of the mind and in uninhibited exploration. It lies in political awakenings and socially responsive ways of working.
These artists live and work in an uncertain context of economic slowdowns, widening divisions of wealth, technological acceleration and global warming. Their disciplined expressions of pleasure may offer ways of perceiving the gaps between where we are as individuals or a society and where we would like to be. At a time when our experiences of pleasure are often too fleeting or superficial, encountering these artworks reminds us to be conscious of finding our own modest pleasures as we interpret and navigate the often contradictory conditions of contemporary life.
DERYA AKAY | MAYA BEAUDRY | RAYMOND BOISJOLY | ELI BORNOWSKY | REBECCA BREWER | COLLEEN BROWN | MATT BROWNING | MARK DELONG | KIM DORLAND | BARRY DOUPÉ | MICHAEL DREBERT | JULIA FEYRER | JENEEN FREI NJOOTLI | TAMARA HENDERSON | COLLEEN HESLIN | JULIAN HOU | ALLISON HRABLUIK | GARETH JAMES | GARRY NEILL KENNEDY | TIZIANA LA MELIA | KHAN LEE | ARVO LEO | LYSE LEMIEUX | GLENN LEWIS | ANNE LOW | ELIZABETH MCINTOSH | JORDAN MILNER | ANTONI OKO | RYAN PETER | SYLVAIN SAILLY | RACHELLE SAWATSKY | WALTER SCOTT | KRISTA BELLE STEWART | ANGELA TENG | MINA TOTINO | RON TRAN | TRISTAN UNRAU | CHARLENE VICKERS | BRENT WADDEN | ALISON YIP
Organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery and curated by Daina Augaitis, Chief Curator/Associate Director, and Jesse McKee, Head of Strategy at 221A, with curatorial assistance from Mandy Ginson
Artworkers Retirement Society Chan Family Foundation Phil Lind Michael O’Brian Family Foundation
VANCOUVER SPECIAL: AMBIVALENT PLEASURES
Co-published by Vancouver Art Gallery and Black Dog Publishing, 2016
Softcover, 144 pages, 90 illustrations
Contributors: Daina Augaitis, Jesse McKee, Kim Nguyen, William Gibson, Andrew Berardini, Steffanie Ling, Richard Hill
Vancouver Special both documents and furthers the critical conversation around works included in the exhibition, featuring essays on the impact of austerity, increased global interconnectedness, and the arrival of cloud internet on the West Coast art world.