The Vancouver Art Gallery’s collection of over 12,000 works of art represents the most comprehensive resource for visual culture in British Columbia. Established in 1931 with the founding of the Gallery, the collection grows by several hundred works every year. It is a principal repository of works produced in this region, as well as related works by other Canadian and international artists.
Works from the collection are in active use. They are presented in exhibitions at the Gallery and are loaned to other institutions locally, nationally and internationally. The collection is also used by researchers, scholars and students, as well as authors, publishers and other museums and galleries, who reproduce images in print and online publications.
The Vancouver Art Gallery collection contains outstanding examples of a century’s worth of art produced in British Columbia, from 19th century mountain and coastal landscapes to recent photo-based artworks by renowned Vancouver artists. The Gallery owns the largest and most significant group of paintings and works on paper by the modernist landscape painter Emily Carr.
Vancouver and BC
In the last century, artists from Vancouver and the larger region of British Columbia have had an enormously distinct and rich history of art production. The strength of the Gallery’s collection lies in its modern and contemporary works that often engage the majestic landscape of this locale in order to investigate issues of identity.
In the 1930s and 40s Emily Carr and her west coast colleagues such as Lawren Harris provided a strong foundation in this type of work. Artists in the following decades continued to produce landscape-driven works that moved toward greater abstraction. By the end of the 1960s many artists were moving away from traditional forms of representation to take up performance and installation work that opened up art-making to a more conceptual orientation. Other representations of the regional landscape can be seen in the work of First Nations artists, who meld traditional iconography with a contemporary vision.
The specific landscape of Vancouver and BC is continuously represented in contemporary works, most obviously in the photo-based work of the “Vancouver School.” There are many artists who use specific imagery from the region to approach political and sociological issues, while engaging with larger pop-cultural notions of visual culture.
Over the past two decades Vancouver has become internationally renowned for contemporary photo-based work, particularly the “Vancouver School” of photoconceptualism that includes artists Roy Arden, Stan Douglas, Rodney Graham, Ken Lum, Jeff Wall, Ian Wallace and others. The Vancouver Art Gallery’s permanent collection is exceptionally strong in this area and continues to build on this strength, particularly in the international realm. The Gallery now has one of the most significant international photo-based collections in North America, which includes local artists as well as Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Cindy Sherman and Thomas Struth among others.
The collection reflects the history and lineage of local production within a global context. To this end the collection incorporates significant international conceptual bodies of work such as those by American artists Dan Graham and Robert Smithson from the 1970s and is the repository for the Lawrence Weiner Archive. From the N.E. Thing Co., whose works are representative of a seminal moment of art production in Vancouver in the 1960s and 70s, setting the stage for this city’s artistic reputation, to recent works by emerging artists, the Gallery seeks to build a collection that participates in a significant international dialogue on photography and its conceptual and material possibilities.
Contemporary Art From Asia
The Gallery has a long history of exploring and presenting the visual art of Asia. In October 2014 the Gallery announced the creation of the Institute of Asian Art, a major initiative that includes a commitment to strengthening the Gallery’s collections of contemporary art from Asia. Working strategically to build a collection of key works by major artists, the Gallery now has several important works including Eikoh Hosoe’s photographic suite Ordeal by Roses (1961–62), Mariko Mori’s Play with Me (1994); Rise and Fall (2009), a commissioned video installation by Fiona Tan; and Jin-me Yoon’s A Group of Sixty-Seven (1996). Recent acquisitions by Chinese artists include works by Wang Du, Wang Jianwei, Yang Fudong, O Zhang and Zhu Jinshi.
Following the 2010 presentation of Waste Not by Song Dong, the Gallery purchased a major work by this Beijing-based artist called Fill in the Sea, comprised of 168 colour photographs created to mark the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China. We are also grateful to the Shanghai and Beijing-based art collective MadeIn Company who generously donated their work Calm (2013) in 2013, and to the renowned Indian artist Reena Saini Kallat for donating her work Woven Chronicle in 2015. Both works were previously featured in the Gallery’s Offsite location.
Indigenous Art from this Region
The Gallery’s small but important grouping of historical First Nations work includes model poles, masks, frontlets, feast dishes and hats that allow us to tell the story of the earliest art of this region. The Gallery’s collection was significantly enriched in 2015 by a bequest from the Estate of George Gund III of 37 historical and contemporary First Nations objects. The Gund bequest includes historical works by Haida, Heiltsuk, Kwakwaka’wakw, Nisga’a, Nuu-chah-nulth, Tlingit and Alaskan artists, as well as important contemporary works by Francis Horne Sr., Ken Mowatt, Norman Tait, Bill Reid and Robert Davidson.
The historical collection provides a fundamental context for the Gallery’s holdings of work by prominent contemporary First Nations artists who work within their tradition, including Dempsey Bob, Joe David, Reg Davidson, Robert Davidson, Beau Dick, Tony Hunt Jr., Bill Reid, Isabel Rorick, Art Thompson and others. The Gallery also actively collects contemporary work by artists who work experimentally and conceptually to explore Indigenous identity in innovative and unexpected ways, such as Sonny Assu, Rebecca Belmore, Raymond Boisjoly, Dana Claxton, Brian Jungen, Marianne Nicolson and Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun.