Vancouver

Vancouver

Last year, when the Western Association of Art Museums annual conference was held in Portland, Oregon, one delegate from Southern California looked around wearily at the paintings on the walls of a home she was visiting and muttered her unenchanted opinion of the Northwest School: “Roots, branches and twigs.” This September, when WAAM met in Vancouver, B.C., for the first time, the delegates arrived for the usual round of parties, semi-digestible luncheons and banquets and, if we guessed correctly, the anticipation of an unbearably provincial enclave: woods and paintings both full of twigs, branches and roots, and all nobly protected by Nelson Eddy.

The first blast came from Arnold Rockman, a Toronto sociologist and writer on art, who announced the death of the little old curiosity shop museum, and trumpeted the advent of the funhouse gallery. The next day they heard a cool, convincing explication of the current oscillations in the visual arts in Vancouver delivered by a young artist, Ian Wallace. At the exhibition, Joy and Celebration, put on by the Fine Arts Gallery, University of British Columbia, the delegates were able to check on what they had heard shortly before.

Even more proofs of the brisk Vancouver scene were waiting at the new Simon Fraser University, an acropolis atop a rain-and fog-swept mountain, where some uncommon experimenting is going on under the patronage of a Centre for Communications and the Arts. At Simon Fraser, the conferees found themselves involved in a round-table discussion of another recent development, Intermedia—a Canada Council-supported attempt to provide equipment, space and inspiration for those burgeoning groups and individuals who are responding to the apparently pressing need of the various arts to meet and copulate.

There was also the Vancouver Art Gallery to see, and its exhibition, Arts of the Raven, probably the most beautifully organized Northwest Coast Indian exhibition ever mounted, a once-in-a-lifetime event (enthusiastically commented upon by John Canaday on the basis of the catalog alone). Two weeks after the last WAAM delegates had departed, the Vancouver Art Gallery opened its Vancouver Print International—a monumental contemporary survey of the world’s printmakers, put together by the Gallery staff and juried by William S. Lieberman of the Museum of Modern Art—at the vernissage of which a five thousand dollar Canada Council prize was handed over to Rolf Nesch of Norway. These two exhibitions, following hard upon one another, reflect a new-found strength which is surprising the Gallery itself. It has never felt more professional and buoyant, more assured of its role, more and firmly optimistic about its future.

The Vancouver Art Gallery is, of course, the main center of Vancouver’s art focus, but the action is by no means confined to it alone. The Fine Arts Gallery at the University of British Columbia continues to pursue the offbeat to alternate with academic fare. At Simon Fraser University, under the guidance of Michael Morris—a young man who, in just a few months, has become one of the most influential of Vancouver’s artists—a program of exhibitions has just begun to get under way which should prove to be thoughtful, serious and advanced in its attack. At the moment, Morris is engaged in organizing a week-long seminar to take place in November on the subject “The Radical Concern in the Arts Today,” which will involve Barry Lord, the recently resigned and highly controversial editor of arts/canada, Kurt von Meier, the Los Angeles correspondent for Art International; Mike Agnello, the leader of the Los Angeles Provos; and possibly Peter Burke, of Ramparts. The Seminar will be largely a closed one, at times semiformal, at other times informal and peripatetic, but at all times sound and video taped.

The two little galleries in Vancouver which, at the moment, are providing the most challenging exhibitions are the Bau-Xi and the Douglas. The Bau-Xi, after a fitful start, has, in the past year, begun to hit a stride which has attracted more than just the local Hashbury disciples. It plans an opening of a Gary-Lee Nova show on Hallowe’en night, which should be a freak-out of extraordinary proportions, infinitely more funhouse than curiosity shop.

The Douglas Gallery, which started as a small graphic arts studio, has begun to exhibit, in its new quarters, not only the best of Vancouver and Eastern Canadian artists, but has even sent out tentacles into the world-at-large, which is to say New York. Rauschenberg was here this summer for the opening of his print series, Booster and Seven Studies; both Frank Stella and his wife, Barbara Rose, are due late in October for the opening of a show of Stella’s prints, Black Series I and Star of Persia I and II; and Andy Warhol is said to be on the way for the presentation of one of his latest films, conceivably to be tied in with a show of his graphics. Speaking of films, after a recent showing of the Chelsea Girls at the Vancouver International Film Festival, the Vancouver Art Gallery, in its fall film series, will include Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures. So where’s Nelson Eddy?

Alvin Balkind is the Curator of the Fine Arts Gallery at the University of British Columbia.