Smoke & Mirrors At The Vancouver Art GalleryWednesday, July 07, 2010
Months before my friend, Architect Abraham Rogatnick died on August 28 last year he told me, over tea on 10th Avenue, that, “If there is one thing I want to do before I die is to make public my views on why the Vancouver Art Gallery should stay put.” A few weeks later, over tea again he told he was frustrated. “I went to see Heather Deal (Vision Vancouver City Councillor) with this manifesto I wrote up. I sat down while she read it and when she finished it she indicated she would wait and see what happened. I lost it there and I think I shouted at her.” I asked Rogatnick to give me a copy of his manifesto and I tried to get the people that I still knew in the media interested.
I failed at CBC Radio as I was told that it would be an interesting topic when it became an issue. It was not yet one. The folks at the Tyee gave me the same answer. I tried Bill Good and he never replied to my email. Fanny Kiefer’s producer told me something like, “The Vancouver Art Gallery is a city issue and not a Provincial issue. Our program is less about the city and more about the province.”
I tried the Vancouver Sun. I emailed Editor-in-Chief Patricia Graham (she has always been gracious and polite with me) who indicated I should send my query to the Editorial Page Editor Fazil Mihlar. The man never replied. I called up my friend Paul Grant(and alas former CBC Arts Reporter) who suggested I approach radio producers. While I never got a no, all I obtained was a tentative, “When it becomes an issue we will surely pursue Rogatnick’s manifesto.”
I felt frustrated and depressed that I could not help my friend place his opinion anywhere. He kindly told me not to worry and that I had given it all my best shot.
I did not give up and called up Yosef Wosk whose baby, the SFU sponsored Philosopher’s Café has been such a success. By this time Rogatnick was too sick to appear either at a TV or radio station. My idea was to bring someone like Architect Bruno Freschi (a friend of Rogatnick’s) and perhaps realtor Bob Rennie to have a conversation with Rogatnick in his living room. The conversation would have been recorded. Wosk was on a European tour with his daughters so that idea went nowhere.
When Abraham Rogatnick died on August 28 the whole Vancouver Art Gallery had become his bête noir. I am sure that his failure to have anybody pay attention to his concern finally contributed to his death. It was a few days before August 28 that Rogatnick, bedside, gave me a one hour lecture on the wonders of Andrea Palladio’s Redentore Church in Venice. With fingers bent with arthritis Rogatnick pointed at a picture I had brought, all the features of the church and why they were wonderful. He pointed out to me that in his Law Courts in Vancouver, Francis Rattenbury had adopted many of stylistic embellishments and the more practical ones that had made Palladio a wonder of his age. The central nave with a wing on either side, Rogatnick asserted to me had been the schematic for Palladio’s summer homes for rich Italians. The cows and horses would have been on, perhaps the left wing, while the kitchens would have been on the right wing. I was mesmerized by Rogatnick’s enthusiasm.
A few months later, out of the blue I called up the Vancouver Sun’s Miro Cernetig and I told him about Rogatnick’s manifesto and how in the end I had simply run it as one of my blogs. Cernetig immediately showed interest. We both played it straight and legal and we got Rogatnick’s lawyer (in charge of his estate) to okay the publication of Rogatnick’s manifesto in the Sun on a Saturday on the editorial page.
It seemed to me that in death, somehow Rogatnick got his last word in. In the last few months I have seen how the VAG has cranked up its marketing campaign to move to Larwill Park. I am no expert on architecture. But surely Rogatnick was and he felt that a city gallery should be smack in the middle of the city. The told me how I.M. Pei had done wonders with the Louvre and in particular to a gallery (one that I have gone to many times), the National Gallery in Washington DC. In both cases Pei had found room by digging down and managed to incorporate the new with the old seamlessly. If an expert I both loved and respected was against the move so was I. In those bitter moments having tea with Rogatnick he had told me that many of the city’s architects had privately told him that they agreed but they were not willing to go public. “They must be concerned about not alienating their client base,” Rogatnick told me.
A friend yesterday sent me this link. It is strange and I really don’t know what to make of the marketing ploy, “Why not replace a parking lot with something irreplaceable?"
I called up the few architectural columnists, and architects that I know today and found that most were either out of town or were simply not going to call me back. I also found out that one of the best (if not the best) Vancouver Sun columnist on civic affairs, Miro Cernetig is moving to Ottawa to a job that is not in the media business. I wonder if the ex- Vancouver Bureau chief for the Globe & Mail might not know something about sinking ships.
I had just been meaning to call him to see if someone at the Sun could put many hearsay “facts” together in a sort of two page spread that would answer some questions. Here are some samples. I do know that the VAG’s collection is owned by the city so:
1. Who in the city owns the collection? What can City Council do if it wants to do something about the collection? What say do we have as citizens?
2. Who owns the VAG building?
3. Does the Province own the land?
4. Who owns Robson Square?
5. If it is the Province that owns Robson Square what deal did they make with UBC? What would have to happen to persuade the folks of UBC to move out if we as citizens thought that they had squandered our Province’s property when Simon Fraser has glowed with success in their former Sear’s Tower?
6. Who owns the present location of Sears in the Cesar Pelli designed building? I understand that it is run by Cadillac Fairview. From talks that I have had with those who know (who have been present at meetings) there was a plan for Sears to lease its upper two floors to the VAG. There were even enthusiastic suggestions by one of the Sun’s former dance critics to build some sort of sky escalator that would join those floors to the VAG.
7. Frances Bula in her blog revealed that the City of Vancouver had ceded rights to some property on the Fraser River in exchange for financing the refurbishment of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. The City of Vancouver further promised (to whom?) to build or to allow the building of a condo tower on Larwill Park. This city block is the block that the VAG wants in its entirety to build the new gallery. One who has objected to this is ex-Vancouver Magazine and Equity Publisher Ronald Stern. This fact was reported by the Georgia Straight’s Charlie Smith. In fact Stern is at odds with the Chairman of the VAG’s move proposal, Michael Audain who does not want to share a piece of the whole pie. Who would own that condo? What would it be? And what exactly was promised by the city and is it in writing?
8. The whole Larwill Park scenario needs to be shown by the media so we, the citizens of this city can determine what is happening.
9. There are many who are asserting that too much is being discussed about the building and much less about the artifacts that are under the old and possibly new gallery roof.
10. With money at a premium (and I need not even go into further details about homelessness and jobs) where are the funds going to come from? Would these funds better be used to help the arts organizations of the province and the city that have nowhere to go for grant money?
11. With a Vancouver Public Library that cheerfully manages to have relationships with the province’s hinterland so that my daughter who lives in Lillooet (no buses, no trains go there) is able to bring in books and other materials from the VPL’s stacks or a private organization like the Vancouver Opera that sends traveling opera companies to those communities of the interior, what is our very own VAG (the building is owned by the province?) doing to make the art of Rodney Graham and Jeff Wall available to the masses?
12. Why has my party of choice the NDP been silent on all this? Are they still sticking to the blue-collar idea that culture is for the elite?
13. Ancilary to this is the hideous (my personal opinion and vocally shared by Arthur Erickson when he was alive) is the provenance (blame or credit is given to Grace McCarthy) fountain in front of the VAG on the Georgia Street side. Thory of the Brackendale Art Gallery told me the artist was an Italian and not a Canadian at all. What should be done to this monstrosity if we are to assert what the VAG says abut a world class gallery (when are we going to eliminate this tired and hackneyed term from our vocabulary?) Sending the structure to next year's Venice Bienale would be a good beginning. Once this sructure is gone plans would be easier to make to dig down and then replace it with something more atune to the excellence of our city.
I could think of many more questions in this near rant. I must assert that I am tired of reading about the hearsay. I feel I should be shown the facts.
The pictures you see here are of Daniel Rutley, Clinical psychotherapist and I took them several years ago on the roof of the VAG with mirrors but with no smoke.
And here is an explanation of the VAG's curiously short URL from my friend Tim Bray:
This is what we call a "URL Shortener". A URL is a Web address and
used to stand for Uniform Resource Locator but now stands for
Universal Republic of Love (see here ).
Actually the lore around URIs is deep and rich and even entertaining, next time we have lunch (which we should do soon) I'll tell you some of it.
Anyhow, Web addresses tend to be kind of long. And Twitter only
allows 140 characters. So there are now a variety of "URI shortening
services" which turn long ones into short ones using various sorts of
jiggery-pokery, thus allowing us to fit a few words of wit and wisdom
around whatever link we're tweeting about. There are lots of URL
shorteners; the first was at "tinyurl.com". One of the really
fashionable early ones was at "bit.ly" where the ".ly" suffix stands
for of all places Libya, where the people who give out suffixes are
businesslike and amenable. Thus the ht.ly address in your example.