The mayor of Whistler calls it a mind-boggling $100 million gift to the community.
The brand new $30 million dollar Audain Art Museum is 56,000 square feet and filled with an extensive permanent collection of First Nations art and Emily Carr’s works. In addition, there are temporary exhibition galleries which will feature work by artists from Canada and around the world.
The building was built by philanthropist and art collector Michael Audain and his wife Yoshiko Karasawa, who have been collecting art for 40 years.
Now that art will be shared with the world
The collection includes centuries-old Northwest Coast works, some created before the European contact, to the internationally-renowned Vancouver photo-conceptualists of our current era.
Audain spoke with Jon McComb about the new gallery, his decision to build it in Whistler, and his extensive art collection – which now has a permanent home.
“It was the community that came up with a wonderful site for us. We’d been looking for some time for a naturally landscaped site with abundant trees and good pedestrian access, and lo and behold, we found it in Whistler.”
On his extensive collection of BC first nations art
“Specializing in the art of British Columbia you can’t very well collect B.C. art if you don’t recognize the tremendous First Nations heritage that we have. After all, the original people of this coast were making some of the most important art for many thousands of years.”
LISTEN to the full interview with Philanthropist Michael Audain:
The world-wide search for B.C.’s lost coastal First Nations art
“In the 19th century, ships would come from Europe and the east coast of America, up our coast. They were looking to collect this art, they would then take it back and sell it to the museums of New York and Berlin, London, Paris and that sort of thing.”
He says a lot of the finer works can only be found in those museums.
“So with a the help of a wonderful New York dealer, we went to collectors all over the United States and Europe to bring these works back to our coast.”
Audain’s love of masks
Among the highlights of the permanent collection will be one of the world’s most important collections of Northwest Coast masks, which have fascinated Audian ever since he was a small boy and encountered them at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria.
“It may sound strange to say it, but they have a somewhat magical quality. After all, they were created by great artists to help the wearers to make a transition between the world of the human beings and the spiritual worlds. One can just think back to early days when they danced at night in the longhouses, and it looked as if the dancers were becoming one with the realms of the seas, the land and the sky as they were transformed for a while into different members of not only the human race, but all the creatures created by the great spirit.”
Contemporary B.C. First Nations arts
“Ever since Bill Reid and great artists like Robert Davidson started re-creating the work of the past, now today First Nations artists all over the province are making wondering art – often in new mediums. Not just carving, but in weaving, basket-making, even in films and that sort of thing. We have a very rich heritage of First Nations art-making, but also a great many young people today who are earning their living and also contributing to the culture of our wonderful province.”
Why not the Vancouver Art Gallery?
“We finally came to the realization that given the size of our collection, we would like it to be on exhibition permanently.”
Audain says the VAG at it is now, doesn’t have enough room to accommodate a collection of his size permanently.
“Hopefully in the future there’ll be a new Vancouver Art Gallery building and that’ll be marvelous. But when you come tot he Audain Art Museum in Whistler, you’ll be able to progress through from the early First Nations days to Emily Carr and the wonderful artist E. J. Hughes, and then up the important contemporary artists of today whose work is being collected around the world.”
Will he miss his collection?
He says even though he misses the works that he had in own home for many years, on the other hand he’s happy to be able to share the work with the world.