Audain Art Museum: Whistler, British Columbia
Now, when you go to Whistler, in addition to the beauty of the great outdoors you can enjoy a museum that highlights the art of British Columbia. The Audain Art Museum, which opened in March of this year, is unique in its aim is to showcase artists from B.C. The province’s A-list is well represented as drawn from the personal collection of Michael Audain and his wife Yoshiko Karasawa.
The museum building, designed by architects John and Patricia Patkau, is unobtrusively nestled in downtown Whistler in a setting of fir, cedar and spruce trees with a mountain backdrop. It is a quietly stunning building that frames a spacious exhibition space. Its pitched roof is practical (to handle mountain snow falls) and helps the building to blend into the trees surrounding it.
In the museum’s permanent space, B.C. art from the past two hundred years is on display: historical and current First Nation masks; Haida master carvers James Hart and Robert Davidson; works by Emily Carr, E. J. Hughes, Jack Shadbolt, Gordon Smith; and those by the “younger generation” (Sonny Assu, Stan Douglas, Dana Claxton, Brian Jungen, Marianne Nicolson, Ian Wallace); and the list goes on.
It is fitting that the first gallery you enter is dedicated to the rich artistic legacy of B.C.’s First Nations. Rare masks from the 12 First Nations are displayed on the walls and a more contemporary reminder of the skill of First Nation artists is the awe-inspiring cedar dance screen carved by James Hart.
Several works by Emily Carr serve as a bridge between the first gallery’s historic and ceremonial creations and the more recent works in the galleries that follow.
On display are the colourful coastal depictions by E.J. Hughes, the unique surrealism of Jack Shadbolt, the abstract expressionism of Gordon Smith, and impressive selections of Vancouver’s internationally famous photo conceptualists, as well as recent art by contemporary First Nation artists such as Dana Claxton.
When we visited last month, the temporary exhibition featured Mexican Modernists including works by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jose Clemente Orozco and Rufino Tamayo.
As a long-time admirer of the Mexican Muralists, and “Los Tres Grandes” (The Big Three – Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros) in particular, I was disappointed in the way the exhibition was mounted. With the technological advances available to curators today, especially image projection, it is regrettable that an effort was not made to link the individual paintings on display with the artists’ much more culturally and historically significant works – their murals. Spreading so few paintings over several nearly empty galleries didn’t help either.
The Audain Art Museum is part of a growing trend of wealthy art collectors opting to build their own museums in order to display their personal collections. Granted this seems to be a more prevalent practice in the USA and Europe than in Canada but such developments must have a significant impact on the collections and fundraising strategies of public institutions.
Other than my annoyance at how the temporary exhibition was presented I enjoyed the visit to the museum. The Audain collection of British Columbian artists is remarkable in its eclectic range and the quality of the works on display. The building is both attractive and functional. The combination of the art on display, the building and the natural beauty of Whistler makes the drive from Vancouver worth the effort.