Musings about the New VAG while on Retreat at Rivendell

Weeds or Wildflowers.JPG

“Flowers at Rivendell” DS – Weeds or Wildflowers?

The proposal for the new gallery was not widely accepted. In fact contrary to the enthusiasm of the VAG, civic leaders and architectural critics, a local radio poll, in September last year showed “80% of the respondents voting ‘No’ to the design.”

Should an art gallery be ugly? The title of an article in art guide, Preview magazine, last year by M. De La Giroday was titled “We are Art: a new narrative for the Vancouver Art Gallery.” It read, the architects “aren’t obsessed with winning an architectural beauty contest.” They said, from an artist’s point of view, these would be the best galleries in the world. In fact, artists would want to be revived from the dead to show here…” These are strong words.

The design is of wood – “a nod to Vancouver’s history as a logging town but with modern internal structures. Although not stated in the article, it reminds me of the shape of the First Nations’ Inukshuk, a symbol of welcome.

Behind the scenes (barely), are concerns about the wood being able to stand up to the weather and the ugliness of it rotting over time. Although there are few cities as treed as Vancouver’s province, apparently there are concerns over whether the correct size and type of water repellent wood could be produced here (so much for using local materials and saving the environment). The other worries are of course, how to raise the funds for this expensive venture, but this would be necessary for any design. However, some say it would be better to renew the old gallery and open several new small ones as the funds are raised.

I find myself debating whether it is reasonable for a gallery to be ugly. Is that not an oxymoron? Why would people be attracted to an ugly gallery? Who would want to walk along the street and look at it? Tourist might even come, not to see what will be the tallest wooden structure in the world but the ugliest gallery in the world.

That said, I know that some think Antoni Gaudi’s “Sagrada Familia” church, Frank Gehry’s Bilbao Museum in Spain, and even the ‘new’ ultra modern Scottish Parliament building in old Edinburgh are ugly. I think now not of humankind’s great creations but of God’s – humankind. Let’s face it; all were not created with equal beauty. Not even God’s own Son, Jesus, in essence God himself, is not of any particular ‘comeliness’ as Scripture describes him. I feel confused now, how can that be? Surely God must be the most beautiful of all? It only makes sense. I am going to have to wrestle with this ugliness business a bit more.

Part Two

What must come into my thinking is that there are different kinds of beauty and various perceptions of ugliness. What comes to mind right now is the way that the appreciation of women’s beauty in art has changed over the centuries from the high foreheads of the Renaissance period to Rubenesque figures, to the anorexic look for today’s model for real women to emulate. There is also natural beauty, but that has a continuum of appreciation too.

Ugliness, I guess, can be about the way we value certain looks. We have standards. A gallery must be made of a certain material. A man must be close to a particular height. Even, my favourite: paintings must be of a realistic style to be beautiful.

Perhaps real beauty and real ugliness are intrinsic. Then I remember that humanity once created in the image of God has become tarnished and even tattered. Even real beauty can be diminished. The future state of the decaying wood of the gallery must be considered on the one hand yet what seems ugly now could become such a meeting place of meaning for Vancouverites and tourists that it becomes beautiful in its aging patina.

Some say of a baby, it is a face only a mother can love. Others are afraid of the onset of facial wrinkles and grey hair. Yet is any baby truly ugly? Is there real beauty in wrinkles? It comes to me now that picture of a dog with amazing wrinkles. You must have seen images of it somewhere. Many think that type of dog is absolutely adorable. So, is beauty in the eye of the beholder then? We can also gain beauty some say, by surgery, by body sculpting, by dressing a certain way. Are the celebrities caught by the camera without make-up genuinely ugly or if so just temporarily indisposed? What about redemption? Is there really something called a ‘bad seed’ making some people evil from birth? Are ugliness and evil, beauty and goodness correlated?

This may be an ongoing topic for thought. The Preview article ends with: “Art, the pursuit of art, and how we support it is a grand enterprise. In a sense, we are all art, and what is chosen will set the arts environment in Vancouver for the foreseeable future.” Do we find more meaning in beauty or in the reality of history and experiences, of love, of hate? But that is a topic for another day. Still exhausted, I am tiring myself more with trying to figure out both life and art. Which parts of this blog post are beautiful; which ugly? I cannot edit anymore.

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