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Artist Jeff Wall looks over proofs of his work at his studio in Vancouver, October 10, 2012. (Globe and Mail)
Artist Jeff Wall looks over proofs of his work at his studio in Vancouver, October 10, 2012. (Globe and Mail)

VISUAL ART

Big-name artists square off over the Vancouver Art Gallery Add to ...

Bartels was attending a dinner, auctioned off at a Vancouver Symphony Orchestra charity event; the winning bid came from one of her board members. The dinner was at the Rennie Collection at Wing Sang, Rennie’s museum. When Rennie and collection director Carey Fouks heard that Bartels was there, they rushed over to the building, and she was told to leave.

“This is the point where most people would say ‘No comment.’ But I’m going to make a comment,” said Rennie, when reached by telephone Thursday in London, and asked about the incident.

“We donated the space to the symphony to have a dinner. We were alerted that there was a guest on our premises that emphatically knew they were not welcome – evidenced by the fact they have never been in our building since we acquired it in 2004. Like anybody else, we all protect our own home. And the shame is that potential philanthropy was put at risk by a very poor sense of judgment to even show up where one is not welcome.”

Bartels “respectfully” declined a request to speak about the incident.

Has this become a distraction? Of course. The serious discussion about what is arguably the most important cultural institution in the city has veered off into the trading of juicy tidbits about a high-powered charity dinner party gone horribly wrong.

But Rennie says this isn’t about personalities; it’s about financial viability.

“I don’t care who signs a petition; nobody is addressing what it is to spend $300- or $400-million dollars in this new economy and it is irresponsible to simply go out and say we want an iconic building,” he says. “The public discussion should now be around alternative models and the tough questions that have to be asked in this new economy: Do we spend the money on art, or architecture? And how does this institution fit in with the cultural fabric of Vancouver as a whole? It cannot be talked about in isolation.”

While the issues, economic and otherwise, are obviously layered and complex, Arden’s desire – the desire of many in this art community – is simple: He might not have become an artist if the VAG was less than it was, he says, and each generation wants to make things better for the next.

“We don't care about gossip,” he writes. “We want to see a new building for everyone to enjoy.”

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