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Six to See: Vancouver’s Olympic Art Roundup

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer Vectorial Elevation 2010 Concept sketch

While February 12 may be just another mid-winter day in the rest of the country, this Friday is a cause for anticipation, excitement and (for some) trepidation on the West Coast. It marks the opening of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, an international event that is expected to bring 5,000 athletes, 10,000 members of the media and hundreds of thousands of visitors to the coastal city. Though sporting events will be the main draw for many, there is also plenty to see and do away from the maddening crowds in Vancouver’s art galleries and cultural centres, which are offering their own creative takes—both celebratory and critical—on the games. Here, Canadian Art rounds up six of the most compelling Olympic art events to check out in Terminal City.

1. The City of Vancouver’s Olympic and Paralympic Art Program

In a refreshing change from the temporary exhibitions related to the games, the City of Vancouver has commissioned an ambitious program of permanent public art by some of the city’s most renowned practitioners. Among them is Ken Lum’s Monument for East Vancouver, which appropriates a graffiti-style cross of the words “East Van” for a giant light sculpture already installed at the top of East 6th Avenue and Clark Drive. Also of note is a new piece by Rodney Graham at the Georgia Street entrance to Stanley Park, which playfully references nearby seaplanes in the form of an incorrectly assembled and enlarged model-toy plane.

2. Cultural Olympiad

Music, dance, theatre and visual arts come together in the Vancouver Organizing Committee’s series of temporary Cultural Olympiad festivals, designed to showcase the breadth of the country’s creative output. Along with the much-anticipated CODE program of digital arts, which features electronic music, new media installations, an online collection of visual art and ongoing film screenings, the Olympiad also offers impressive site-specific installations. Not to be missed are Toronto artist Ed Pien’s investigation of the phenomenon of night and darkness in a labyrinthine drawing and sound installation titled Tracing Night; a characteristically awe-inspiring and interactive sculpture by Montreal’s Rafael Lozano-Hemmer that uses searchlights pointed over English Bay to broadcast the audience’s designs; and an outdoor intervention by Isabelle Hayeur which comments on the tenuous status of the city’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood by simulating a fiery blaze in the windows of a Hastings Street building (the piece is aptly named Fire with Fire). The Cultural Olympiad continues to March 2010.

3. “Monster” at West Vancouver Museum

The figure of the monster as a tool of artistic critique is the thematic link between the work of 12 international artists in this blockbuster exhibition at the West Vancouver Museum. Framing mythical and legendary creatures as cautionary tales for the modern age, artists including Shary Boyle, Shuvinai Ashoona, Beau Dick, Marcel Dzama and Sandra Meigs explore the productive potential of monstrosity, possibly providing a silver lining to many people’s fears about the long-term effects of the Olympic Games on the city. Curated by Darrin Morrison, “Monster” is on view at the West Vancouver Museum from February 5 to May 8.

4. “Learning from Vancouver” at Western Front

Vancouver’s status as “one of the most livable cities in the world” is the jumping off point for this exhibition curated by Vancouver expats Alissa Firth-Eagland and Johan Lundh for Western Front artist-run centre. Accompanied by a rigorous symposium on the city’s social, political and artistic legacy that took place last month, the show establishes a dialogue between newly commissioned works by the Rotterdam-based art duo Bik Van der Pol and a response from the Vancouver group Urban Subjects (comprised of Sabine Bitter, Jeff Derksen and Helmut Weber). “Learning from Vancouver” continues at Western Front until March 6.

5. “Coming Soon” at the Audain Gallery

As part of the recently redeveloped Woodward’s complex in the Downtown Eastside, Simon Fraser University announced the opening of a new downtown gallery funded by arts supporter Michael Audain. For its inaugural exhibition, the Audain Gallery invited four SFU alumni—including Ken Lum, Kathy Slade, Lorna Brown and Jamie Hilder—to create artworks in the public sphere that commented on past and present histories of Vancouver. The resulting exhibition is a mix of public installations and online projects showing throughout the Olympic Games under the title “Coming Soon.”

6. “An Invitation to An Infiltration” at the Contemporary Art Gallery

Seven contemporary artists let competition get the better of them in this group show surveying “the current state of artistic interventions in the physical space or institutional working of a gallery.” Working in a mode inspired by Andrea Fraser’s landmark series of institutional critique performances, the artists will take over every aspect of the gallery, including its window spaces, streetfront and promotional materials, to disrupt the role of the institution in contemporary exhibition-making. Guest curated by Eric Fredericksen, “An Invitation to An Infiltration” shows at the Contemporary Art Gallery until February 28.

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