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Michael Audain: A Love of Art

Michael Audain, founder and chairman of Polygon Homes Ltd., one of the largest developers in the Vancouver region, takes both art and philanthropy very seriously. Beyond his role as founder and chair of the Audain Foundation for the Visual Arts, he is chair of the Vancouver Art Gallery Foundation, a member—and a past chair—of the Vancouver Art Gallery’s board of trustees and a former chair of the board of trustees of the National Gallery of Canada. At 75, he is now dedicating much of his attention to creating an art museum that will become a permanent home for his impressive collection of British Columbian art.

With the success of the exhibition “Shore, Forest, and Beyond: Art from the Audain Collection” at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2011, Audain and his wife, Yoshiko Karasawa, realized that their collection helps to tell an important part of the story of West Coast art—and they wanted to share it. “We were surprised by how many people seemed to enjoy seeing the collection,” Audain says. “And we thought that if our house isn’t suited to having people traipse through, we’d better put some of this work where people can enjoy it, a place where children can learn the story of art in our part of the world.”

The Audain Art Museum will be located in Whistler, with the Vancouver-based firm Patkau Architects Inc. designing the 3,500-square-metre building. It will serve as a home for a permanent collection and will also include a space for temporary exhibitions. “The permanent collection will be exclusively British Columbian art, from the beginnings to the present day. We’ll start with the original people of the coast,” Audain explains. “We have a lot of wonderful old First Nations objects we’ve collected over the years, and we’ll take it up to whoever’s making art in our region today.” The Audain collection includes numerous works by Emily Carr that span her full career, as well as pieces by contemporary art icons such as Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham and Ian Wallace. Audain calls his collection a “boutique collection,” and says that helping the Vancouver Art Gallery to both expand its physical space and continue to build a comprehensive collection still remains high on his list of priorities.

Not one to waste time, Audain hopes to begin construction on his museum this summer and see the project completed by the end of 2014. “Visual art has been a very important part of my life and I’m still very much a student in some respects,” he says. “It’s turning out to be quite an adventure to do a project like this, one we never imagined we’d be doing at this age.”

This is an article from the Spring 2013 issue of Canadian Art. To read more from this issue, please visit its table of contents.

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