July 10th, 2010

Jaume Plensa, Dennis Oppenheim, Michel Goulet and more…


Biennale, Biennial, Bi-annual: They all commonly refer to “every other year”. Beyond the direct connotation lies a much more culturally enhanced tradition, seeded deeply in the development of awareness and appreciation of art.
A Biennale is an art exhibit that happens every two years, bringing together international, contemporary works.
Venice, Italy has one! It started in 1895…
Paris, France has one! It started in 1959…
And now … Vancouver, Canada is home to the Vancouver Biennale, Canada’s first bi-annual public art exhibit. The Vancouver Biennale features sculptures, new media and performance works by international artists, in parks, on beaches and in plazas, turning Vancouver into one giant open air museum.

Yvonne Domenge Wind Waves Olas de Viento

“Open Spaces” 2005-2006 marked the inauguration of the Biennale, and the 2009-2011 exhibition titled “in-TRANSIT-ion” takes the theme a step further. Strategically placing art near bike paths, train stations, and other high traffic areas, helps to symbolize the movement of people in our society and the ever-changing attitudes and awareness of art.

Launch Party - Vancouver Biennale

When Barrie Mowatt, Founder and President of Vancouver Biennale, birthed the idea, it was out of an urge to evolve Vancouver’s profile and “Put Vancouver on the map as a cultural center,” as he puts it himself! “Vancouver had no real identity as a city. We are really an outdoor city so it seemed natural,” he explains.
This appears to be happening as planned when one looks at the list of international artists that are being featured “in-TRANSIT-ion”, including works ranging from Jaume Plensa, Barcelona born, and internationally renowned contemporary artist, to Michel Goulet of Quebec, and Dennis Oppenheim of New York, among many others.

Looking down the line of trees

Plensa’s sculpture, “We, 2008”, is situated on Sunset Beach. It is a 16 foot tall, painted stainless steel structure made up of characters from eight international alphabets, strung together to form a human body. It is representative of linguistic diversity. Some of Plensa’s most notable work includes “Crown Fountain” at Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois, “Blake in Gateshead”, in North East England, and a more recent work titled “Dream” in St Helens, Merseyside, England. Plensa’s work is now on Canadian soil, with more pieces to come, as Calgary will reportedly be home to a Plensa sculpture being designed to live at the foot of The Bow, Encana Corporation’s new headquarters. For more info on Jaume Plensa search Jaume Plensa on the skinny.

Engagement Rings along English Bay

Work by Dennis Oppenheim is also featured in the Biennale. “Engagement” made of painted aluminum, steel and glass, is located on Sunset Beach. The piece consists of two rings over-exaggerated in size and precariously placed to appear as though they are balancing away from one another, with houses rather than diamonds on top, that light up in the night. Oppenheim encourages the onlooker to consider the delicate balance in a relationship, as well as the illusions present in the institute of marriage. Oppenheim lives and works in New York City. He has been included in the Venice Biennale and the Johannesburg Biennale.

08--Mountains in the distance.

Canadian artist Michel Goulet is also featured in the Biennale. The Quebec-based artist has become known for his use of chairs. “Echoes” is made up of a series of stainless steel chairs, made to look like common kitchen or café chairs; each inscribed with a poetic expression, phrase or thought to ponder, in either the French or English language. They can be found at Kitsilano Beach Park at Watermark. The “Echoes” piece was the first permanent installation resulting from the biennale, acquired by the Vancouver Biennale Legacy Foundation in 2007.

01--Sophie RYDER, 'Minotaur with Hare'

With all great endeavours come controversy and the Vancouver Biennale has faced some. This leads one to question, has our young, and arguably juvenile Canadian culture acquired a taste mature enough to truly appreciate the manifestation of such an expressive tradition, similar to truly enjoying a bottle of Burgundy Pinot Noir, out of a perfect growing season.
The “Minotaur and Hare” by English artist, Sophie Ryder was vandalized on two separate occasions, on the second occasion the hare went missing! Oppenheim’s “Device to Root Out Evil”, un upside down church standing on its steeple, was occupying Harbour Green Park, until the controversy regarding the piece became too hot to handle and Vancouver Public Parks Committee voted to have it removed, only to be acquired by Calgary’s Glenbow’s Museum.

Device to root out evil

“There is no doubt this is a real loss that will hopefully stimulate reflection and review. But Vancouver’s loss is a big win for Calgary, for Glenbow and for the artist to be recognized in another Canadian city,” said John Bromley, vice-president of the Benefic Group, in an article written by CBC News.
Despite the controversy…. hats off to Mowatt for taking the leap into un-chartered territory, bringing culture and creativity to Vancouver! This bodes well not only for Vancouver, but Canada as a whole, showing initiative that we thirst for cultural growth and experience. The intention of the Biennale is one of education, engagement and interaction, pushing people to the next level of artistic appreciation.
Looking forward Mowatt shares that the vision is now to, “take [the Biennale] to the level where it would be an international focal point,” continuing to garner interest from contemporary artists, world-wide.
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