Bob Rennie condemns Vancouver Art Gallery consultants’ response to his proposal

The Ping-Pong match continues between real-estate marketer Bob Rennie and the Vancouver Art Gallery over the future of one of the city’s premier cultural institutions. On December 18, Rennie and economic forecaster David Baxter wrote a sharply worded 21-page letter to VAG chair Bruce Munro Wright. It criticized a consultants’ response to an earlier report by Rennie and Baxter calling for a radically decentralized VAG instead of a new “big box” gallery on West Georgia Street across from the Sandman Hotel.


Do you support Bob Rennie's proposal for a decentralized Vancouver Art Gallery?

Yes 21%
29 votes
No 56%
79 votes
Huh? 23%
33 votes


“What we got is mainly opinion, speculation and hypotheses,” Rennie and Baxter stated in their letter. “The Response reads not as a thoughtful response to a plausible option, but rather that the assignment was to attack, not to inform about how our proposal compares and contrasts to the big box alternative.”

Earlier this month, Rennie and Baxter released a 22-page paper calling for a new 50,000-square-foot contemporary art gallery. In addition, they recommended four new 12,000-square-foot galleries in other areas of the city and a 40,000-square-foot conceptual-photography gallery underneath the VAG. They estimated this would cost $150 million including a $25-million acquisition budget—half the price of a 300,000-square-foot gallery on West Georgia.

Rennie and Baxter also recommended moving the VAG’s storage and back-office functions away from the downtown art gallery.

VAG officials commissioned Lord Cultural Resources to review Rennie and Baxter’s proposal, which led to some damning criticism (click "downloads"). “Since 1981 we have carried out nearly 2,000 projects in 51 countries and we are very confident to say that there has never been a museum project that separates exhibition from other museum functions nor one that creates so much duplication of display space to the extent proposed for Vancouver,” Barry Lord and Ted Silberberg wrote in their review. “The document lists seven examples (p. 16) of the decentralization of exhibition spaces and of museum systems but none have the level of separation of exhibition spaces from other museum functions proposed and none are comparable to what is being proposed for Vancouver.”

Lord and Silberberg also questioned how Rennie and Baxter did their costing. The consultants claimed that they low-balled their estimate of $425 per net square foot to renovate 80,000 square feet, suggesting it would come closer to $600 per net square foot.

That’s not all. The consultants also stated that the $300-million cost for a new integrated VAG on West Georgia Street is an “all-in figure”. They pointed out that the “multi-use proposal” relies on donations and community amenity contributions, which are required in rezonings. “That is, there is no clear assumption of land acquisition costs other than for the Archive Art facility at $60 per sq. ft. despite an assumption that sites will be on private, commercial land,” Lord and Silberberg wrote.

Rennie and Baxter responded that Lord and Silberberg do not disclose how many square feet would be included in the $300-million building proposed on West Georgia Street. “They never once, in a discussion of art galleries, mention art, the collection, or Vancouver’s communities,” Rennie and Baxter added.

Furthermore, Rennie and Baxter suggested that the consultants were “merely advocates, not independent or objective analysts, seeking only to discredit other points of view rather than evaluate alternative ways that the VAGS [sic] fulfill its role and responsibilities to Vancouver’s communities”.

“If there is not more substantive objective background research available then there is no basis for making any decision about future capital expenditures: if such research actually exists, it should be publicly available,” Rennie and Baxter declared. “The people of Vancouver, by way of the City of Vancouver, are the owners of the collection, the Vancouver Art Gallery Board is its custodian, entrusted with its care and character, and the responsibility to engage the communities of Vancouver in its exhibition.”

Comments (21) Add New Comment
Many Franks
A guy who sells condos is entitled to his opinion and is just as free to clog up VAG's mailbox as anyone else. What I can't figure out is why on earth the media thinks it's newsworthy.
Rating: +55
It could be said that an expanded central VAG could act as a regional cultural focus, whereas some exhibits could travel throughout the Metro.

In effect, a regional gallery system would be an extension on what the condo flogger proposes, but without the enmity directed at one institution.

However, this would take a commitment to culture not evident by senior governments devoting their energies to stealth jets and The Widest and Most Wasteful Bridge in the World.
Rating: -1
An alternative would be to invest $150M in commissioning public art for public spaces. Money directly to artists instead of the construction industry.
Rating: -28
@ Many Franks - While Rennie certainly has sold his share of Condos he is also far more qualified than you or me to comment on a new art gallery given he is the chair of the North America Acquisitions Committee (NAAC) at Tate Museum in London, sits on the Dean's Advisory Board to the Faculty of Arts at UBC and sits on the Board of Governors for Emily Carr. Oh and he is also one of the largest private collectors in North America and spent $10M of his own money to open a public art gallery.

While we are all entitled to our opinion some are just more qualified than others.
Rating: -19
Roy Arden
Self-promoting architects and condo salesmen seem to have a special status with Canadian media. Rennie is but one voice, and not an especially qualified or expert one. Over 250 visual arts professionals have backed the VAG's plan for a new stand-alone gallery, yet we rarely get to hear any of their professional opinions in the press. Shouldn't articles like this balance Rennie's lone opinion against that of others?

The amount of media attention Rennie can get for his campaign is evidence of a plutocratic privilege that should be embarrassing in a modern democracy. One would think the Straight at least could resist falling to their knees before the Condo King. Where is the examination of his motives? Rennie has been very vocal about his dislike of Bartels for years now. Why does Rennie care so much about the VAG, an institution he has nothing to do with? Where are the journalists?

The bottom line is that the Larwill Park site is probably the last chance for a new art gallery in the city core. If the VAG doesn’t secure that site, there likely won’t be a new gallery for many decades to come, and then it will have to be outside the core. That would be a real tragedy. If City Hall does not come through with the site, they will one day look back and realize they made a great mistake. In a city where a 600 million dollar stadium roof can be financed without debate, a 300 million dollar art museum should not be controversial. Even proud philistines who incredibly think they don't need art, should consider that their children might take an interest in the arts.
Rating: +46
Roy Arden
CP, regarding the positions Rennie holds - Those are all acquired by having money, and the institution hoping to get some of it. They don't guarantee any expertise, they don't make Rennie's opinions "more qualified".
Rating: +43
i think his idea is lame.
Rating: +28
The nodal approach may have inefficiencies - perfection is asking too much - but the Larwill idea has 6 weeks left to find hundreds of millions of dollars, which it has utterly failed to do in the last few years.

Simply put, while Rennie's idea is in some aspect impractical, the VAG's is impossible. To make this choice easy, first choose reality.
Rating: -15
Joseph Jones
Bob Rennie has this one right. Wannabe nouveaux riches congregated in Vancouver aspire to funnel major public money and prime public space into a cushy little retro white-elephant fantasy of a Babel-like "collection" house, a place where their own assemblages of déjà vu faded-aura-residues can mortuarily live on after them as frozen fetishistic excrescences. That project and trajectory is so NOT 21st-century Vancouver. Even the unsurpassable irony of a megagallery – en soi a potentially amazing piece of conceptual art – could not justify such expenditure. Go Bob go!
Rating: -45
So being an unsuccessful artist gives you more qualifications, Mr Arden? At least Rennie has spoken to people in art outside of Vancouver in the last 10 years.

Let's be honest, the hyperregional outlook of most of the arts community in Vancouver has not been serving the majority very well. Time to look elsewhere for information and inspiration. Even if Rennie's idea is impractical, at least it's more financially realistic and more interesting than the VAG's existing idea.
Rating: -36
VAG should concentrate on that awful mud hole that surrounds the Gallery. It is very embarrassing for our tourists to see.
Rating: -5
"regarding the positions Rennie holds - Those are all acquired by having money"

Really?! You can get a chair at the Tate by just having money? REALLY?!?!? THAT'S ALL IT TAKES?!??!?

The stupidity of the Georgia Straight comments page seems to know no bounds.
Rating: -10
There are two problems with the VAG and both should be dealt with at once--the terrible regionalism of the VAG's collections and focus (out with Bartels who presumably approves this) and the tiny space in which it is presented (out with Rennie who wants in on a new condo deal). Vancouver is a global city and it needs a global art collection, both in size and scope to match. Phillipe de Montebello recently retired from the Met. Perhaps he could do the VAG as a charity case?
Rating: -15
Did anyone vote for Bob Rennie in the last election?
Rating: +33
bob o
$300 million for an "art" gallery. That ranks up there with $500 million for a renovated stadium. No doubt the public will pay for this. At least the stadium gets LOTS more use than any art gallery. I bet all the "arts" supporters who criticized the stadium won't say anything about $300 million for the "artists".
Rating: -30
Donal Judd
It's time to stop feeding the egos of the amateurs rennie and Baxter. None of Rennie's activities are philanthropic. They are self interested prestige mannered expressions that look like help to the arts. His gallery is a sinkhole of anti curatorial artist effacing rhetoric. He dislikes artists but needed to surround himself with artworks that tidy his business behaviour. If only he would stop pretending to be a big gun for the Tate in a far off land. Offshore has always been a good choice for the new rich. Great do it but keep ur meddling offshore too.
Rating: +8
Nicolas Serota
I have worked in over 30 art museums in Europe and the US.
Rennie may have spent a bunch of his "hard swingin" dough on art but he has never worked a day in a musuem nor has had to figure out the interests of a group past the business fast buck profit plan.
He is a 15 point marketeer. We are not trying to open a new business. Its a museum folks and wont ever function like a shopping mall, an industrial park or system. If as a city we are not grown up enough to have one then so be it. There are rennies in every city and they are just a clear sign that we have many impediments to our maturity as a city. VanderZalm another one.
Canadians are too polite, in a big city Rennie would have been described as the non stakeholder that he is already. His 'private' rooms in Chinatown are a toxic reminder that the newly monetized are just as HOBBES described...selfish to the point of blindness.
I wish the real philanthropists of BC would stand up and take their rightful place in this oddly teenagerish situation.
Rating: +8
Roy Arden
If you are a visual arts professional and want to support the new Vancouver Art Gallery, visit:
Rating: +26
name withheld
Renie did not open a "public Art Gallery". Especially when he throws p eople out at his discretion. Hardly public - its rarely even open.
Rating: +14
name withheld
Perhaps Rennie wants to scatter things all over the city so that the arts will gentrify many areas, as they do, and he can sell more condos for more money. Good for business, no?
Rating: +9


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Letter from Bob Rennie and David Baxter following the Lord Cultural Resources response

PDF (202.98 KB)


Lord Cultural Resources evaluation of the proposal by Bob Rennie and David Baxter

PDF (497.74 KB)