Rentable art from the Vancouver Art Gallery is hip help for bare walls
That bare white wall in your Yaletown loft may cry out for a large-scale abstract-expressionist painting, but it’s not always easy to come up with a few thousand to invest in a piece of art.
Enter the newly recharged Art Rental and Sales program at the Vancouver Art Gallery, where borrowing a funky abstract canvas, a framed slice of photo conceptualism, or an impressionistic landscape can cost as little as $10 a month.
Clients include home stagers and businesses, as well as homeowners. “Sometimes they’re hosting a special event and want some art on the walls, or they’ve just finished a renovation, or they’re having guests for the holidays,” explains manager Donna Partridge, standing in the program’s bright mini gallery on the main floor of the VAG, tucked away by the administrative offices. “But often it’s people who just love art and want to fill a space with something they don’t necessarily want to commit to.”
The low-profile program, operated by the Associates of the Vancouver Art Gallery, has run as a nonprofit endeavour that raises money for the VAG since 1957. Partridge has spent the past year or so infusing the collection with cutting-edge works. This past summer, she helped launch the facility’s first jury process, putting out an open call to artists that attracted 87 submissions. The resulting works by 16 chosen artists are just starting to flow in, like David Burns’s moody, impressionist-minimalist oil seascapes, with their layers of grey fog and clouds, and painter Stefany Hemming’s ethereal acrylic nest forms. Yet to come: pieces by Angela Grossmann, Chris Collacott, Gabryel Harrison, and more.
Here’s how it works. Monthly rental fees are based on the sale price of each artwork. If you simply can’t part with your piece and decide to buy it, three months’ rental fees can be put toward the purchase price. (You can rent works for up to a year.) Because the program is not-for-profit, you have to be a VAG member (about $75 annually) to rent, but not to buy. The artist takes home half of the rental fees and 65 percent of the purchase price.
“So we supplement artists’ incomes,” Partridge says. “We have certain artists who make the majority of their livelihood from this program.”
What’s staggering is the sheer variety of sizes and styles in the program’s 1,000-odd collection, much of it displayed on movable walls you can flip through like the pages of a gigantic book. (See them at their website; the program’s mini gallery is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Tuesday evenings by appointment.) Partridge says she’s worked to make the selection reflective of the VAG’s collection, although the program operates at arm’s length.
At opposite ends of the spectrum are Marta Baricsa’s minimalist abstracts with their big brush sweeps of stark black on white, and Vancouverite Paul Paquette’s more traditional, Group of Seven–influenced impressionistic landscapes in bright colours.
Contemporary photo art includes Esther Rausenberg’s contemporary shots of local industrial settings, and Stuart McCall’s abstractions of machine parts and night scenes—of Ladner lit by yellowy greenhouse lights, and shipping containers tinged orange by sodium lights.
Abstractionists are well represented too, whether it’s Martha Sturdy’s minimalistic, resin-globbed renderings in black, white, and red, or Holger Kalberg’s architectural abstractions.
Styles range widely, as do sizes and purchase prices. Works start around $250 and sell for as high as $20,000, which translates to rental rates ranging from $10 to $350 per month. All are ready to hang—some framed, some not, according to the artwork. (There are also some sculptures.)
Partridge helps clients choose the best size, palette, and style for their home; some bring in photos, colour chips, and measurements. But her main suggestion to would-be collectors is to go with your gut.
“If people don’t really have an idea what they’re looking for, we start flipping through, and without question a piece will strike them,” she says.
And with that last bit of advice shared, in comes celebrated Vancouver digital artist Paul Wong, one of the new talents chosen by the jury, with several brown-paper-wrapped new works ready to unveil for Partridge and her team—and soon to be available to tentative collectors who aren’t quite ready for South Granville.