Vancouver Biennale Open Air Museum woos public support; auction cancelled

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      As the 2009–11 edition of the Vancouver Biennale Open Air Museum draws to a close, attention turns to its physical legacy: the sculptures and installations that will be left behind in Metro Vancouver, some permanently, others on long-term loan.

      The future, for two out of the 40 artworks, is assured. Michel Goulet’s Echoes, an installation of 16 stainless-steel chairs meant to inspire conversation or contemplation, will remain at its Kits Beach locale as a gift to the city. And Biennale founder Barrie Mowatt confirmed on April 25 that Ren Jun’s Freezing Water #7, the undulating ribbon of metal now on view in Vanier Park, will be reinstalled in Richmond as part of a new condo project.

      Many of the Biennale’s other legacy projects, however, remain works in progress. Several large sculptural installations, including Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Walking Figures (the bronze, headless statues in Queen Elizabeth Park) and the late Dennis Oppenheim’s Engagement (the glass-and-metal “rings” at English Bay), have been offered to local municipalities, including Vancouver, on long-term loan—a deal that, according to Mowatt, would carry only a minimal cost to the public.

      “The terms we’re proposing are really simple,” the long-time gallerist (who has just shut down his 24-year-old Buschlen Mowatt Gallery on West Georgia Street) told the Straight in a telephone interview. “We, the Buschlen Mowatt Foundation, will loan to the cities involved work for a period of either 20 or 25 years, as determined by the agreement. And we will maintain the works, to ensure that the works don’t decay or deteriorate.”¦The recipient, being the cities, will be required only to maintain liability insurance, much like they do with playgrounds, et cetera.”

      So far, however, no agreements have been concluded. “If we were in the business world, this would have been resolved in a matter of weeks,” said Mowatt. “But because we’re dealing with two jurisdictions, city and parks, there seems to always be some level of angst or ultra-review that goes on.”

      Compounding the veteran art dealer’s frustration is that Biennale organizers decided late last week to cancel a gala fundraising concert and auction, scheduled for the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on Saturday (April 30). Proceeds from the event were to go to the Vancouver Biennale, a registered charity, to fund exhibitions, educational programming, public lectures, artist residencies, and the purchase of legacy works.

      “Let’s say the economy was not serving us as well as we wanted it to,” said Mowatt. “Entering into the gala, we’d had strong commitments from patrons and such, but we weren’t seeing those commitments realized in terms of dollars appearing on the table in a timely fashion.”

      Mowatt stressed that the Buschlen Mowatt Foundation intends to continue with fundraising efforts, both for the next Biennale and for the legacy loan program, but will concentrate on going directly to the public for support.

      “We’re asking everyone who’s ever had their photograph taken, basically, in front of an installation to text in their buck or their toonie or whatever,” he said, noting that the new donor campaign will be launched within “the next many weeks”.

      “I think we always have to work in a positive vein,” he added, “and we hope that people will respond.”