Art! Vancouver joins international fair frenzy

As art events draw growing numbers around the globe, artist and curator Lisa Wolfin turns this city’s convention centre into a gigantic gallery

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      Art fairs are surging around the globe, drawing thousands of people to shows like ARCOMadrid, Art Cologne, and Art Basel. Back east, residents and tourists head in droves to events like Art Toronto and the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition. In fact, the European Fine Art Foundation’s most recent art-market report found that almost 40 percent of gallery sales worldwide—about US$12 billion—were at fairs in 2014.

      That all raised a question for long-time artist and curator Lisa Wolfin: Why wasn’t there anything like that here in Vancouver—a happening art hub that is also a tourist and cruise-ship destination?

      The idea led Wolfin, who had organized art showings at Hollyburn Country Club for about eight years, to hold the first Art! Vancouver last year at the Vancouver Convention Centre. And after having more than 130 exhibitors and 9,000 people come through its doors, she’s game to make it an even bigger success this year.

      “The convention-centre people said it was the best first-year event they’d ever had,” Wolfin tells the Straight on a brief break from organizing. “The only problem we had was there was a lineup for alcohol. We didn’t know how many bars we’d need,” she adds, explaining the event clearly has a social side to it and she’s adding more this year.

      Israeli-born Efi Mashiah’s Gun.

      Pulling together an international art fair, of course, has its challenges. Off the top, there was trying to convince artists to take a chance on a first show. “We just started researching artists and sending out invitations and then went all over the place to speak to all the people at exhibits to let them know it was taking place,” she says. “You have to find quality. We just kept going and going and talking to people.” This year more than 100 exhibiting artists and galleries are joining in, from as far away as China, Australia, and Argentina.

      Wolfin says the fair plays a role in showcasing local artists. “Say they can only show in Vancouver, they don’t produce enough to show anywhere else,” she says, pointing to Bowen Island talent Marc Baur, who makes landscapes out of meticulously ripped paper and gesso. “He sells every piece he can make, so if people want to find someone like him, they have to come here.”

      Then there was the logistical issue of turning a giant room at the convention centre into something that feels like a high-end gallery. Art! Vancouver ended up having to source its walls from Toronto, and has found a U.S. art-lighting company that can showcase the works in the way they deserve. “We want to have the same look and feel and calibre of those other shows,” Wolfin explains.

      Musician Kirsten Nash’s Peony Ride.

      As for the art itself, expect a wild range of pieces, from sculpture to photography to multimedia. As Wolfin says, “It’s not just paint.”

      Look for the event’s signature runway show, in which Wolfin puts a face to the artwork by sending artists down the catwalk with their favourite piece. She’s also trying to expand off the convention-centre site, with showings at nearby places like fashion outlet Leone and the Bauhaus restaurant. “Long-term, we want more events to go on around the city,” says Wolfin, pointing to the Miami Art Week that takes over that Florida hub each year.

      More than anything, Wolfin’s dream is to make Vancouver an art-fair destination that ranks alongside Miami and Madrid. “People fly in from all over the world to these fairs,” Wolfin says. “And we want to put Vancouver on the map for people who want to do that.”

      Art! Vancouver runs from next Thursday to Sunday (May 26 to 29) at the Vancouver Convention Centre.