Rennie Overdrive

by Zbigniew

More than 250 local visual arts professionals sign a letter supporting the development of a new and purpose-designed Vancouver Art Gallery.

Costs are estimated -unofficially- at $300 million. While not exactly chump change, this is less than the cost overrun on the new and underused convention centre, about half of the “final” price  of replacing the roof on a sports facility that sat empty for 289 days in 2012, and less than the City of Vancouver’s debt on the undersold Olympic Village.

But while we’re awash in creative and financial capital, the social variety is in seriously short supply. Elected officials baulk, preferring that The Best World Class Place on Earth stick to the decidedly small town path of housing its main, publicly-supported art gallery is a makeshift, hand-me-down, former courthouse.

And worse. Like much else in our town, the civic discourse about the role of publicly supported art is being privatized and prepped for the bulldozer.

Bob Rennie envisions an alternative future for a new VAG. The condo marketing paragon and proprietor of the so-special-you-need-an appointment Rennie Collection at the Wing Sang -aka the Bob Rennie Art Gallery or “BRAG”- imagines not a single signature facility but a constellation of small galleries distributed around the city.

This idea smells as funky as a leaky condo. Rennie has already proved adept at pigging backing on public infrastructure to market his wares. Consider his revision of the real estate shibboleth “location, location, location”. If the “transportation, transportation, transportation” convenience of a Canada Line station is enough to attract punters to the wasteland that is Marine Drive, imagine the full colour, full-page ad in the Georgia Straight marketing potential of condo tower with a VAG franchise on the ground floor. Repeat after Bob: “amenity, amenity ….”

But in a city where high-density residential development threatens every nook and cranny like a virulent rash, this already policy. Think of the Contemporary Art Gallery or the International Film Centre. Marsha Lederman put it succinctly: “As government dollars become more scarce, it’s hard to deny the increasing importance of this kind of private influence.”

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The details of, and possible motivations for, Bob Rennie’s verbal assault of Vancouver Art Gallery Director Kathleen Bartels is available for edification in Lederman’s article, although I prefer Michael Turner’s rather more colourful account. Suffice it to say, upon disembarking from Jimmy Pattison’s yatch Mr. Rennie received a call informing him that Ms. Bartels was attending a function at his gallery. For reasons that may be elusive to those less formally cultured than distinguished art collectors, Mr. Rennie took Ms. Bartels’ presence in his building as an extreme slight. He jumped into his vehicle, drove to the Wing Sang and -apparently- expressed himself in a manner usually reserved for sailors or the incarcerated.

As public yields to private, and civic discourse yields to incivility, I imagine our illustrious Condo King stalking the as-yet still free streets of our city -a powerful, abstract force in a dark, ominous-looking automobile. Ever vigilant and tireless, he cruises, ready to pounce on those that step over the line he’s drawn himself, freehand.