If you don’t equate Vancouver with “art haven,” it’s time you discovered the fantastic Vancouver Art Gallery. Housed (for the time being — it’s looking for a new home) in a beautiful neoclassical courthouse located in the thick of Robson Street’s hustle bustle, the VAG is the largest public art museum in Western Canada. Spend an afternoon exploring photographs by masters such as Ansel Adams, as well as important works by Emily Carr and other revered British Columbian artists. Read on for everything you need to know about this downtown highlight.
History, the Permanent Exhibits and Emily Carr
The Vancouver Art Gallery made its debut in 1931 with a tidy collection of British historical paintings and only seven works by Canadian artists. Those humble beginnings were the foundation of what was to become a collection of more than 10,000 pieces. Explore the gallery’s repository of works by Vancouverites Jeff Wall, Stan Douglas, Rodney Graham, Roy Arden, Ian Wallace and others. Or take in historical landscapes, 17th-century Dutch paintings and one of North America’s most important photographic collections by icons such as Ansel Adams, Cindy Sherman and Henri Cartier-Bresson. However you spend your time at the gallery, be sure not to miss the significant collection of paintings by Canadian modernist Emily Carr, who was known for using splashy, bold colors to bring B.C.’s unique landscape and culture to life. In 1937, the gallery purchased Carr’s Totem Poles, Kitseukla for $400; it inherited the rest of her collection in the 1960s. Today, you can see the full collection of paintings, sketches, ceramics, photographs and letters by one of British Columbia’s most groundbreaking natives.
4 Ways to Explore
Visitors touring the Vancouver Art Gallery on their own should plan to spend at least a couple of hours browsing the permanent and rotating exhibits. Want something more interactive? Check out one of these cool ways to do the VAG:
- FUSE: Art museum come … nightclub? Held 8pm–1am on select Fridays, DJs spin and performances take place in the galleries. It’s an interactive, art-filled night for adults. >More
- Lectures and More: Throughout the month, artists, critics and curators lead discussions in the galleries. This is your chance to learn from and interact with renowned scholars and local artists. For information, call 604-662-4719
- Tours: The VAG offers a variety of fun, interactive tours of the permanent galleries, traveling exhibitions and more. Call 604-662-4719 for information about one-hour private tours. Or check out the Hot Spots tour for a focused discussion about a different emerging artist; every Thursday at noon.
- Tickets and Tea: Here’s your chance to find out just how well art appreciation pairs with fresh pastries and strawberries in Devonshire cream. This civilized package includes express entry to the gallery and afternoon tea at The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver -- one of the city’s most historic buildings, located across the street . Call 604.662.1900 to purchase tickets.
The Vancouver Art Gallery Store and Cafe
Find books on contemporary art and Canada’s creative history, as well as replicas of Emily Carr’s paintings at the Vancouver Art Gallery’s gift store, consistently voted one of the best gift shops in the city. You can also pick up posters, jewelry, silk scarves, toys, ceramics and designer paper products. Open 10am–5:30pm. Then nab a table at the Gallery Café, which has one of downtown’s prime outdoor patios. Soups and salads round out a menu that includes mouth-watering desserts. Open Mon., Wed.–Fri. 9am–6pm; Tues. 9am-9pm; Sat.–Sun. 10am–6pm.
In addition to its extensive permanent collection, the gallery features frequently changing traveling exhibits that span various cultures and media. You may be enraptured by black and white photography during one visit and colorful prints the next. >More.
Art and Hotel Special Packages
Want a little culture with your continental breakfast? Some of Vancouver’s primo hotels offer art-lovers packages. Book a stay at The Fairmont, Four Seasons, The Listel Hotel and others, and not only will you be within walking distance of Canada’s largest art museum, but you also may receive express-admission passes, complimentary offers and special pricing. >More.
Locations and the Basics
Since 1983, the Vancouver Art Gallery has lived in a former provincial courthouse in downtown Vancouver between Georgia, Howe Hornby and Robson streets, steps away from chic shopping and dozens of restaurants. However, needing more exhibit space, as well as educational galleries and theatres, the octogenarian institution is currently looking for a new downtown location to build its new, $300 million state-of-the-art facility.
Vancouver Art Gallery, 750 Hornby St., is open daily from 10am–5pm (9pm on Tuesdays). Call 604-662-4719 for information.
Where (Else) to Find Vancouver’s Best Art
Vancouver isn’t lacking for culture. Everywhere you turn there’s a festival in full swing, a film being shot and art being made. The Vancouver Art Gallery is the granddaddy of visual art, but Vancouver’s artistic side is easy to tap into. Here are some of our favourite ways to get an art fix.
- First Nations:
One minute you’re walking through gorgeous city park, the next, you’re face to face with a giant totem pole carved from a massive tree trunk. First Nations art is colorful, distinctive and, well, everywhere in Vancouver. From Stanley Park’s towering totem pole display at Brockton Point to carved masks to beaded jewelry, First Nations art is an essential piece of the area’s character. Search out these five First Nations art galleries.
- Granville Island:
Home to creatives who open their studios to passersby, Granville Island is a fun place to spend a morning strolling. The Public Market is the main attraction here, but visitors can also stop into independent shops, as well as three galleries at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Music, textiles, prints and more created by students and professional artists, and represent a wide range of styles.
- Public Art:
The City of Vancouver’s Public Art Program let’s visitors search for art by neighbourhood. Or you can leave it to fate and stumble on one of 350, or so, historic and contemporary works of art that populate the city’s civic parks and greenways.