Vancouver Art Gallery

If you don’t equate Vancouver with the fine arts, it’s time you discovered the Vancouver Art Gallery. Housed (for the time being — its new home will be built at West Georgia and Cambie) in a beautiful neoclassical courthouse located in the thick of Robson Street’s hustle-and-bustle, the Vancouver Art Gallery 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 respected 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 bold colours and a style strongly influenced by local indigenous peoples 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, the Vancouver Art Gallery is home to a significant collection of paintings, sketches, ceramics, photographs and letters by one of British Columbia’s most ground-breaking artists.

Vancouver Art Gallery

3 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 explore the Vancouver Art Gallery:

  • FUSE: This “art museum-slash-nightclub” event is held from 8 pm through 1 am about six times per year. A unique way to experience the galley, hang out with fellow art lovers as DJs spin, artists perform throughout the galleries, and “eclectic” interpretive tours take place. It’s an interactive, art-filled night for adults.
  • Lectures and More: Throughout each month, artists, critics and curators lead discussions in the galleries, giving visitors the chance to learn from and interact with renowned scholars and local artists. Most talks are complimentary with admission, but some require bookings.
  • Tours: The Vancouver Art Gallery offers a variety of complimentary tours of the permanent galleries, traveling exhibitions and more. One-hour tours offer a general overview of exhibitions, while 30-minute Hot Spot tours focus discussions around particular pieces.

The Vancouver Art Gallery Store and Café

The Vancouver Art Gallery Store is a great place to pick up books on contemporary art and Canada’s creative history, as well as replicas of Emily Carr’s paintings within the gallery’s collection. Consistently voted one of the best gift shops in the city, you can also pick up posters, jewellery, silk scarves, toys, ceramics and more. Looking for a spot for to relax and reflect on the exhibitions? 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.

Art and Hotel Special Packages

Want a little culture with your continental breakfast? Some of Vancouver’s best hotels offer accommodation packages for art lovers in partnership with the Vancouver Art Gallery. Not only will you be within walking distance of Western Canada’s largest art museum, but packages typically also include express-admission passes, complimentary offers and special pricing.

Locations and the Basics

Since 1983, the Vancouver Art Gallery has lived in a former provincial courthouse in downtown Vancouver at 750 Hornby Street, bordered by Georgia, Howe, Hornby and Robson streets. The gallery is very centrally located, just steps away from chic shopping on Robson Street and dozens of restaurants.

However, the space constraints of the current location means that no more than 3 per cent of the gallery’s collection is exhibited at any time. Needing more exhibit space, as well as educational galleries and theatres, planning for a new purpose-built Vancouver Art Gallery, with a conceptual design for the building created by international firm Herzog and deMeuron. The new art museum will be located about six blocks southeast of the current Vancouver Art Gallery, at West Georgia and Cambie streets.

Vancouver Art Gallery

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 and beaded jewellery, First Nations art is an essential piece of the area’s character.
  • 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 lets 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.