Vancouver Art Gallery Outside
Culture, Design

Tuesday Evening at the Vancouver Art Gallery

Emily Carr in Dialogue with Mattie Gunterman

On Tuesday afternoon David and I wondered down to Yaletown to enjoy happy hour at Provence before visiting the Vancouver Art Gallery. I’ve always loved Provence because of its view of the marina.  When I first moved here in college from the Midwest, it seemed so special to be able to sit out on the patio and watch the boats on the water – the ambiance just begs you to enjoy a glass of wine!  Plus, the restaurant is most frequented by classy old women who like to have a drink at 3pm on a week day, which is just my style.

Provence Marinaside Vancouver

On Tuesday evenings the art gallery offers “admission by donatio­n” instead of their usual $24 per person fee.

I was particularly keen on visiting the museum in order to see an exhibit featuring two women artists practicing in British Columbia in the early 20th century, Emily Carr, one of Canada’s most famous painters, and ­­­Mattie Gunterman, a photographer.

While I was thrilled to see this exhibit and glad to see a spotlight on women artists, I had mixed feelings about its presentation.

I felt it had some of the best artwork in the museum, yet it was on the very top floor and difficult to find.  All the escalators were broken leading up to it, and if you hadn’t known it was there, you probably would have missed it.

In fact, we wondered through what we thought was the whole museum and ended up back in the lobby where I had to ask if it was still showing.  They then directed us to a little hidden away elevator that we could take to the top floor.

Also, it seemed odd that the women were exhibited in conjunction with each other.  Initially, I assumed that they had some sort of relationship and that Mattie Gunterman had photographed Emily Carr or they had studied together, but it turns out there was no affiliation between the two and they had never even met.

Obviously they worked in two completely different mediums (painting and photography) and while they were both inspired by the Pacific Northwest landscape, they were in totally different areas (Emily Carr primarily in Vancouver and Victoria and Mattie Gunterman in Seattle, the Arrow Lakes region, and Beaton) with different environments and features.

I had also assumed they were both Canadian, but Gunterman was American, born in Wisconsin.

So, essentially, they were both women artists in a particular region that were born during the same time.

While I appreciate that both women were inspired by the beautiful BC landscape, it seemed like they should just each get their own show.

I can’t help but think if an exhibit like that had been put on between two men everyone would be asking what “in dialogue” meant and why they were exhibited together.

Perhaps there are enough parallels, but the museum just fell short, making the exhibit feel like an afterthought instead of celebration of their work by emphasizing both the similarities and uniqueness of their creations.  Presentation is everything.

Am I crazy?  Does this make perfect sense to everyone else?  I feel like one of the most amazing aspects of art is how it reflects the time in which it was created as well as the present moment in which it is being viewed.  This is why curation is such a fascinating and critical process to me.  I can’t help but think that combining these two artists into one exhibit under the guise of a “dialogue” between the two was a missed opportunity, especially during this critical time of acknowledging women’s rights and how often we are overlooked in society.

I am grateful that the Vancouver Art Gallery did highlight these talented women.  If you aren’t familiar with the two artists, I encourage you to take some time to look them up.  I love Emily Carr’s distinct style and use of color.  I look at the trees up here differently having seen them through her eyes.  Mattie Gunterman’s photographs are incredible documentation of life in towns that no longer even exist.  I couldn’t help but marvel at the images captured and how impressive the compositions were, especially considering this was way before the age of digital and she likely only had one or two chances to capture the moment.

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