Public Art in Vancouver

July 24th, 2012

Summer has finally arrived and many of us are avoiding the indoors in favour of revelling in the sun. Vancouver is a city where the sheer beauty of its natural setting has posed fierce competition to cultural pursuits so in an attempt to reconcile the two, here’s our list of surprisingly stellar Public Artwork that graces the streets – by both local and international luminaries – that you can view, all while enjoying the beautiful weather. Click here to view a map of the featured public art projects.

Ron Terada, The Words Don’t Fit The Picture, 2010

Ron Terada, The Words Don’t Fit The Picture, 2010: Known for his text-based works including paintings and signs, Vancouver-based Terada was a natural fit to create a work for Vancouver’s Central Library. This free-standing sign, comprised of glowing bulbs, harkens back to an era in the city’s past of striking, iconic neon signs. As Terada as stated, “Taken within the context of a public library, the work touches upon – in a very poetic way – the use of words and language as boundless and imaginative, as a catalyst for a multiplicity of meanings.”

Location: Vancouver Central Library – South Plaza, 350 West Georgia Street

Jerry Pethick, Time Top, 2003

Jerry Pethick, Time Top, 2003: This bronze sculpture, inspired by a comic strip called The Time Top that Pethick enjoyed as a child, was submerged into the ocean at Gibson’s BC for two years. While underwater, the work was delivered a low voltage charge so it would attract seawater minerals to build up a crust on its surface and create a time-worn look. Time Top, which looks like an old-fashioned spaceship, appears as an otherworldly relic washed ashore.

Location: North Shore of False Creek, just west of Cambie Bridge


Lawrence Weiner, PLACED UPON THE HORIZON (CASTING SHADOWS), 1990: Weiner, one of the founding fathers of Conceptual Art, is known for his endlessly inventive creation of poetic, funny and thought-provoking text-based works. For his installation made specifically for the VAG, he has placed golden letters carved from yellow cedar on the gallery’s frieze, above the majestic Ionic columns that form the official-looking Robson Street façade of the gallery. Weiner plays off the VAG’s architectural history as a former courthouse, using his installation to mimic the gilded letters adorn the façades of state buildings.

Location: Vancouver Art Gallery, Robson Street Façade

Kota Ezawa, Hand Vote, 2012

Offsite, Vancouver Art Gallery, ongoing: This outdoor exhibition space is programmed with rotating installations by the Vancouver Art Gallery and has featured eye-catching architectural feats by the likes of Heather and Ivan Morison and Elspeth Pratt. Currently on view is a monumental, cartoon-like wooden tableau by San Francisco-based Kota Ezawa. The work features a group of individuals with their hands raised engaged in one of the most basic of democratic acts: the vote.

Location: West Georgia Street between Thurlow and Bute Streets, west of the Shangri-La Hotel

Myfanwy MacLeod, The Birds, 2010

Myfanwy MacLeod, The Birds, 2010: MacLeod’s pair of large-scale birds, at once beautiful and menacing, dominate the central square of the Olympic Village, and act as a reminder of the way natural environments have been bulldozed in favour of urban ones, making these cement environments the sparrow’s “natural” home. The artist has stated, “my work for the Olympic Village tries to infuse the ordinary and commonplace sparrow with a touch of the ridiculous and the sublime. The Birds is a pair of sparrows (male and a female) that, through their large scale – they stand 18 feet tall (5.5 metres) – inverts the normal relationship existing between these typically small birds and the human population…”

Location: Southeast False Creek Plaza (Olympic Village), 1 Athletes Way

Ken Lum, Monument for East Vancouver, 2009

Ken Lum, Monument for East Vancouver, 2009: Lum has long been interested in the construction of cultural identity and the signs and symbols that populate our quotidian lives. His 20-metre tall, glowing sign spelling “East Van” towers over the city and takes its shape from the popular graffiti Lum remembers from growing up on Vancouver’s eastside. The phrase would often be accompanied by the word “rules”, suggesting a pride of place in an area historically less economically and politically powerful than the western part of the city. Cross-shaped and luminous, Lum’s sculpture towers over the area it monumentalizes.

Location: Clark Drive & East 6th Avenue

Martin Creed, Work No. 851, 2008

Martin Creed, Work No. 851, 2008: Permanently installed on the façade of the Wing Sang Building, the home of Bob Rennie’s private collection, is Martin Creed’s seventy-give foot neon proclamation that “EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT”. Although the sign appears initially to be a glowing beacon of hope, Creed states “to me that work is quite sad because it’s like someone trying to tell themselves to hope for something better… also I notice if someone tells you something like ‘don’t worry; everything will be all right’ – that can be really helpful.… Even if it’s empty, it still can be comforting.”

Location: Rennie Collection at Wing Sang, 51 East Pender Street

Rodney Graham, Aerodynamic Forms in Space, 2009

Rodney Graham, Aerodynamic Forms in Space, 2009: If the components of Graham’s large-scale sculpture appear vaguely familiar at first glance, it’s because they are based on toy glider kits. The work was inspired by a series of photographs Graham shot in 1977 of incorrectly assembled model gliders, putting the parts together based on aesthetic value rather than function. Similarly, in Aerodynamic Forms in Space, Graham has taken these familiar forms and fashioned a work in the vein of a modernist abstract sculpture. Situated at the entrance to Stanley Park, Graham references flight and the seaplanes that are frequently seen taking off and landing in the area.

Location: Georgia Street Entrance to Stanley Park

Stan Douglas, Abbott & Cordova, 7 August, 1971, 2009

Stan Douglas, Abbott & Cordova, 7 August, 1971, 2009: Internationally recognized for his meticulous and beautifully shot films and photographs, Douglas’ dramatic 30 x 50-foot translucent photograph in the atrium of the Woodward’s building in depicts the violent conflict between police and participants in a peaceful “smoke-in” protest opposing police attempts to crack down on marijuana-smoking, an event which came to be known as the Gastown Riot. Monumentalizing a moment in the city’s history, as well as acknowledging the current social conditions of the area in which the work is installed, with this work, Douglas was interested in provoking a conversation about this event in the city’s past.

Location: Woodward’s Building, 126 West Cordova Street

Liam Gillick, lyingontopofabuildingthecloudslookednonearerthanwhenIwaslyingonthestreet, 2009

Liam Gillick, lyingontopofabuildingthecloudslookednonearerthanwhenIwaslyingonthestreet, 2009: From the fifth to twenty-second floors, on the south and east façades of the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel, British artist Liam Gillick has wrapped a repeated piece of text in stainless steel letters which reads “Lying on top of a building the clouds looked no nearer than when I was lying on the street…” Characteristic of much of his work, this phrase professes the artist’s interest in diversions and distractions; the text also references both its own position and the position of the person who reads it.

Location: Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel, at the corner of Burrard and Cordova

Vancouver Public Art Map

Click here to view a printable version of this map

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