Audain offers insight into museum

Michael Audain shares stories behind his art at first public address in Whistler

If Michael Audain had it his way the 56,000 sq. ft. art museum he’s building on the border of the Village might not have his family name emblazoned on the side.

In his first public address to Whistler locals, Audain offered more insight into  the museum — which is slated to open in late January 2016 after a two-month delay — and the permanent collection that will be housed within. The new book Masterworks from the Audain Art Museum was also on sale as part of the lecture at the Rainbow Theatre last Thursday (Nov. 26).

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“If you wonder why Yoshiko (Karasawa, his wife) and I are building a home up here in Whistler in your community it’s because we needed a home for our artworks,” Audain told the crowded room. “It’s not really because we yearned to have a home here with our family name on it in your beautiful mountain resort.

I’m somewhat embarrassed about having my family name on a museum. I don’t embarrass easily. For those of you who wonder, the main reason to use our name is that the title illustrates what we’re doing is not in any sense a municipal enterprise. Rather it’s a personal collection we’ll be offering to the public, one that does not purport to be in any way comprehensive.”

Audain also offered insight into his 65 years of art collecting, slowly amassing much of the collection that will make up the gallery. He grew up in Victoria with no art adorning the walls of his family home, but rather “various animal heads… a large moose looked balefully in the dining room.”

Victoria, at the time, also had no public art gallery. That history is part of his motivation to offer free admission to gallery patrons under 18 years old.

Audain walked the crowd through the museum, laying out what will greet visitors as they make their way through the building, situated between parking lots three and four. “I do want to ensure you that at the Audain Art Museum we are conscious that we are building on the traditional territories of the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations,” he said. “Thus the important art-making tradition of the Salish, to which those nations belong, will be evident when you visit. In fact the first artwork you will encounter at the end of the entry bridge is a monumental sculpture by the Squamish artist, Xwalacktun. This work tells the story of the great flood — which is particularly relevant since we’re building on a flood plane,” Audain said, to a smattering of laughs.

Patrons will be greeted by a 19th century Salish figure when they first enter the building, followed by a piece by multi-media artist Paul Wong and a carving by Robert Davidson at the end of the entrance-way corridor.  

“When you visit the museum the first gallery you’ll encounter will contain early northwest coast works with a mask collection I’m told is particularly outstanding,” Audain said. “After you’ve seen our First Nations works you’ll see a couple dozen Emily Carrs. Our museum has one of the leading collections of her work, extending from her 2011 sojourn in France up until her death… I think the museum will have about 24 Emily Carrs and it’s a very good representation of
her work.”

After the Carr gallery visitors will find a gallery dedicated to E.J. Hughes. The museum will also feature important works by Jack Shadbolt, Gordon Smith and Toni Onley. “Eventually you’ll arrive at the work of the so-called photo conceptualists; Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham… and a very pertinent work by Ken Lum that was actually done in 1990,” Audain said.

Wall was initially slated to be featured in the gallery’s opening exhibit, but several of the works turned out to be unavailable. Instead Audain’s collection of Mexican masters — including Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco, otherwise known as Los Tres Grandes — will take
its place.

Primarily, though, the gallery will showcase B.C. art. In total, there will be 200 works of art in the permanent collection by
56 artists.

“Perhaps one of the more unusual things about the Audain Art Museum is it will be one of the only public museums in the country entirely devoted to the work of a single province,” Audain said. “To my way of thinking there is no reason to apologize for this… We don’t apologize, we celebrate we’re focusing on B.C. art.”

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