“I think pot should be legal. I don’t smoke it, but I like the smell of it.” - Andy Warhol
As you may know, I was never keen on 4/20 celebrations being on the Vancouver Art Gallery grounds. It drove me nuts that the most prominent art institution in Vancouver had its grounds disrespected, and even worse, that they had to close their doors for the day. There are other reasons that I am glad the location is changing for 2016, but those two are big ones. Still, I already wrote that article. This one is about what happens inside the gallery, which I think is pretty awesome. And certainly lends itself to blazing beforehand.
The Vancouver Art Gallery has been housed in the former provincial courthouse since 1983. Four floors of neoclassical design at its finest — built in 1906 to replace the courthouse once located at Victory square — it still retains many of its original judges benches and walls in an addition built in 1912. It’s a piece of architectural art in itself, and still takes my breath away.
I have recently become a card-carrying member of the gallery, so I have been trying to use it as frequently as possible. One of the perks of membership is that I had the pleasure of being at the members opening night of the gallery’s newest exhibition, MashUp: The Birth Of Modern Culture. It is the gallery’s largest exhibit to date, taking up all four floors of the heritage building with 156 artists represented from the early 20th century to the digital age.
I was most excited about seeing the Andy Warhol and Picasso pieces, as most of my art education is self-taught and big names are my draw. But I am always excited to see what the curators come up with, and they did not disappoint.
The gallery stairs surrounding the building are a classic pot-smoking destination in downtown Vancouver. I stopped for a bowl there before we went in, my partner in crime doesn’t smoke so I was flying solo on that front. My go-to strain, Watermelon, was a great choice for this occasion; I function really well in social situations with it.
After imbibing, my date for the night and I walked around the building to the gallery entrance fashionably late only to run into a lineup going around the corner of the grounds — which take up an entire square city block! I was a bit nervous about the wait, but thankfully it moved quickly. Once inside we discovered wall-to-wall art lovers; Vancouverites support this institution, most assuredly.
We skipped the coat-check line, and headed in.
Art While Stoned
It’s difficult to really tell you what the exhibit was like. Normally I like to take my time with pieces that catch my fancy; however, really large and enthusiastic crowds don’t lend themselves to getting the space you need to really see each piece. But I’m happy to share some that caught my eye the first time around.
One of my favorites, and the first one I saw, is a large installation called Afrylic by Ellen Gallagher. She used plasticine to recreate hairstyles on reproduced African-American hair product ads. There must be a thousand of them. The detail, and not a single repeat, is quite inspirational. Being all swirls, curls, and the like, it was a fun start to the trip and worthy of the bench time I spent taking it in, fresh off my high.
An artist that anyone who loves an urban edge to their art would appreciate is Brian Jungen. No stranger to being featured at the VAG, he creates Haida Gwaii style masks out of Air Jordan sneakers, and there are quite a few on display. Incredibly unique and its title, Prototype for New Understandings, is apt as it shows you a commonly seen art form in British Columbia in a new way.
Another artist that stuck with me was John Heartfield, because he was an advocate for the German people as Hitler came into power. A notable contributor in the Dadaist movement, he was one of the bravest, willing to publicly ridicule the Nazis. Working mostly in satire, he created photomontages that attacked Hitler and his henchmen — pointing out truths that many were unwilling to — only to be chased out of Nazi Germany in April of 1933 for his pieces in Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag), among others. He was a man that many marijuana activists could relate to, in being persecuted for speaking of what was right and just in the minds of many. Art can teach you about more than just pretty pictures.
Picasso’s pieces — not gonna lie, I was kinda bored. It is commonly accepted that he smoked hashish, and we know for certain that he loved his opiates and absinthe. I’ll take his opium-inspired paintings over the collages and sketches displayed in the show any day. Perhaps with more time to view I could see the pieces’ depth … I remember the first time I went to the VAG, it was probably around 2005, and I was able to see some of his sketches then. They were amazing to view, from my sheltered art experiences. But I have become a little spoiled and I want more more. I think I need to hit up European galleries for that, though.
But the curators did not disappoint when I walked into what I dubbed the Warhol Room. See, I’m a bit of a marketing geek and I love the way Andy Warhol deconstructed advertisements and icons, some more respectfully than others. There were ten Marilyns there for viewing, I literally squealed when I saw them. And his Cow wallpaper was just as bright and grand and over-the-top. Mao, Jackie, and other pieces are included that you are just going to have to check out yourself. They’re worth the entrance fee.
So many things there I can’t even begin to cover, nor I am qualified to do so as I’m not officially an art critic: the films (did I mention Tarantino has a short film included?), the gigantic pieces, and among many others, an installation my boss would especially love: This is not a Test by Amber Frid-Jimenez.
Art is for everyone. And this exhibit is about modern art, and the pioneers who brought it to us. A revolution of creating new things, changing thought processes, and breaking rules, all in order to progress. Sound familiar, advocates? But art revolutionaries, revolutionaries in general, don’t stay still when their message needs to grow. So maybe we should really be happy that we are moving to Sunset beach for 4/20 here in Vancouver — a stunning background more suited for crowds of such size — instead of getting in the way of people who just want to look at art, simply because we have always been there on April twentieth.
The pot smokers among the gallery’s patrons are far more likely to support and join advocates if we don’t get in the way of the gallery’s operations. Let’s work with the liberal minds, instead of disrespecting them. Besides, you might actually enjoy what’s going on inside — and they never seem to mind me being stoned when I visit.