Vancouver has built a strong reputation for its culture and artistic undercurrent. During a brief stroll down any populated street, one can easily encounter spirited buskers and a dusty bulletin board sporting countless ads for upcoming concerts of all types. When it comes to the visual arts, hopeful Emily Carr art students with massive ambition and minuscule cash flow may come to mind. Or, of course, the well-established Vancouver Art Gallery on Hornby Street, which you’ve likely visited on field trips or out of personal interest, but have possibly come to know as the only major gallery in your city. Maybe your greatest hobby is to casually explore the glass-shops of Granville Island through foggy windows. On the other hand, maybe your only exposure to the sophisticated side of your city has been watching the pre-movie slides showcasing work of Emily Carr University students at theatres such as the Park. Even if you have passed the occasional small-scale gallery, or even endeavoured to browse the interiors of some of these canvas-lined, white-walled rooms, there is definitely more out there than meets the eye. When you take the time to look, Vancouver is as wet with paint as it is with rain. Not sure where to start? Granville Street is your gallery go-to, and here are a few highlights.
Bau-Xi Contemporary Fine Art3045 Granville St
Surrounded by vintage clothing stores and popular shoe boutiques, this gallery is situated at the higher edge of Granville’s shopping strip and is almost impossible to miss simply due to its size. Behind its vast windows and well-curated displays for the eyes of briskly passing Vancouverites, two stories of multimedia art spanning across various themes hang on ivory-white walls. Established almost fifty years ago for the sake of motivated West Coast artists lacking opportunities to display their work, this gallery is one of the most prestigious in the city, carrying the work of over 50 artists. The ceilings are high, the artwork conceptually unique , and the layout of this space is as simple and subtle as it is quietly unpredictable and inviting. Passing from room to room, one encounters intricately positioned motion-sensing lights, conveniently positioned benches, and compact indoor plants that create an atmosphere comparable to that of the largest and most venerable of city galleries. On the first level of the gallery one immediately encounters the main exhibition of the moment, but with a short trip up a flight of stairs, a small, vivid world of more randomized works reveals itself. There are even a couple of thought-provoking installations in sight, such as an old typewriter deconstructed and balanced on a large multimedia sculpture. All in all, this gallery is the next best thing to a downtown Vancouver Art Gallery exhibit, and hey, it’s completely free and open all days of the week.
Initial Gallery2339 Granville Street
When a person thinks of an art gallery, it’s unlikely that an image of anything much like Initial will come to mind. Hidden by the buildings around it, you wouldn’t be able to distinguish Initial as a gallery without admiring its exterior up close. It’s tiny, it’s shielded, and the work displayed through the window is uncolourful, unexplained, and nothing short of an enigma. In looking through glass only to see a series of distorted faces, and a covert sign in discreet font with the words “Science of Physical Attraction,” you may continue past without pursuing your curiosity. This being said, it can be hard to keep from stepping inside for a short peek- and it is very much worth it.
Comprised of one black-and-white room, buzzing with low-key atmospheric instrumentals, and seemingly unpopulated by any obvious staff to a curious member of the public, this gallery is the epitome of simplicity. In this compact container of a room, however, there always seems to be something worth looking at, and something several steps off of the beaten path of ordinarily exhibited art. Whether the work’s theme at your time of exploration is rooted in animal photography or pencilled interpretations of the human psyche, it’s always new, it’s always a little surprising, and it’s always worth a brief browse. Small it may be, but it’s a species of gallery one doesn’t see every day.
Marion Scott2423 Granville St
Walking into Marion Scott Gallery is like walking into a small garden, or pacing along the shores of a Vancouver Island beach, despite it being located in the heart of lively Granville Street. The place emits a noticeably earthy vibe, due to the natural tone of the displayed pieces, which are all contributed to the gallery by Coastal BC artists. It`s unremarkable enough from the outside, but soon proves welcoming as you find yourself determined to remain there for as long as the neutral-painted walls will have you. It doesn’t occur to you as local Inuit art so much as a peaceful room that harnesses a potent Pacific Northwest vibe without displaying a single totem pole.
In all honesty, there isn’t a lot of art here. The gallery itself is comprised of a single room, with artwork sparsely distributed. With this in mind, the simultaneous thematic direction and immense diversity present in the limited space is nothing if not extraordinary. Familiar traditional sculptures lay in a cluster in the centre, while a massive textured drawing composed by pencil crayons hangs opposite an enthralling sugar-lift etched print. Above all, blurred landscapes and Native tapestries offer an organic escape from the bustling intersection of Granville and West Broadway. You may think you know First Nations art, but this contemporary approach is eclectic, clean, and likely not what you’re used to.
Uno Langmann2117 Granville St
It is very appropriate that this gem is located right beside an antique store, considering how much it feels like one. That being said, Langmann is much more colourful than your typical antique store. Walls of warm hues and overlapping glass cases fashion an array of rooms as cluttered and overwhelming as they are intriguing. The aura of the gallery almost resembles a Versailles hallway: visitors are instantaneously immersed in a collection of artifacts preserved throughout centuries mainly for the purpose of drawing the gaze of people like them, beautifully positioned against well-hidden walls.
Though focused almost entirely on Neo-classical works and European art of the 18th and 19th centuries, this place seems to capture the essence of a little bit of everything The abundance of colour is simultaneously overbearing and transportative, and there is never a moment where your eyes will be left with no place left to wander. If ever stranded in the throes of a horribly dull day and in need of a free ticket to the past, make a trip to Langmann Gallery at the tip of the Granville Street Bridge. The mediums in this gallery are endless, and the overall vivid tone redolent of a shot or two of mental and spiritual espresso.
Chali-Rosso Art Gallery2250 Granville St
There are some things you just don’t expect to see in Vancouver, and Salvador Dali originals easily fit into that category. Yes, originals—as a matter of fact, the Charli-Rosso Gallery prides itself in only possessing original and signed work, an impressive feat considering the prestige of their collection. Focusing primarily on the works of Dali, of which they own 30, these friendly art dealers have attained the largest collection in Canada of the “Five Modern Masters.” Alternating works by Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Édouard Manet, and Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn are assembled into tight spaces warmly and intricately, preventing the possibility of a browser turning their head without simultaneously encountering a handful of age-old masterpieces. The atmosphere is warm, outgoing, and completely unintimidating despite the presence of priceless, timeless genius. And though one of the smallest galleries fathomable, it would be far from a challenge to spend hours turning the glistening corners. A gateway into the past, Chali-Rosso is a dream come true for a lover of surrealism, and a genuine gem to all citizens of Vancouver, particularly those unable to afford a tour of Europe’s museums. And in only a couple of months, ten more original Dali sculptures are coming their way—so save the date!
Vancouver may not be Vienna, but in its own way, it is a city of art. Halfway through an uneventful lunch break, or on a dull rainy afternoon when your bus just doesn’t seem to be coming, be sure to keep your eyes open—galleries lay around every corner in this city, if you look hard enough.