November 2009

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on November 30, 2009 at 10:48 pm


Last week, MOV hosted a talk with the directors of three Vancouver museums on the future of museum collecting. This posts offers a follow-up Q&A with MOV’s CEO Nancy Noble. Next week, we’ll look at the trends discussed by the other speakers, Dr. Anthony Shelton of the Museum of Anthropology, and Dr. Wayne Maddison of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.

How have the Museum of Vancouver’s collecting practices changed over the years?
Typically, museums have collected a lot less, including the Museum of Vancouver. We have also put tighter controls over the process of collecting, which includes a Collections Policy and a Collections Committeeof board, staff, and community—that makes recommendations to the Board for all acquisitions.

Also, I believe we are being more considered and reactive in what we collect. It is rare that the Museum spends time or resources to actively collect, although I think this needs to change if we are going to amass collections of relevance now and in the future.

So, if I had something I felt was an important object from the city’s history, a letter, an object, etc., how would I approach the Museum about it? How do you judge or evaluate what should be a part of the collection and what you’ll pass on?

You would call the Museum and they would put you in touch with the Director of Collections and Exhibitions or a curator with expertise in the type of object being offered.

Typically, the curator would do an initial assessment to determine if the object was something the Museum was interested in collecting. That interest would be based on the criteria set our in our mandate, mission, and vision, our Collections Policy, and on the knowledge the curator has of what already exists in the collection. Given the limit on resources, if we already had a collection that illustrated or told similar stories, or had better provenance, we might not accept. In addition, we often don’t accept collections because they are too large, or we don’t have the resources to adequately care for them, which are also factors in determining whether something is accepted.

Once the Curator does a preliminary assessment, he/she would take a proposal to the Collections Committee and a recommendation would go to the Baord.

What are some of your favourite recent acquistions? Which pieces speak to you, or most interest you?
I love the neon collection. I know it is challenging for the curators to find space for, but it speaks to so much of Vancouver. I love how a sign off a building on East Hastings informs us of the changes to that neighbourhood, both past and present.

I also love the Stanley Park collection given to us a few years ago by Peggy Imredy. The postcards, for example, are a stunning collection that documents so many aspects of one of Canada’s national treasures.

Museums are incorporating multimedia into their exhibits and visitor experiences—things like podcasts, videos, Flickr photo sites and the like. Are such things retained as a part of the Museum’s collection? Is the very definition of “object” changing?
The Museum is retaining some of it, but like many things we are behind in keeping up with changing technology. I believe we need to seriously consider how much of this will be collected and how we will store and use the material. I am a strong believer that the ‘real thing’ still has a great deal more appeal to visitors, but at the same time, I recognize that we need to use these new media to help us make collections and their supporting information even more accessible to the public.

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on November 24, 2009 at 11:51 am


Vancouver’s cultural institutions are at a major turning point. We’ve just rebranded/relaunched/reinvented (a process chronicled on this blog and elsewhere. See recent coverage on BC Business here). Our west side neighbour, the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, is set to unveil an impressive expansion and renovation in early 2010—an effort years in the making. And the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, also at UBC, is at work on a new $50-million complex that will house a research centre and a museum devoted to the university’s natural-history collections. It, too, is expected to launch in early 2010. Then are the ongoing plans for a new location for the Vancouver Art Gallery and talk of a National Maritime Centre to be located on the shore of North Vancouver. Add it all up, and we’re on the verge of a very different arts and culture scene—even if it takes years to achieve yet.

Renos and glittering new spaces are important, sure, but the changes afoot aren’t really about all that. It’s a rethinking of how museums should connect to their visitors. Our feature exhibit, Ravishing Beasts, has played a hand in our thinking on this. As we mounted that show earlier this fall, it generated discussions about where we’ve been; how we once used taxidermy to connect to nature, and how static forms like dioramas were designed and presented as “spy-holes” into authentic habitats. Point being: It was once enough to present objects and artifacts in display cases and leave it at that. Not anymore. Now museums and galleries are leaning on multimedia tools and public programs, like film nights and talks, to animate their exhibits, and, hopefully, fire up debate and conversation outside their walls.

There’s something else going on, too. As our CEO Nancy Noble describes, history museums are changing from a place to study the foreign or the exotic, to a place to study ourselves. Visitors demand to know why an exhibit—especially one hosted by a city museum—is relevant to them today.

So, what does that mean for collecting? Are these new forms like podcasts and Flickr photo sites then a part of our collection moving forward? Are the very things that are reenergizing the museum-going experience as valuable as traditional objects? Are we blurring the line between archive and museum—and does that even matter?

Tomorrow night at 7 p.m., we’ll get some insights on all of the above, when we host a free talk with Dr. Anthony Shelton of the Museum of Anthropology, Dr. Wayne Maddison of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, and our own Nancy Noble. In a slideshow format, each of the presenters will present images of their respective institution’s latest acquisitions, and discuss how each is emblematic of their current collecting practices. Bonus: we’ll be offering a discounted admission of $7 to Ravishing Beasts, so if you haven’t wandered through yet, here’s your chance. Click here for additional event details on the talk; hope you can make it.

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on November 22, 2009 at 10:26 pm


Part two of a series of interviews with the woodworkers featured in Working Wood, an MOV Studio exhibit on view thru January 3, 2010. Here, Kurt Dexel discusses 10 years of building furniture by hand.

What inspired your angled console table and cork stool? (Pictured left.)
It’s part of a collection of furniture I’ve done in the same style. Each piece has a mid-century-modern style, mixed with a minimalist approach.

How does Vancouver influence your work?
I think for me, it’s being around wood all my life and growing up here, spending time in the forest working, and being around the materials. A love of the materials is what inspires me. I’m looking out my window at forest right now.

How would you describe the wood furniture design sector in Vancouver? 
Progressive. There’s lot of interesting, innovative things coming out of here right now.

What are the advantages and challenges of working here?
I think we’re pretty lucky to be in such close proximity to nature. It’s all about wood furniture here, and the linking of nature and the material and where it’s from.

In terms of challenges, there’s not a lot of support for the arts here. Most of my artist friends are like, ‘What are we doing here? Why don’t we get out of here?’ I think that’s a challenge. And I think with design, people here are more conservative than in a lot of other places. We’re often a couple years behind in accepting things, or adopting them.

Image credit: Dexel Crafted

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on November 19, 2009 at 5:52 pm

Part one of a series of interviews with the woodworkers featured in Working Wood, an MOV Studio exhibit on view thru January 3, 2010. Here, Enrico Konig shares his insights on working in Vancouver and what inspired Hall Table (pictured left).

How does Vancouver influence your work?
People always talk about being influenced by landscapes. I’m not. I’m influenced just by being in an environment where people are making a lot of things. It’s important to be part of a larger community. People like Peter Pierobon and Arnt Arntzen have been a huge source of inspiration.

What are the challenges of working here?
Escalating real estate prices. Who knows if affordable shop space will be available if the City of Vancouver doesn’t step up. It’s definitely an issue with all artisans.

A lot of people are completely unaware that people make anything here in Vancouver. It’s an educational thing. Shows like IDSwest have been really important in showcasing local talent, but people are still surprised to see local design, and it’s been going on for a long time.

Making a living off of designing and building furniture is very hard. You never really make it. It’s a very inefficient way to make things. Materials are expensive, achieving that hand-made individuality takes a lot of time, and the pieces become very high-end and your market is severely limited because of that.

What inspired Hall Table?
I was taking part in a show in North Van and fooling around with these arches. I worked out a full-scale model-very last-minute, very rushed. It has since become one of my signature pieces. I can’t get away from arches.

Image credit: Goran Basaric

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on November 17, 2009 at 12:52 pm

When we turned our frumpy orientation gallery into the MOV Studio this past June (backstory and images here), we envisioned a place where we could host a new slate of public programs and small, topical exhibits with an emphasis on design and local ideas. The first MOV Studio exhibit was a showing of Ian Wallace photographs capturing Vancouver pre-Expo ‘86. The second was Contexture’s Home Phone, an inventive nine-square-foot shelter created from a decommissioned telephone booth.

The third is Working Wood. Launched Thursday night, the exhibit showcases five pieces of wood furniture from five emerging Vancouver woodworkers. (Is “emerging” the right word there? Like other Vancouver artists, be they photo-conceptualists, painters, or ceramicists, these woodworkers are probably better known outside the city limits than they are within. Why is that? Does the city take a conservative approach to new work? Or does our creative class focus on promoting themselves to bigger, more lucrative markets back east and south of the border? The subject for another post, perhaps.)

Simply put, we’re thrilled to feature the work of Ben Burnett, Christian Woo, Derek Morton, Enrico Konig, and Kurt Dexel here. Of course, they each have a distinct style and viewpoint, but there’s also a common effort to highlight the qualities of the wood itself. A partnership with Interior Design Show West (IDSwest) got the show here, Darren Carcary of Resolve Design oversaw the exhibit design and install, and I’ve assembled interviews with each of the woodworkers that I’ll be rolling out on the blog in the coming days.

As we continue to develop our new direction at the MOV, capsule exhibits like this are something we plan to host again and again. At the opening event, noted woodworker Brent Comber said he loved seeing the pieces in a museum setting and the idea of furniture as museum-quality object. To us, that’s exactly what they are: heirloom-quality pieces, conceived and built here by hand—and capturing a familiar, local material in new and innovative ways.

Image credit: IDSwest

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on November 6, 2009 at 1:11 pm

Ravishing Beasts, MOV’s latest exhibit, explores all-matters taxidermy—from its colonial past to its once-prominent role in museums to its present-day revival in design. In conversation with MOV, curator Rachel Poliquin (pictured left) discusses how the show came to be, what museums should do with their taxidermy collections now, and the rather sad stuffed fox she calls her own.

How did you first become interested in taxidermy?
It was at the Natural History Museum in London. I noticed some small brown signs throughout the public galleries that said: “These animals are from our historical collections and many are from the nineteenth century. As a result, many are old and shabby and may not offer as realistic a presentation of the animals as contemporary taxidermy could offer, but we feel it is more responsible to rely on these collections than to collect new animals.” It was the first time that I’d ever thought about taxidermy. The signs made me wonder what sort of things these animals were, lingering from another era. They once had been valued, and now they were being dismissed as something less, something lacking, something dingy—both physically and ethically. In other words, my interest in taxidermy started from a point of nostalgia and not from an interest in hunting culture, which is what most people think about when they think about taxidermy.

How did the exhibit Ravishing Beasts come to be?
When I realized that MOV had a collection of taxidermy that had been in storage for half a century, it seemed the perfect opportunity to explore some of my thoughts about taxidermy, about its historical value, its current relevance, and its strange emotional immediacy. I proposed the exhibition to MOV about two and half years ago, although the actual design and building of Ravishing Beasts has been about a year in the works.

Is all taxidermy created equal or do some pieces have more ‘value’ than others?
Because all taxidermy was once a living, breathing animal, I think that all pieces of taxidermy have value and should be treated appropriately. But of course, extinct species have an additional and very heavy moral weight to them. They are incredibly tragic and incredibly powerful cautionary tales.

Where did Lucky the dog come from? How important was it to have a preserved pet genre represented—and who knew some people have their pets stuffed?
Lucky came from an older gentleman in Quebec. He had Lucky stuffed about twelve years ago, but recently he went into a care home. The home didn`t want Lucky and his children didn’t want the dog either. Apparently, they read about my search for a stuffed pet for the exhibition on my website. The only stipulation is that they didn’t want the dog back.

Do you have any taxidermy in your home?
I have Rupert, a horribly stuffed fox in a stump. He was a gift. My guess is that he was run over by a truck and someone without any taxidermy experience decided to stuff him.  His middle section must have been beyond help, hence the stump girdle.

You’ve suggested that taxidermy is more honest to animals than fashion or art. How so?
I am really not fond of taxidermy that manipulates the animal form—such as replacing their heads with light bulbs or sewing different parts of different animals together. There is something disrespectful or shock-mongering about this rupture and reconfiguration of the animal’s body. But having said that, leather shoes, belt, and chairs offer even less of the animal. Nothing, no semblance of the animal remains. I admit that I wear leather shoes, so I have really had to ask myself why these pieces cause me problems. I think it is precisely because they do offer some part of the animal, some sort of broken encounter, which makes death and desire incredibly present and potent.

What do you think of the work of, let’s call them whole-animal artists, like Julia Lohman and Damien Hirst?
Some of the contemporary art that is being done with taxidermied animals is amazing. Some is really terrible and seems to be just using animals because they are edgy and shocking. When done well, the creatures have such a presence, and often a highly troubling presence, which adds something so ambiguously powerful to the works.    George Vergette’s Waning Light from the exhibition is a beautiful work that captures this troubling ambiguity while still respecting the animal. When done well, animal art can make us question the validity of the line between humans and other animals. It can make us think about ecology and conservation. It can make us question the contradictions in our relationships with non-human animals. When done badly, it just seems gratuitous.

As you mention, most of MOV’s naturally-history collection, of which these taxidermied animals are a part, has been in storage for years; some of it has never been on public display. What do you think should be done with it going forward?
I think there is great value in looking at animals, whether living, on television, or even in a taxidermied form.  The more we learn and understand about the other inhabitants of this world, the more we can appreciate and respect the diversity of creaturely life. I have never advocated the making of new taxidermy, but I do advocate the respect of old collections. These animals are already dead. They can offer a visceral and emotional immediacy. They can tell stories about our past and future encounters with the natural world. And there is value in those stories. I would love to see them go on display in some more permanent way at MOV.

And what’s next for you?
I have several projects in mind that all have to do with the ways we encounter and think about the natural world. But I’ll keep them under my hat for the moment—in part because they might sound as kooky as if I said I wanted to curate an exhibition about taxidermy.

Ravishing Beasts is on view until February 28, 2010. For details, click here.

Image credit: Rebecca Blissett

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on November 3, 2009 at 3:43 pm

Previous posts have discussed the revival of taxidermy in contemporary art and design. Some interpretations meander far from traditional definitions of taxidermy, only referencing animals conceptually.

We recently learned of local designer Daniel Planko’s whimical, head trophy-inspired sculptures, created from recycled furniture and accessories. Antlers are fashioned from hooks; noses from tapered sofa legs. Called the Rewilderness series, each head trophy is one-of-a-kind original—perhaps the only quality they share with the animal variety. Click here for more on Planko’s design practice.

On Thursday night, MOV hosts the first curator’s talk for Ravishing Beasts. The talk will focus on the use of taxidermy in contemporary art, and local artist George Vergette will be on hand to discuss his work Waning Light,a piece featured in the exhibit that examines the impact of humans on the natural environment. Says curator Rachel Poliquin: “Waning Light creates an uneasy, surreal world in which nature and technology intersect. The work is disconcerting and ultimately ambiguous: what is the waning light? It is nature under pressure from ever expanding city limits; it is humans’ confidence in our dominion over nature.”

All curator talks are free with admission and start at 7 p.m. Swing by, listen in, then post your comments here.

Image credit: Planko Design