Originally the 1903 court house, the gallery has four floors of expansive exhibition space surrounding a central rotunda and light tunnel that cuts through to the areas below. At the time of our visit, the gallery had three floors open with the uppermost closed to change exhibits. Each floor had a different theme, but unlike most galleries, there was no permanent collection on display.
The first floor housed "The Photograph as Theatre". It could as easily have been called the photograph as art, for the photographs were literally moments in dramatic time…some macabre, some vaguely erotic and others disturbing or thought provoking, but rarely mundane. They ranged in age from Henry Peach Robinson’s famous "Little Red Riding Hood" photos (1858), William Notman’s moose hunting series (1866) and the 1902 stereograph, "Mr. and Mrs. Turtledove’s New French Cook" to pieces done in the last few years.
The second floor was devoted to "House of Oracles, a Huang Yong Ping Retrospective." The collection featured many large works, so large that you have to wonder how they were brought to the floor. His "Python" is 131 feet long, and although it had been shortened for this space, it must have been assembled on site. One has to question the longevity of art as you see his sandcastle which will slowly crumble until it’s just a pile of sand.
Ping’s controversial "Theatre of the World", which featured a cast of reptiles and insects had been shut down three weeks before our visit. Unfortunately, the reptiles had insisted on eating the insects as well as the crickets that were being used to feed them and the SPCA thought that it was all too cruel. The cage which had held them was still on site, however, along with newspaper clippings that illustrated the struggle between artist and institution.
The third floor housed a retrospective of the work of Fred Herzog, a Vancouver photographer whose work provides a record of the city’s life over 50 years. While many photographs underline the change in the city, others record the banal details of city life.
As a whole, we found the visit enjoyable and would really have liked to have seen the Emily Carr and Group of Seven exhibit that was being prepared on the third floor. The galleries are well lit and well organized. Admission (2007) was $15. For information: Vancouver Art Gallery.