Masterworks from the Audain Art Museum

Masterworks from the Audain Art Museum

Ian M. Thom

Reviewed by Jon Tupper

This large format book documents many of the significant works in the collection of the newest public art museum in Canada, the Audain Art Museum in Whistler, which opened in March 2016. In Canada, art museums tend to be born through the efforts of a community, driven by the passion of ambitious citizens, or built by municipal governments keen to manufacture their reputation as important urban centres. A few, like the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinberg, are born out of the desire of one family to build a home for their art, and the Audain Art Museum fits into this category. The inspiration of two of the most important visual arts philanthropists in Canada, Michael Audain and his wife Yoshiko Karasawa, the museum reflects both their taste and their vision.

Masterworks from the Audain Museum traces over 200 years of visual arts from British Columbia through illustrations and descriptive accounts written by curator Ian M. Thom. The book includes short essays on 57 works from the Museum’s collection of almost 200 pieces arranged in a format that is common in museum publishing: a colour image of each work and a short descriptive text accompanied by museological data including provenance. Masterworks does not intend to be a complete history of BC art; the collection contains gaps, but Thom’s thoughtful research and documentation makes it a welcome addition to the story of art in British Columbia.

The book features a revealing interview with Audain in which he speaks about how and why he collects. While private collections tend to be idiosyncratic, Audain assembled his collection with a good deal of thought and an emphasis on featuring significant works by important artists from British Columbia. When asked by Thom about what he looks for when purchasing a work of art, Audain explains, “I suppose that one first thinks about the originality of the work. In other words, does it add something to the story of art from the beginning of time?” (178). Accordingly, several artists are highlighted for special attention, Emily Carr of course but also E.J. Hughes -- both of whom are represented in depth in the museum collection.

The book also includes an interview with the museum’s architects, John and Patricia Patkau, an inspired choice whose practice is informed by the landscape of the West Coast in their design and use of materials. Like the selection of Thom as the book’s author, the choosing of the Patkaus might have been a bit predictable, but the building, like the book, is an impressive achievement. Unfortunately, since the book was published before the museum was complete, the book contains only architectural renderings of the building. The Museum has, however, been well documented elsewhere since its opening, and the siting, use of materials, and its long, glazed ambulatory make it a notable addition to the architecture of British Columbia and an impressive home for some of the best art to have been inspired by and generated in the province.

Masterworks from the Audain Art Museum
Ian M. Thom
Vancouver: Figure 1 Publishing and Audain Art Museum, 2015. 200 pp. $45.00 cloth

BC Studies no. 192 Winter 2016/17