From the Archives…Douglas Coupland and ‘ten years later’

As a student entering the Library and Information Studies program at UBC, managing, categorizing and organizing information is a common and enjoyable task. However, even for someone who seeks to impose rationality and logic, a dollop of semi-orderly chaos always makes the day more exciting.

Beyond the gallery walls, down a long hallway, past numerous doors, in an unusually bright and clean room is the location of CAG’s archive. While tidy in appearance, with boxes dedicated to various years in the life of the gallery, the content of these time capsules is rather muddled and heterogeneous, making it quite an adventure to sift through folders of its history.

 Having been given the responsibility of going through the archive in the anticipation of the CAG’s 40th Anniversary, it became part of my weekly routine; as if a participant in a bingo game, I scanned through the numerous pieces of paper, dates, newspaper articles and rare images to find a winning combination, a highlight of some sort, an informational jackpot.

“BINGO?”, echoed in my mind when I got to the box labeled “1986” and its folders dedicated to the 10th Anniversary of the CAG which was inaugurated with an exhibition entitled “Ten Years Later”, showcasing the work of seven mature artists who were intertwined with the gallery from its inception.  By 1976 the former Greater Vancouver Artists Gallery (present day CAG) had become incorporated as a  non profit charitable society from its beginnings in 1971 obtained the Local Initiatives Project (LIP) grant with which it was able to fund artists Marian Penner Bancroft, Judith Lodge,Liz Magor, Al McWiliams, Richard Prince, Judy Williams, and Robert Young (amongst many, many others) in their production of nearly 3,000 artworks over the ten year period and which became part of the City of Vancouver Collection.

Besides the general interest with regard to what the gallery and its anniversary exhibition were like almost 30 years ago, I found particularly fascinating and differing reviews of ‘Ten Years Later’.

The real “BINGO!” happened when I came across a short, time-stained and hastily cut-out article entitled “Gallery Bingo” by Douglas Coupland. Written when he was 25, this review was already marked by the witty and informal tone he was to become known for later on. Rather than describing the show, Coupland commented on the effect of this anniversary on the institution, on the transformation of the gallery’s image over the years:

“I sensed amongst the crowd an undercurrent of discomfort at their now having become the art establishment, condemned to dressing seriously and playing the role of adults regardless of whether or not they actually feel it.”

Interestingly enough, it seems that by its 40th Anniversary, instead of growing into a more conservative and staid establishment, the gallery has maintained its playful vitality.

Ksenia Cheinman, CAG Library and Archive Volunteer


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