Friday, January 1, 2010

The Rennie Collection (Loquation, Loquation, Loquation)

I first heard about Bob "Condo King" Rennie's art collection in a Vancouver Sun article by John Mackie a month and a half ago. While this collection and its space are a benefit to Vancouver, there are many things that I dislike about this new gallery.

First, Bob Rennie is a tycoon trained in the art of selling, schmoozing and fabricating. This is not necessarily the type of person that I associate with the collecting of good artwork for public consideration. Second, this is a private gallery, and Rennie never lets you forget it. You must reserve a spot on a tour, which runs every Thursday during each particular show (there will be three per year). When you enter the historic Wing Sang building on East Pender, a clueless receptionist from Rennie Market Systems greets you in a tasteful yet corporate lobby and prompts you to sign a waiver, really hitting home the fact that the owner is not comfortable with the public all up in his bid'ness. Third, I read a quote from Rennie stating "The only goal [of the gallery] is that artists want to show there." This one sentence proves that the rejuvenation of the Downtown Eastside, the educating of the public, the supporting of BC arts and the meaning of the artwork come a distant second to the promotion of the Rennie brand.

Despite the misdirected motives and corporate principles behind this gallery, I must admit that it is a valuable addition to East Pender. With the infamous Carnegie Centre just one block away and the sad architectural situation in Strathcona, this building demonstrates some of the ways in which neighbourhoods can be revitalized from the inside out. Of course, gutting heritage buildings and opening new, popular establishments within old and/or run-down neighbourhoods always comes with the risk of gentrification, but Rennie's conversion of the Wing Sang building succeeds as a symbol of both preservation and progression. Rennie has created a hidden lair of idiosyncratic artwork and commerce in one of the oldest parts of Vancouver, but at least his Ivory Condo fails to infiltrate the atmosphere and ethos of Chinatown.

The gallery provides Rennie with a surprising amount of open space, and an even more surprising amount of wall space. There is a small exhibition area of about 400 square feet on the groundfloor which is perfect for smaller pieces, such as photographs and canvases. The two primary rooms are on the "second floor". I use quotations here because the second floor is comprised of the the top three floors that were destroyed and transformed into exhibition space. There are basically two rooms upstairs, and the main room is actually too lofty in my opinion, but it does give Rennie and the curator(s) freedom to present larger installations. My favourite thing about the building is the way in which elements from the original interiors have been incorporated into the gallery space, such as raw brick wall and distressed wainscoting. I encourage you to visit the gallery for the architecture alone.

Book your tour:

I just hope Rennie's Wing Sang project doesn't lead to a Starbucks opening within Sun Yat-Sen Garden!

Keywords: Bob Rennie Gallery, Wing Sang Building, 51 Pender Street

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