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Concrete Poet

The bold lines of architect Arthur Erickson

By Greg Buium
May 2006
(Photo CBC Still Library)
(Photo CBC Still Library)

Today, Arthur Erickson’s celebrity status has faded into our collective memory; we recall only vague images of the Vancouver architect hobnobbing with stars like Donald Sutherland and Shirley MacLaine or good friend Pierre Trudeau, for whom Erickson designed a getaway in the Laurentian mountains. But at the height of his powers, between the early 1960s and the early 1980s, Erickson was a bona fide superstar, a giant in a field filled with larger-than-life figures.

More than 40 years ago, Erickson found his muse in concrete and the grey skies and watery light of his beloved West Coast. The modernist architect, who turns 82 next month and still labours away in his False Creek office, is now the subject of a huge retrospective at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

A cornerstone event of the museum’s 75th anniversary year, Arthur Erickson: Critical Works is, according to guest curator Nicholas Olsberg, a summary of Erickson’s resumé and an argument for his legacy. The exhibit highlights 12 key projects, from Simon Fraser University (1963) to the Museum of Glass (2002) in Tacoma, Wash. Stretching across the VAG’s entire second floor – 12,000 square feet in all – the show includes architectural drawings transferred onto huge vinyl hangings, new photographs and time-lapse video projections. It also features a string of unshuttered gallery windows that overlook Erickson’s landmark Robson Square project.

And the argument? Despite a preponderance of masterworks on North America’s west coast, Olsberg suggests that Erickson isn’t just a Canadian visionary; he’s an international figure, an artist who has always known “how to make poetry out of architecture.”

Arthur Erickson: Critical Works runs from May 27 to Sept. 10 at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

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