Critics are slamming a major Vancouver real estate developer for a public art exhibition that purports to support the city's artistic community.

Westbank Corporation's Fight for Beauty is a free exhibition currently on display at the Fairmont Pacific Rim in Coal Harbour.

It features the work of several prominent Vancouver artists, including Fred Herzog, Stan Douglas, Shane Koyczan and Douglas Coupland. It also includes some models used by architects like Kengo Kuma and some pieces from the company's private collection of vintage couture. 

"It's all these different artists and architects and musicians and craftsmen ... who are all fighting to make these beautiful objects, and the struggle they go through, and hopefully imparting on people that these things are important," said Michael Braun, Westbank's marketing and sales director and one of the exhibition's curators.

Braun says part of the impetus behind the project was to showcase some of the public art created as part of the company's projects. 

"It's our thought that those things should be exhibited and be out in the community," he said. "It's philanthropy, in a way."

Fight for Beauty has been on display since Oct. 14 and has since met fierce criticism, including from some members of the city's arts community.

'Artwashing'

Web developer and marketer Melody Ma is one of those critics.

Ma used to sit on the city's arts and culture policy panel. She also once chaired ArtsScene, a national organization created to connect young business professionals with arts organizations. 

In response to the exhibition and its marketing campaign, she created the parody website The Real Fight for Beauty.

"What we're seeing here is a real estate company ... co-opting the arts and culture to market luxury condos in neighbourhoods like Chinatown, which in fact at the end of the day economically and physically displace people and culture that's already there," Ma said. 

Ma calls the Westbank project "artwashing," which she describes as using "arts and culture as a facade or Trojan horse to go into neighbourhoods and claim it as revitalisation, when in fact it's a profit-driven motive that results in displacement and gentrification of the residents in those neighbourhoods."

"Displacement is not beautiful," she said.

The term artwashing has been used in other large urban centres like London and New York, Ma noted. 

'It's just a free exhibition'

Braun says Ma and other critics have misunderstood what the Fight for Beauty exhibition is truly about. 

"The notion that this exhibition is being used to sell condos is totally incorrect. It's just a free exhibition open to the public," he said. 

Fight for Beauty is about celebrating public art, Braun says, and highlighting the struggle artists face in getting their projects displayed in public spaces. 

Westbank is one of the city's biggest supporters of the arts, according to Braun. Some of that support, he explains, comes in the form of booking live musicians at locations like the Fairmont Pacific Rim and collecting art. 

Braun says the company has also supported organizations like the Still Moon Arts Society and Keys to the Streets. 

'A self-curated retrospective'

But Ma says the exhibition is little more than a marketing campaign that ultimately only benefits the developer, not the arts community. 

"It is essentially a self-curated retrospective on Westbank's real estate projects of past, present and future," she said in an email to CBC News, after visiting Fight for Beauty on Saturday. 

"The exhibition is narrated by the CEO Ian Gillespie himself, complete with a $260 exhibition book and branded Westbank candles."

Fight for Beauty will remain on display until Dec. 17.