Michael Audain: Q & A with the art collector about his new museum

The Audain Art Museum, opening March 12, features First Nations art as well as works by important B.C. artists such as Emily Carr, E.J. Hughes and Jeff Wall.

The Audain Art Museum, opening March 12, features developer's extensive collection of Emily Carr paintings

Michael Audain stands in front of a large art work by James Hart, The Dance Screen (The Scream Too). (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

A previously private art collection consisting of First Nations art and a large selection of Emily Carr paintings will become public when the Audain Art Museum in Whistler officially opens on March 12.

The 56,000 sq. ft. gallery, nestled in a wooded area at the base of Blackcomb Peak, near Whistler Village, houses the extensive collection donated by Michael Audain, chairman of B.C. developer Polygon Homes, Ltd., and Audain's wife, Yoshiko Karasawa.

Audain sat down with host Gloria Macarenko to talk about his contribution to the luxury resort community during a special live broadcast of B.C. Almanac at the Whistler Brewhouse on March 4.

B.C. Almanac host Gloria Macarenko chats with Michael Audain, chairman of B.C. developer Polygon Homes, about the new Audain Art Gallery opening in Whistler. The gallery is filled with an extensive collection of First Nations art and one of the best collections of Emily Carr's work. (Shiral Tobin/CBC)

Gloria Macarenko: Is it true that for this 56,000 square foot building you only had to cut down one tree?

Michael Audain: That's what happened. It's a beautiful location right next to the village, but I can tell you that three years ago I had no idea of it. It all happened very suddenly when a good friend of mine invited me up here, and the same day I met the mayor. The same day we were shown some sights, and the same day I made my commitment to build an art museum. I didn't think it was going to be quite as large as what emerged, but I hope that the public is going to enjoy it when we open on March 12.

We have a lot of art and we were really looking for a place where we could share it with the public.

Why did you choose Whistler as the city to create this art gallery in?

I can tell you quite a few of our friends in Vancouver actually said, 'Why Whistler?' But I go to New York quite often. When I told people there that we're doing an art museum in Whistler they never said why, they just said, 'Oh great. What a marvelous location. What a great place.' 

So I think that Whistler is a special place and what it offers us is a combination of strong local support from local residents, but also a lot of international visitors. And after all, Whistler is a holiday village. The experience indicates that most people, certainly when they go to Europe or New York, they're on vacation when they visit art museums. So we think we're very well situated here.

There was hope you would be involved with the creation of the new Vancouver Art Gallery. Does this mean you've abandoned that?

Not really. I've been involved with the Vancouver Art Gallery a great many years, and still consider myself a strong supporter. But the mechanics and the politics of getting a new site for the gallery was taking so long that I really became concerned about the opportunity to do something in my lifetime and that's why we're at Whistler.

I'm still very hopeful that in the not too distant future there will be a new Vancouver Art Gallery and our family foundation will of course be supportive of that.

Tell us about what we can look forward to seeing in the museum?

You will see a collection of British Columbia art that actually goes back 200 years. After all, the original people — the people on the coast — have been making very sophisticated art for thousands of years, so unlike when I went to school in Victoria, where I was told art making in British Columbia started with Emily Carr, we start of course with the art of the First Nations and we have a wonderful collection there, as well as a lot of work done by contemporary artists from around British Columbia.

Then we do have Emily Carr of course and I'm told we will have the most important permanent collection of Emily Carr. Then you go right through the list of important B.C. artists like E.J. Hughes and Jack Shadbolt, a wonderful Gordon Smith, who people love so much, and then right up to today's photoconceptual school, the famous names like Jeff Wall and Rodney Graham that have been collected by museums around the world.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

To hear the full interview with listen to the audio labelled: Michael Audain talks about the new gallery opening in Whistler featuring his art collection


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