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Steffanie Ling
Fight for Beauty at the Fairmont Pacific Rim
November 08, 2017

As the dialogue around the housing crisis continues to mount in Vancouver, real estate developer Ian Gillespie of Westbank Corporation decided it would be a good time to mount an exhibition to showcase his dedication to beauty. Fight for Beauty is a tent in front of the Fairmont Pacific Rim filled with various maquettes of public artworks adjacent to architectural models of Westbank’s buildings and other bourgeois trinkets. The first thing visitors see is a paragraph in neon called Manifesto by Claudia Cristovao. The first sentence earnestly asks, “When did we say yes to beauty being discarded, deleted and demeaned?” But this object is unironically confused: the text espouses beauty as some lost cause, yet the work itself embodies a dry conceptual art trope.

Stan Douglas, Abbott & Cordova, 7 Aug 1971, 2008, installation view

The audio guide, narrated by Gillespie himself, is the tissue that connects each display to his messiah complex. He really wants you to know that real estate development isn’t a walk through the activated laneway. Gillespie refers to the contentious Woodward's redevelopment project as the “war for Woodward’s” and launches into mythologizing: “Against all odds, we had gone out and sold all 440 condominiums on the basis of a very strong message: Be part of something bigger than yourselves, be a part of the solution, be a city builder.” He then proceeds to congratulate the 440 Vancouverites that bought the condos in the pre-sale phase for “accepting that challenge.” His next description details the elaborate production of Stan Douglas’ photo mural in the atrium of the redevelopment. Abbott & Cordova, 7 Aug 1971 depicts a historic riot in Gastown marked by police brutality. According to Gillespie, this commission “perfectly represents what the Woodward’s project has always been: a fight.” In the same self congratulatory breath, selling condominiums and post-conceptual photography disclosing local history are complementary endeavours in the Fight for Beauty.

Fight for Beauty, installation view

Reece TerrisTriumph of the Technocrat is Gillespie’s real token self-reflexive artwork. Described as emphasizing “the unseen mechanistic process of development and land speculation impacting the surrounding community,” it is a direct formal translation of a quick placeholder figure for the possible public artwork in the initial architectural maquette for The Lauren, a 22-story market rental tower in the West End. Community voiced concern that the rental suites were not deemed affordable, but Gillespie frames this dispute as “a classic case of NIMBYISM” and that his “team was tested throughout by a small but very vocal and sometimes violent opposition.”

The broad consensus in the art community is that this is a nightmarish marketing scheme and public sympathy generator masquerading as a philanthropic project. I encourage anyone who has to been privy to that hearsay to attend the exhibition to confirm their vitriol and see exactly how vulnerable contemporary art discourse and aesthetics (our precious critical lens!) can be to a marketing department charged with advancing real estate projects with humane flair. Westbank has claimed to have evolved into a “cultural practice” and this is as close as it gets to a twisted trophy room of site-specific artworks. Fight for Beauty definitely warrants an eyeroll, but also our informed outrage and pointed response.

Fight for Beauty continues until December 17.
Fairmont Pacific Rim:
The gallery is accessible.

Steffanie Ling's essays, criticism, and art writing have been published alongside exhibitions, in print, and online in Canada, the United States, and Europe. She is an editor of Charcuterie and co-curator at VIVO Media Arts Centre. Her books are Nascar (Blank Cheque, 2016) and Cuts of Thin Meat (Spare Room, 2015). She is Akimblog’s Vancouver correspondent and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram @steffbao.



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