The Nouvelle VAG

Choosing renowned Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron for the proposed new Vancouver Art Gallery was a bravura move. Will a grand design actually materialize a few blocks east of the gallery’s current site? It’s hard to imagine, but there’s no denying the sheer chutzpah of facing down the plan’s critics with the possibility of a building that would ignite excitement worldwide.

The architects of the wondrous Tate Modern, a welcoming beacon on London’s South Bank, also created in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park the spectacular De Young museum-a project only realized after wealthy donors stepped in to prevent the museum’s flight to the financial district in order to save money. Ahem.

In a move that must be seen not simply as introducing the architects and their methodology to Vancouverites but as a call for a collective embracing of a vision, the VAG has given over half of its ground floor to an exhibition of the architects’ previous work, Material World: The Architecture of Herzog & de Meuron and the New Vancouver Art Gallery. Over this time, the display will evolve to unveil first the design concept and then the schematics of what could be the gallery’s new home. There will also be a section devoted to the history of the VAG and its previous moves.

Mostly, though, the exhibition will seek to highlight Herzog & de Meuron’s commitment to contemporary art and the expression of place through materials and design. VAG curator Bruce Grenville insists this prioritizing of artists and geography, and a subtle non-institutional capacity for drawing people into spaces, makes for a truly energizing prospect for the city. “They design buildings with the ability to change the way people feel, both about their community and themselves as citizens.”