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Sunday, March 31, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Vancouver Art Worth A Visit - And, Yes, It's A Bargain

Seattle Times Art Critic

VANCOUVER, B.C. - Art lovers who haven't been to Vancouver for a while, take note: the gallery scene now is firmly entrenched on South Granville Street, just south of the Granville Street Bridge to downtown Vancouver. Once scattered around the city in neighborhoods such as Gastown and Yaletown, the city's most established and high-profile galleries now are congregated in a five-block stretch of South Granville, a broad commercial thoroughfare that is also home to some of the city's more inviting small shops.

South Granville is Vancouver's Pioneer Square, but with fewer panhandlers, cheaper and more plentiful parking (about 70 U.S. cents gets you an hour on a meter on the side streets just off Granville), and no Kingdome crowds. It's also one of Canada's most important gallery districts. Canada's art world has been divided between Toronto and Vancouver, though these days many in the Canadian art world say the momentum is swinging toward Vancouver.

Xisa Huang, an owner of Bau-Xi gallery, said that when her gallery moved to South Granville 23 years ago, "We were the first contemporary gallery on the street. We converted a drugstore into a gallery. The neighborhood was mostly camera shops and drugstores."

The district is considerably more varied now. There are discount fabric shops and dry cleaners chock-a-block with upscale home decor and kitchen shops, and a smattering of stylish clothing boutiques. It's also a neighborhood where you can easily find an inviting cafe for coffee or lunch on nearly every corner.

Nestled into all this are about 10 contemporary art galleries and numerous antique shops. The galleries are mostly large, well-lit, often two-story spaces that specialize in Canadian art, though most also show a few American artists and some represent European artists. A couple of high-quality Northwest coastal art and ethnographic galleries also are located on South Granville Street. Focus on representational art

On a recent trip through the South Granville galleries, a majority were showing representational art. At Bau-Xi there was an exhibit of oil paintings by Brian Kipping showing skillfully composed cityscapes of Canada and Europe. At John Ramsay Gallery there were decorative mixed media and collage works with flower themes by artists Louis de Niverville and Roz Marshall.

Some of the most compelling work on view was at Equinox Gallery, where Terence Johnson had a show of oil paintings of sea-faring tankers that had more in common with Russian constructivism and perspective than marine paintings.

All the galleries in the district specialize in contemporary art, but because they concentrate on Canadian artists, Seattle visitors are likely to see something a bit different from what they're used to Seattle galleries. (This is not always true when Seattleites travel to Portland, unfortunately. Seattle and Portland galleries share so many artists that a gallery walk in Portland often looks like a gallery walk in Seattle.)

There are some shared artists between Vancouver and Seattle, of course. Last month, there was a big Alden Mason painting in the front window of Bau-Xi. Bau-Xi has represented Mason, a longtime Seattle artist, for years. And Equinox Gallery shows Darren Waterston, an up-and-coming American painter who lives in Canada but also shows at Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle.

And at least one South Granville gallery shows a Seattle-based painter not represented in Seattle. Diane Farris (no relation to former Seattle gallery owner Linda Farris) represents Hanneline Rogeberg, a talented, extremely distinctive painter of monumental female figures who is on the art faculty at the University of Washington. The Diane Farris Gallery also shows popular Seattle sculptor Steve Jensen, known for his exuberant aluminum sculptures suggesting ocean waves and his totem-pole-like wood sculptures.

Like the most established Pioneer Square galleries, the South Granville group tends to show work by mid-career and senior artists as well as some emerging artists. The Diane Farris Gallery is one of the best places to see young and emerging artists.

Heffel Gallery, on the other hand, shows what Robert Heffel considers "important Canadian historical art," as well as work by established, living artists. Heffel sometimes shows and sells works by Emily Carr, the spiritual godmother of Western Canadian art. Carr, a native of British Columbia who died in 1945, painted expressionistic, modernist landscapes in the first decades of this century. Vancouver's best-known art college is named after her.

Alternatives to South Granville

If you have only one afternoon to see contemporary art, South Granville is the place to go. There are other galleries worth visiting, however. Less than a half-mile away on West Third Avenue at Burrard Street are the Sarah Dobbs and Monte Clark galleries, which both tend to show slightly edgier art than what is usually found on South Granville. And there are two often interesting alternative spaces in Gastown, Artspeak at 112 W. Hastings St. and the Contemporary Art Gallery, 555 Hamilton St.

Vancouver gallery owners say they've long had plenty of American clients. American business people who travel to Vancouver occasionally see something they like, and art-loving tourists, including regulars from Seattle and Portland, sometimes develop long-term relationships with their favorite Vancouver galleries, say the dealers.

"We do get quite a few Americans coming through," said John Ramsay, owner of the gallery that bears his name. "Americans are quite conscious of what a good value Canadian art is, and right now the Canadian dollar makes it an even better value."

Though comparing the relative value of any art is always a slippery proposition, Canadian dealers seem to think that Canadian art is well-valued, meaning they think the price asked is relatively low given the quality. (Northwest dealers often say the same thing about works by Washington and Oregon artists. The implication is that New York and Los Angeles galleries hike prices because people are used to paying more for everything in those relatively expensive cities.)

A quick look at prices of much of the work on the walls on South Granville suggests that Vancouver dealers price their work much like Seattle and Portland dealers. Biggish canvases by mid-career artists tend to be $2,000 to $4,000, for instance. For American art buyers, the big difference in price right now is that the Canadian dollar is worth only about 73 U.S. cents. So a $2,000 painting being sold in Vancouver would cost an American about $1,500.

U.S. Customs does not put a duty on original art, and Canadian taxes can be avoided by having the dealers ship purchased artworks directly from Canada to the U.S. ----------------------------------------------------------------- Planning a visit

Unlike Seattle, there is no attempt to coordinate monthly openings at Vancouver galleries, so there is no particular time of the month to count on seeing all new shows. Also, many Vancouver galleries are closed Sundays and Mondays.

One good way to learn what is on view in galleries is to pick up a copy of Preview, a bi-monthly guide to the visual arts of Western Canada, Washington and Oregon. It is available free in many Seattle galleries. ----------------------------------------------------------------- On view in Vancouver

Other Vancouver museums and college-affiliated galleries that show art include:

The Canadian Craft Gallery, 639 Hornby St., is right across the street from the Vancouver Art Gallery and recently featured the work of Seattle-area artists Peggy Vanbianchi and Emily Standly. Hours are Mondays, and Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays noon to 5 p.m.

The Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, 1825 Main Mall, University of British Columbia. Open Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays noon to 5 p.m. From March 14 through May 25 the gallery will feature work by Agnes Martin and Emily Carr.

The Charles H. Scott Gallery, at the Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design, 1399 Johnston St., on Granville Island. Open weekdays noon to 5 p.m., weekends 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Until April 28 the gallery will run photographic transparencies by Leon Golub, in conjunction with Golub's show at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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