“I don’t think there has ever been a cultural institution that went from such poverty to such riches.”
That’s how Reid Shier, the director and curator of The Polygon Gallery, described the fortunes of the former Presentation House Gallery with its new purpose-built $20-million home at the foot of Lonsdale on the North Vancouver waterfront.
The new free art gallery, which opens to the public this Saturday, serves as a landmark for the North Shore while providing the museum with much-needed additional space – nearly four times the size of the exhibition space at its previous decades-long home in a 1902-built former school, located a few blocks away at the corner of Chesterfield Avenue and 3rd Street West. The old space was far from ideal as not only was it antiquated, it was a space shared with the Presentation House Theatre and the North Vancouver Museum.
“Even as early as 1992, the driving ambition… one of the first things written down in the first facility committee minutes, was for an architecturally-significant building at the foot of Lonsdale Avenue,” said Shier during a media tour today, when staff were completing finishing touches.
Then six years ago, the waterfront land owned by the City of North Vancouver was made available for the Presentation House Gallery’s new home, and fundraising for a standout replacement facility began. Local developer and art collector Michael Audain provided $4 million through Polygon Homes and the Audain Foundation while the municipal, provincial and federal governments each provided $2.5 million.
The two-storey museum designed by Patkau Architects – the same local firm behind the Audain Art Museum in Whistler – is hard to miss on the SeaBus, with its location wedged between Lonsdale Quay and the pier and shipyards.
Its exterior is made of reflective aluminum and a concept that crumbles the facade before unfolding it, and there is ample glass on the roof and first floor allowing natural light to pour into the interior.
Approximately a third of the 24,000-sq-ft floor area is dedicated to exhibitions, split between four spaces over the second level.
This includes a 2,300-sq-ft gallery – with stunning panoramic views of the harbour and downtown Vancouver skyline – that doubles as an event space. This gallery becomes even larger during fair weather days, as the glass wall on the south end of the room is fully retractable to the large covered outdoor patio facing the harbour.
And with temperature and humidity control, the new gallery allows staff to better protect the works of art entrusted to the institution.
The gallery’s first feature exhibition at its new home is N. Vancouver, an exhibition that appropriately pays tribute to the evolution of North Vancouver.
An art piece in the lower lobby by Myfanwy Macleod, best known for creating The Birds at the Olympic Village, represents a scaled down model of George Vancouver’s HMS Discovery after it was decommissioned and modified into a prison on the River Thames in London.
As visitors ascend the staircase to the second floor, they will encounter Cartography by poet Jordan Abel. It is a visual poem with pastiched words designed to form a graphic pattern in the shape of a map of Burrard Inlet.
Running until spring 2018, N. Vancouver is the gallery’s “most ambitious” to date, and features works from nearly 30 artists.
“This gorgeous, new waterfront home will finally do justice to the artists and work we present, and become a hub for creativity and community on the North Shore,” said Reid. “We look forward to welcoming loyal, longtime supporters through its doors, and to meeting new faces who come to explore the exciting space and to see our first exhibition.”
Admission into The Polygon Gallery is free by donation over the museum’s first four years, thanks to a major contribution from BMO.