A major $30-million attraction will be opening at Whistler on March 12, but unlike the many recreational activities the resort town is known for this attraction is grounded on celebrating local art.
The Audain Art Museum, Whistler’s largest cultural attraction, is wedged into a forested area at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains – on Blackcomb Way, at the eastern of Village Gate Boulevard.
“The opening of the Audain Art Museum is a momentous occasion that we have been looking forward to since we first spoke to Michael Audain in late 2012,” said Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden in a statement.
“On behalf of the community, and the Resort Municipality of Whistler I thank Michael Audain and Yoshi Karasawa for bringing the museum here. We are so proud that Whistler is home to this iconic collection of art from British Columbia and beyond.”
The 56,000-square-foot museum, which will operate as a non-profit organization, is spearheaded and fully self-funded by local developer Michael Audain and his wife Yoshiko Karasawa. A 14,000-square-foot permanent exhibition space will showcase Audain’s extensive private art collection while a separate 6,000-square-foot, high-ceiling exhibition space will allow the museum to host works by local and international artists.
Audain’s collection of nearly 200 works of art, amassed over four decades, includes First Nations artefacts more than 200 years old and two dozen paintings by Emily Carr. When the museum opens, its temporary exhibition space will display works by a group of Mexican Modernist artists known as Los Trés Grandes.
The architects behind the museum design are Vancouver-based Patkau Architects, which also designed the Polygon Gallery on the Lonsdale waterfront in North Vancouver.
As Audain’s museum sits immediately adjacent to Fitzsimmons Creek, on a floodplain, the building’s structure is raised on piers so that it is one storey above ground to withstand a one-in-2,500-year flood event.
The building exterior’s facade is cladded with steel panels, and the roof is sloped to ensure that the structure can shed its accumulated snow – a necessary element given that Whistler records an average of 12 metres of snow every year. In contrast, warm wood is used extensively inside the building.
“The form and character of the building and interiors is deliberately restrained to provide a quiet, minimal backdrop to the art within and the surrounding natural landscape,” reads the architect’s description of their design. “The simple form of the exterior is clad in an envelope of dark metal which recedes into the shadows of the surrounding forest.”
The museum has been categorized as a Category A art museum and is built to LEED Gold environmental certification standards. Construction on the museum began in 2013.
Audain chose Whistler through an agreement with the municipality to lease the land over 199 years for $100.00, an offer made by the municipality to spur tourism.
In 2014, the 78-year-old developer separated himself from the Vancouver Art Gallery Foundation by leaving his positions as the organization’s chair, a trustee, and the head of the Gallery’s relocation committee. The move was seen as a major loss to the Gallery and its ambitious plans to build a new museum.
The Vancouver Art Gallery intends vacate its courthouse building for a new purpose-build museum at Larwill Park, across the street from Queen Elizabeth Theatre and CBC Vancouver studios. A 310,000-square-foot wooden pagoda-like design by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron will cost $350 million to construct, but to date – after years of fundraising – just less than $100 million has been raised.