For its 12th exhibition, Vancouver’s Rennie Collection offers up a bit of metatheatre along with its private collection. Showcasing the work of 41 prominent and emerging artists from real estate marketing tycoon Bob Rennie’s cache of 1,500 plus works, the exhibition – with the working title of 'Chaos' – unfolds a few hundred metres from skid row.
Approaching or leaving the historic Chinatown Wing Sang building repurposed by architects Walter Francl and Michelle Biggar, one is very likely to encounter people screaming at imaginary enemies or shooting up in back alleys.
The ambitious show is loosely themed on displacement, loss and identity, covering three floors and encompassing 57 works. Its scope is almost journalistic, with Rennie’s statement imprinted on one wall thanking viewers for 'questioning the world with me'.
'Chaos' begins with John Baldessari’s Camel Contemplating Needle, which plays on the biblical proverb about a rich man’s difficult path to heaven, with a beast made of Ferrari fiberglass; and Jota Castro’s Motherfuckers never die series – two light boxes, one boasting names of leading corporations and the other of famous terrorists, and a mirror bearing the names of prominent art dealers. (Eric de Rothschild is included, Bob Rennie is not.)
It ends with a floor monikered 'Utopia', which features a Norman Rockwell painting of two wide-eyed WASPS called On Top of the World (Rennie’s very first acquisition, aged 17) sandwiched by two works by South African artist Anton Kannemeyer (B is for Black and W Is for White) that explore racial stereotyping.
In between, a whole world of art and issues are explored: from NYC-based Bahamian Tavares Strachan’s I belong here – a beautiful explosion of fragmented neon text – to Gilbert and George’s Bomb, playing on terror headlines found in the Evening Standard, to African American Hank Willis Thomas’ Priceless, fusing a MasterCard slogan with an image from his cousin’s funeral.
But the small pieces are often more powerful than the large. A hoodie covered in resin by Kevin Beasley and Dan Halter's single distressed burlap African shopping bag speak to displacement and loss. A tiny, perfectly articulated bronze statue of an anonymous black man with his hand in his pocket by Thomas J Price and Mona Hatoum’s bullet-scarred miniature of Beirut’s Place des Martyrs offer meditations on monumentalism, scale and violence. And General Idea’s Black Aids resonates with Brian Jungen’s melted black Nike air shoe in the shape of a KKK hat, in their narratives of the marginalised and the disappeared.
Right on target with the local metatheatre, First Nations artist Judy Chartrand’s If this is what you call 'Being Civilized' I’d rather go back to being a 'Savage', presents five gorgeously made ceramic bowls celebrating cockroach ridden skid row hotels, the bodies of the insects set off by an iridescent blue gaze.
There is real beauty in this 'Chaos'.