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Bob Rennie emerges with new identity: Centre of Vancouver’s art world

October 24th, 2009 · 20 Comments

The oldest building in Chinatown is going to be the gathering point for a collection of who’s whos tonight, as people from the art world, the media world, the developer world and the political world gather at Bob Rennie’s new art museum. My feature story on Bob and his new role, along with the museum, is in the Globe today.

Given that some people see Bob as the evil agent of gentfrication and resortification in the city, I’m sure there will be criticism of anything he does,. perhaps especially of his interest in art that explores marginalization and oppression.  He’s a challenging, contradictory character for sure, not easily explained.

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  • I am not sure if Bob R is ahead or behind the curve.

    After Damien Hirst’s (the world’s richest artist, for now) $10M “Shark” rotted, Hirst is now back to stump painting . . . and lawsuits!

    Bob Rennie’s stuff certainly reflects what may be current. Evidently, Heffel too: Emily Carr is now into many 000000000000’s!

    I wonder, how much could I get for my Leslie Poole’s, I Brain Eater’s and Alan Wood’s: my Chimü and Huancayo grave relics? Probably a lot! I’m tempted to test the market: I could use the money.

    Bob, with true community spirit, has invested in a permanent showing place: good for him. Especially multi-million renovate in the “rubbie” area of town!

    Huh, he is taking on a big risk.

    Remember “Piss Pope”? Remember Luke Rombout filling the main gallery with plastic boxes of “Used Tampons”? What price did they go for? Did they sell? Will used tampons be shown along side “The Night Watch” in a hundred years? Will Bob’s Neon Globe, if it survives?

    I don’t know Bob’s stuff but I surmise, judging by the G & M Neon Globe illustrated, his collection is way, way out there.

    Charles Saatchi is a pioneer collector: “Unmade Bed”, “Camping” etc. Fortuitously, the East End warehouse in which it was stored burnt down: a good way to recoup when the stuff goes out of fashion.

    LA collector Richard Weisman just lost a big chunk of his Warhol collection to theft. He had 1,000 pieces. Jeeezless, what the hell can anyone do with 1,000 Andy Warhols?

    The thief now has a big job preserving the stuff: Warhol silk screens are fragile, quick to deteriorate and hard to sell. And very, very easy to forge.

    She’ll have to find lotsa clandestine collectors with a big basement and huge psychoses!


    Art is doing it’s job well describing contemporary society: ephemeral, shallow, short attention spans . . . paper money.

    The world is a scary place and good for Bob for giving us a chance to see into it!

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    I didn’t see prolific DTES artist Ken Foster mentioned anywhere in the article. I guess Rennie doesn’t venture too far from his art bunker to rub shoulders with the street folks he’s helping push out of the area (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I wonder how keen he is on the city’s plan to tower up the area? If say, a tower were to go in next door to his $20 million museum, would he fight it or embrace it? Would it not be splendid to have such an uber ironic juxtaposition on the landscape of his block?

    For what it’s worth, my favourite slogan of his will always be, “Woodwards: an intellectual property.”

  • I think it is wonderful that Rennie is moving into the neighbourhood, just as it is wonderful that Woodwards is moving in. Ultimately, I believe that these two actions will do as much to repair the Downtown Eastside as Bob’s clients’ condo developments have done for the rest of the downtown.

    Some will want to debate whether Rennie and Woodwards will result in a regeneration, or gentrification of the area. I personally think it is regeneration since there is enough low income housing in the DTES to prevent the lower income residents from being forced out.

    Indeed, what the area now needs are more affordable, market condominiums to ensure a broader mix of residents, to complement the new galleries, retail establishments and SFU’s School for Contemporary Arts.

    The irony is that Bob’s new premises and gallery may well end up doing far more good for this area than many of the community activists that have been operating for decades.

  • Joe Just Joe

    People tend to forget that Bob grew up in East Van and was one of us, he still believes he is one of us. Those of us that know him a little better know that he hasn’t really changed it’s the publics perception of him that has changed over the years.
    I’m not sure how much his art gallery will help the area, as it will be a private gallery, what will affect the area is him moving his office into the area. The couple dozen of new employees in the area might not make a huge difference but the signal it sends sure will.

  • Frances Bula

    Gassy Jack’s Ghost,

    Actually, I quoted Rennie in a story a few months ago on the Chinatown towers, specifically the one mentioned for the Chinese Cultural Centre site which is right opposite his new museum. He was not enthusiastic about that one, for sure.

  • Not Running for Mayor

    The event last night was as to be expected, interestingly or perhaps not there were more councillors there then there were developers. Of course who could forget Trevor Boddy who couldn’t stop self promoting himself. And then there was an interesting female wearing green canvas runners. All in all it was a great event followed by a great afterparty down the street in Gastown, the only complaint was there were no go go dancers on the swings.

  • Frances Bula

    Oh, I can’t believe this. NRFM was at the same event I was but we never crossed paths. (Or perhaps we did, since I don’t know who s/he is.) How intriguing. It’s like a mystery novel.

  • Bill Lee

    And the glowing story was not by-lined. No author at all, but “special to globe and mail”

    The ‘authorities’ quoted were all rather guarded in their recommendations.

    Maybe this can be like not-the-Art-institute-of-Chicago (Museum of Contemporary Art).

    Still major artists can go commercial or go gallery-museum. One I know has refused to sell any of her art to commercial galleries, but has several pieces in the National Gallery in Ottawa and other international Museums, locked out of the commercial market.

  • Frances Bula


    Yes, something definitely slipped through the cracks with the byline on my story. You can see from the layout that there was a space for it over on the left, but no one put it in — likely one of those great mix-ups with each person thinking the other was putting it in or something. It happened to me at the Sun a few times too over the years.

    That’s interesting what you say about artists who refuse to sell commercially. I didn’t realize there were some who took that kind of stand.

  • Good heavens,

    “Still major artists can go commercial or go gallery-museum.”

    Errrrr . . . .ummmmm . . where on earth did you pick up that gem of wisdom?

    Prices have become so ridiculously inflated international museums are not locked out; by their own admission they can no longer afford the inflated prices of “the artist of the month”

    . . . especially since above mentioned’s fleeting fame drops precipitously and on whim . . . today millions . . . tomorrow forgotten . . .

    As for lesser artists they’ll get what they can where they can . . . obviously Bill you are not in the flow . . .

    Of course Frances ” I didn’t realize there were some . . . ” simply because there are none!

    Don’t believe everything posted here . . . Luvie

  • PS A ha . . . Bill Lee

    Federation of Canadian Artists . . . that figures . . .

  • PPS Oh just a reminder . . . art is about insight into life . . . showing us something we did not see . . . ducks in flight just don’t cut it . . . Bill

    Bob would not approve unless you bought one of his condos . . .

    Gainsborough said it all centuries ago . . .

    Oh and by the way, The Gainsborough Lady Sarah Siddons is my ancestor.

    And wow is that ever flaunting it . . .

  • “PPS Oh just a reminder . . . art is about insight into life . . . showing us something we did not see . . . ducks in flight just don’t cut it . . . Bill”

    One of the things I’ve noticed in my interactions with artists is that they tend to focus on their own work and process… and leave the criticism of others to posterity and the perspective that comes from being able to put something into context. Proclamations about what is ‘art’ are pretty much useless near as I can tell.

  • SV

    You’ll have to pardon my ignorance as to achievements of the Gainsborough Lady Sarah Siddons-did she invent the ellipsis?

  • Bill Lee

    Never the FCA (Fed of Cdn Artists) that Vancouver based (W. Van) loose grouping of watercolourists and Sunday painters that wanted letters after their names when exhibiting. There suitable-for-walls gallery on Richards street was lite.

    No, not a member and wouldn’t join, but I knew several amateurs who were mildly impressed.

    Conceptual artists often can produce a piece that museums might get. We are not talking about paintings or representational sculpture here. Sometimes these are performance pieces which can be replicated at various venues.

  • Chris! “Proclamations about what is ‘art’ are pretty much useless near as I can tell.”

    Oooooo -oh, tell that to Robert Hughes.

    Well, dear friend, you cannot “tell” very far! Hughes is THE current international art guru: his proclamations are delightfully opinionated: he has cojonnes. You may catch him regularly on Knowledge!

    I cannot imagine the world had Picasso, Matisse and Braque not had mighty, opinionated, face-offs. Matisse headed to the Coté d’Azur to escape.

    Videos displayed on your page will be much, much more inspired when you acknowledge your creative heritage to the outrageous bickering and opinions between Fauvism, Die Brücke, Der Blaue Reiter et al: the latter was assailed by artists wielding umbrellas.

    Saint Arthur’s dull concrete chunks owe far more to a misunderstanding of Gerrit Rietveld than his Japanese pretensions . . . but then Saint A never had an opinion about anything. The back of the court house would be delightful had we not canonised him . . . same goes for Caesar Pelli . . .

    Huh, not many posts ago gmgw was beating up on me for linking The Jericho Folk Fest, remember MG’s yellow T-shirt, to Ceperley Park. Of course a perceptive person, who understands linkage and continuity. would understand: with his mind firmly set in clay gmgw doesn’t so I just, gracefully, let it slide! Far, far too many embryonic opinions, that guy, but hey that’s life . . .

    What Bob is doing today, bless his partying heart, was done at Georgia Street decades ago. With short memories and twitching fuse we are too pusillanimous and deferential to ever lighten up. But, hey, let the glitterati dream on . . .

    Probably not a bad idea for you too, Chris: lighten up.

    Yunno take a risk make yourself vulnerable. Definitive declarations usually come back to bop you . . . (ellipses, eh, so!), yunno, makes you look a little bit like an AH. I’ve noticed before . . .

  • Hey, this blog is all about opinions . . . bless Frances and go for it . . big time!

  • jmv

    I did try to crash the party at 10pm…(actually, politely went to the front door and when my name was obviously not on the guest list, I was told to make an appointment to come back some other time)

    I had taken a tour of the building with Bob (via John Atkin) years ago, and these are the photos I took.

    I’m curious if he had any such process/transformation picts on display…

    Did anyone see such images?

    Or was it all art…?

  • wcb

    Transformation photos were installed in the reception area and another room of the building. There will be more throughout the office areas.

    Anyone can request viewing of the exhibition by emailing

  • agnieszka newton

    It is wonderful that Bob Rennie is able to collect and reflect on his art. He is great and I wish him all the best