A few years ago, driving north over the Granville Street bridge, many may have noticed the big, bold letters spelling out Gesamtkunstwerk plastered over a copper-lined, half-finished building.
The German word emerged in the mid-1800s as a theory in music to describe the all-embracing art form. Architects also connected with the term, acknowledging that their profession could no longer be defined as simply as a collection of numbers and measurements. They would now be tradesmen, responsible for creating not only the structure, but also the interior design, the general aesthetic, and how each endeavour fit into its surrounding landscape.
Today, this German theory is something that Westbank’s Ian Gillespie takes very seriously. Gillespie’s portfolio of work in Vancouver includes, to name a few, the Shangri-La, Woodward’s, Telus Garden, and the Fairmont Pacific Rim. Dedicated to art in all forms, Westbank has curated a pop-up art exhibit in Vancouver called Fight for Beauty. On display: paintings, sculptures, and installations created by renowned creatives, exclusively commissioned to sit in Westbank’s structures.
Standing tall on the mouth of the Fairmont Pacific Rim, Fight for Beauty’s exterior is bold, bright, and marked with magenta and white. Inside, quite the opposite: the massive, canopy-like structure is lined from wall to wall with rich, dark wood floors and warm, inviting lighting. At the entrance, visitors can grab an earpiece and listen to a 58-minute tour narrated by Gillespie, floating amongst the maquettes of past and future buildings on display and learning about Westbank’s goal in creating multi-purpose urban spaces alongside renowned architects like Kengo Kuma and Bjarke Ingels.
The real lure of the exhibit, though, is the chance to view some exceptional, rare art. On display is contemporary artist Zhang Huan’s Rising, a red figure which some interpret as a dragon (others, the deep roots of a tree), commissioned to add elements of fire and passion to Toronto’s Shangri-La. Looking up, colourful lanterns line the ceiling; also known as the Lantern Chains by artist Martin Boyce, they were created to add a stream of colour to the Telus Garden building on Richards Street.
The centrepiece of the exhibit is the extravagant white, custom-made Butterfly Fazioli piano, designed and built by Bing Thom Architects and usually found in the entrance to the Fairmont Pacific Rim. Among these larger installations are pieces commissioned solely for the two-month-long Fight for Beauty exhibit, including Territory 56 by Vancouver-based artist Tristesse Seeliger.
In the far corner sits the only permanent installation of the pop-up: 16.480, also known as the “glass forest,” created in 2015 by lighting designer and sculptor Omer Arbel. Six metres in height, these glowing tree-like figures hover like a canopy over the film viewing area, where visitors can take a quick five on wooden benches and watch one of the six short films made by Canadian and American videographers. This includes, notably, Lukas Dong’s depiction of Douglas Coupland’s TELUS SKY Led lighting project in Calgary.
A touch of glamour is added to the exhibit with dramatic glass casings that display six different hand-picked vintage couture pieces from Gillespie’s personal fashion collection. Guests can look up at the rich, textured Shipwreck and Salem dresses from the iconic Alexander McQueen, take in the bright Yellow Cape and Silk Velvet dresses made by beloved designer Yves Saint Laurent, and admire the rare Cocoon Coat, sewn gorgeously by the superior French couturier Paul Poiret in 1925.
Celebrating local and international creatives, the scope of the exhibit crosses both artistic barriers and geographic borders; it honours the craftsmanship, and the artistry, put into every good piece of design.