Let’s not start this by talking about unattainable rents in Vancouver. Instead, how about we talk about what is possible in this city? Besides, at a Wil Aballe Art Projects (WAAP) exhibit opening on a warm summer evening, sipping wine in its Strathcona courtyard, conversing with well-dressed art types, it doesn’t really feel like you are in this city.
Located on an historic East Hastings block, WAAP is a true white cube—white walls, white ceiling, white floors. It’s a somewhat ironically standard gallery setup, given that owner Wil Aballe started out hosting exhibitions in his 400-square-foot apartment. It’s not an unprecedented play, the home-to-storefront gallery, but as costs get higher and higher and the local collector pool gets smaller and smaller, Aballe’s persistence and dedication to young, conceptual artists is admirable, and certainly hard to replicate.
With a degree in engineering from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Aballe came to his role as a gallerist slowly, starting first as a patron of the arts while working as an engineer in Vancouver. He began taking up collecting, exploring the local art scene in mathematic detail. “I was going to every show in the city, doing studio visits, and I started realizing, ‘Oh, there are other artists in the city who don’t even show in galleries that are making really interesting work,’” he says, his tall frame perched on a small folding chair at the gallery.
Still based in his apartment, Aballe attended fairs including Art Toronto in 2013, and began exhibiting more ambitious shows, such as the work of new media artist Nicolas Sassoon. “The issue with that apartment, after a time, was it was so small, and there was only so much linear footage, that shows began to feel repetitive,” Aballe says. After a short stint at a space off Clark Drive, he moved the gallery to East Hastings in 2016, and the new location allowed him to expand the gallery’s reach. He has now turned his attention to international art fairs, showing at both NADA New York and Mexico City’s Material Art Fair in 2017.
Aballe’s roster of artists (Sassoon, Vanessa Brown, and Patrick Cruz, to a name a few) is where the strength and uniqueness of his vision comes through. The work of represented artist Ryan Quast, who makes trash out of paint in excruciatingly accurate detail, is as difficult to access as it sounds. But this is exactly the challenge Aballe is looking for. “Theoretically, artists should be able to make the art that they want and gallerists should be able to find a way to sell it. The history of art kind of tells us that,” he explains. “It’s maybe foolish to think that you can do that in Canada, but I kind of like the idea that artists can make whatever the hell they want, and what gallerists need to do is find the market for it.” What truly sets Aballe apart is his honest belief in the artists he represents. He doesn’t offer any false promises, to his roster or collectors. If there’s a will, Aballe can find a way.