Audain Art Museum

Words By Sheila Lam

The Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Nation is large and infinity-shaped, starting from the Vancouver mainland, narrowing at Nch’kaỷ (Mount Garibaldi), and reaching up well towards Elaho Mountain. Impressive ranges border its north and east edges as the Strait of Georgia sails along the south. Young mountaineers are idealistic figures there, unfettered, courageous, rugged, with their snowboards and skis close at hand. There are tremendous peaks and small ones, remote ones and busy ones. At the base of perhaps the most visited sits an unexpected find: the Audain Art Museum.

Access is up from the Sea to Sky Highway on a drive from downtown Vancouver through Squamish. Stopping once along the way at Fergie's Cafe for breakfast, our art director Santiago de Hoyos, editor Sheila Lam, and writer Lauren R. Hyde took in the Audain's exhibition of Jean-Paul Riopelle: The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures.

Robert Davidson, Dogfish Mask, 1999/2013, red cedar with pigment. Audain Art Museum Collection. Purchased with funds from the Audain Foundation


The Architecture 

Though inspired by the Louisiana Museum’s signature glass corridor in Denmark, the Audain is irrefutably Pacific Northwest. Designed by Patkau Architects, the existence of the building testifies to the idea of a contemporary Pacific Northwest aesthetic. The forest canopy naturalizes its scale and volume, enveloping the building almost entirely from passersby. A unique feature of such an ambitious project.

Being housed in a poetic space among the woods offers a lens through which the art is viewed, demanding heightened attention and energy. The building’s recomposition of the timber and stone delivers a specific grounding effect reflected in the characteristic beauty of the artwork, particularly the permanent collection. The concept of the building is both art and sculptural object itself.

The geometric entrance of the Audain is a glass and steel trumpet built on piers a storey above the foundation, a stylish and functional design as the property rests in the potential floodplain of Fitzsimmons Creek. The abstract rendition of a towering boulder serves as an effigy of the surrounding landscape, and an intermediary between the primary and secondary staircase sloped on the other side. A galvanized aluminum totem, He-yay meymuy (Big Flood), by Squamish artist Xwalacktun is a commanding and impressive welcome. Inside, a camera obscura effect transitions you from the outside world, imperceptibly preparing you to view the works ahead.

Through the permanent collection and Riopelle: The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures, the dramatic set of wood-slatted stairways leads to a serene private event space. A deep-set room with a wrap-around window feels both futuristic and natural as you look over the canopy of hemlock trees. Here, mother nature is the featured artist.

Erin Shirreff, Fig. 14, 2019, archival pigment print, edition 1 of 4. Audain Art Museum Collection. Purchased with funds from the Audain Foundation


The Art

In a recent episode of the museum's Tuesday Night Talks (TNT), where Director and Chief Curator Dr. Curtis Collins speaks with the Museum’s founder, Michael Audain speaks of his lifelong passion for this region's art. Having been interested in it and its visceral ability to move people at a young age, the museum now holds nearly 200 works from the private collection of Audain and his wife, Yoshiko Karasawa.

At the forefront is James Hart, The Dance Screen (The Scream Too) (detail), 2010-2013 an extraordinary piece of Northwest Coast art. The large-scale free-standing cedar sculpture features a design of deep carving that is striking and evocative of the traditions of the Haida. Other highlights of the extensive collection include a world-class display of Northwest Coast First Nations masks, works by beloved painter Emily Carr, and prominent contemporary pieces from Dana Claxton and Jeff Wall. Our personal favourites include Bertram Charles (B.C.) Binning, Ship, Shape & Signals painting and Dane-zaa artist Brian Jungen's Variant 1, a sculpture made by his signature practice of manipulating Nike footwear.

James Hart, The Dance Screen (The Scream Too)(detail), 2010-2013, red cedar panel with abalone, mica, acrylic, wire and yew wood. Audain Art Museum Collection. Gift of Michael Audain and Yoshiko Karasawa


The museum itself proclaims that it is a transformative experience for appreciating the art of British Columbia. After a day of studying the works and relishing in the surroundings, you'll be hard-pressed to disagree. There is something innately historical and contemporaneous about its encounter, both reverent and exciting at once.

 4350 Blackcomb Way, Whistler, BC V8E 1N3, +1 (604) 962-0413

Open Thursday - Sunday from 11:00am - 6:00pm


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