The Vancouver Art Gallery is ideally situated in the heart of downtown Vancouver . Because of its central location, it is often chosen as a site for public rallies, celebratory events, street busking and casual public assembly. By way of acknowledging the significance of art in public life, the Vancouver Art Gallery is engaged in an ongoing program of commissioning public art for the Gallery building and grounds.
In 1989 the Vancouver Art Gallery commissioned its first public artwork from the American artist Lawrence Weiner, who is highly regarded for his language-based artworks that range from textual instructions to poetic statements of fact. Weiner's Placed Upon the Horizon (Casting Shadows) was installed in 1990 on the frieze of the Robson Street portico and has remained there ever since. In the context of civic
In the spring of 1999, as part of the millennium celebrations, the Gallery commissioned two new public artworks for the exterior and grounds. Four Boats Stranded: Red and Yellow, Black and White (2001) by the Vancouver artist Ken Lum, is installed on the rooftop of the Gallery. The four boats are scaled-down versions of a First Nations longboat, Captain George Vancouver's three-masted sailing ship, the Komagata Maru (the ship carrying Indian immigrants that caused an international incident in 1914), and a cargo ship that recently carried migrants from China's Fujian Province to Vancouver. Lum has created a public artwork that serves as a cultural, geographical and historical marker. The work recognizes Vancouver as a port city, a place of arrival by sea, and a city of layered histories. Each elegantly simplified boat is painted a single colour that speaks to a colonialist stereotyping of cultural, racial and historical identification.
In the fall of 2003, the Vancouver Art Gallery will launch its fourth public art commission, an Internet-based project by the Berlin-based, Canadian-born artist Janet Cardiff. This experimental work will present a complex, real-time narrative that will unfold over the period of a year on the grounds of the Gallery.