Wing Sang gallery opening doors

By Janet Nicol

Vancouver realtor and art collector Bob Rennie’s Wing Sang gallery in the city’s Chinatown neighbourhood will house the first satellite gallery of the Royal British Columbia Museum. A unique concept, Rennie’s donation of gallery space during the summer months will give greater public access to the province’s valuable Victoria-based collection.

“We’re very excited about this possibility,” says museum CEO Pauline Rafferty. “We’ve had travelling exhibitions, but have always wanted a satellite gallery, to share our treasures with a larger population.” The inaugural exhibition at Wing Sang opens June 15 and features Emily Carr’s artwork, sketchbooks, photographs and diaries.

“It will be wonderful to be in Chinatown,” Rafferty says. The Wing Sang building at 51 East Pender Street is the oldest building in Chinatown, making it a good fit for the museum partnership, she adds. Summer exhibitions at the satellite gallery will focus on the museum’s human and natural history artifacts, amassed over the last 125 years. “When we curate these shows, we’ll also consider how the objects will fit into the space,” she says.

Rennie calls the collaboration a good fit, adding that the additional space will give the public more access to the museum’s enormous collection of artifacts. “There are seven million pieces,” he says. “They need space to breathe.”

He adds that part of the purpose behind the project is to help stabilize the neighbourhood, adjacent to Vancouver’s troubled downtown eastside. “We thought culture would be the best role we could take. ” He estimates 30,000 people will visit the gallery this summer, giving a boost to the nearby attractions, including local restaurants and shops, and the Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden across the street.

The front section of the three-storey Wing Sang building was built in 1889 by businessman Yip Sang, who added an extension in 1912 for his four wives and 23 children, with an elevated passageway connecting the two buildings. Eventually the property was vacated and fell into disrepair.

Rennie spent four years on the renovations. His real estate offices are now housed in the front and he’s installed some of his contemporary art collection, first opened to the public in 2009, in a soaring four-storey-high gallery.

Summer visitors to the Royal B.C. Museum satellite will find artifacts and a gift shop on the main floor, before ascending the stairs. “We want to consider how best to use the space and bring out the collection in unusual and unexpected ways,” says Tim Willis, the museum’s director of Exhibitions and Visitor Experience, about the 40-foot-high gallery space. Getting ready for summer of 2012, he’s planning a unique use of the physical space. “We really want to intrigue visitors,” he says.

Reprinted from Galleries West magazine, January, 2012

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