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  • Michelle Sirois Silver

small gallery spaces: unexpected

The artist in me has been slow to embrace the small gallery and the community focused art experience. Many artists are concerned about the optics of exhibiting their work in what is referred to as alternative venues. Right or wrong they believe that their artwork won’t be taken seriously by collectors and critics.

My artwork is currently hanging in the Paneficio Gallery window at 800 Keefer Street until February 28. The gallery window is 5’ x 6’ x 3’ and it’s the smallest venue I’ve ever exhibited in!!! It’s a converted store front in the heart of Strathcona, Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood. I love visiting this small gallery because each month there is a new exhibition by a local artist. But as an art gallery space it goes against the norm of what you might expect.

As a consumer of art something comes over me when I visit a traditional art gallery or museum. My conversation slips into hushed tones and I often feel a self-imposed pressure to appreciate artwork that I don’t like or understand. There’s also the sometimes intimidating vigilance to be on your best behaviour. A few years ago, my husband and I were at the De Yonge Art Museum in San Francisco when we came under the hawkish scrutiny of a private collector as he sat guarding his collection which was on exhibition. He approached us several times saying we were too close to the art. I’ll confess, it was an Amish Quilt exhibition. I’m a textile artist, how could I not point at the artwork as we discussed it?

Blue Series. Screen print, machine & hand stitch.

But I find the small gallery experience is different. It’s intimate and I can move in close to the work. There’s no watchful eye hovering in the background. We find these unexpected spaces in our communities, often walking past without seeing them. I was once stopped in my tracks when I stumbled across a Boucherouite rug collection in a storefront window on Pender Street. We can hit the pause button for a few minutes and redirect our attention to something that takes us outside of ourselves. It’s a fluid and spontaneous experience that integrates into our everyday lives.


Showing local art and community engagement are two of the many factors that inspired the creation of the Paneficio Gallery. I interviewed curator and assemblage artist Valerie Arntzen, who talked candidly abut the value of exhibiting artwork:

"There is a quote "what is the value or meaning of artwork if it just sits in your studio or storage". So, to me the value and meaning is the viewer’s reaction to an artist’s work. For the viewer, it can be a surreal experience. They become engaged on another plane whether it’s deep thought or just purely an emotional reaction. My first real experience with art was with one of the blue paintings by Yves Klein. It was in LA and the painting was roped off. I looked at it and didn’t really get it but loved the colour. I caught up with my friend who at one time had been an art teacher in San Francisco. He explained to me how Klein was a game changer in the 50's. His inspiration came from the sky, sea and religion. I went back and looked at it for a long time. It was mesmerizing, which I think was his point. There are other specific pieces of art I still think about that resonate with me. For the artist, it’s the reaction, feedback or questions that help your practice to blossom and expand."

Blue Series. Screen print, machine & hand stitch.

Q. Val, why do you think it’s important to exhibit artwork?

A. Why make art if not to exhibit? Not only for sales but for the whole experience. Many years ago, I had a show in Yaletown at Numen Gallery. I left the artwork with them and they hung the show. When I came back for the opening I actually looked at my own work differently because of the way it was hung. I saw that the pieces were really speaking to each other by way of object, colour, placement and story. I also learn from the reactions and comments from the viewers which lets me know how my work resonates with others. This in turn influences the next step in my practice.

Q. What do you hope the visitor takes away from the Paneficio Gallery experience?

A. The viewer is the link in the story. We lock ourselves away in our studios and create. We then make the work available for viewing. Hopefully people get a glimpse into the mind of the artist. Again, it can be emotional or cerebral. I know with my work a lot of times it touches people's childhood memories. I use a lot of vintage pieces and one of the first things they say is "I remember those". The viewer is then forced to look at the whole artwork and extract the story of why that one recognizable object is with the others. They realize there is a message or feeling about the whole piece. And then, they begin to understand the art practice of assemblage.

Blue Series. detail.

Q. Can you tell me a story about an unexpected encounter that happened?

A. People don't realize that I’m in my studio and I can hear them when they are looking in the windows. One time I had three typewriters in my window…19th century, 60's and 80's. Coming out of the typewriters and up to the ceiling was paper with my social media addresses typed over and over. A mom was trying to explain to her young son what a typewriter is. It was quite hilarious and endearing.

When you’re out walking through Strathcona check out the exhibit in the Paneficio Gallery at Keefer and Hawks but keep in mind that Val may be inside – and she can hear your conversation! Better yet, on March 4th, FIRST SATURDAY, Val will be in her studio and you can meet her in person. By then, there will be a new exhibiting artist in the window gallery.



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