East Vancouver cultural institution The Waldorf Hotel to close


The Waldorf Hotel in 1952 (Vancouver archives)


The Waldorf Hotel in 1952 (Vancouver archives)


The Waldorf Hotel in 1952 (Vancouver archives)

From the Globe and Mail:


The closing of Vancouver’s Waldorf Hotel – which went from working-class hangout to a key city arts hub two years ago – spawned an online memorial Wednesday over the city’s inability to preserve interesting cultural spaces in the face of rampant condo development.

Dismayed responses from City Hall, major city artists and random patrons swirled on the Internet after the hotel’s young operators announced they would have to close their doors Jan. 20 because the hotel has been sold to the Solterra Group of Companies, a boutique condo developer.

Mayor Gregor Robertson, who issued a statement but did not give any interviews, said: “The Waldorf closing is a big loss to Vancouver’s growing creative community … [The] city is exploring ways to support the Waldorf continuing as one of Vancouver’s most unique and vibrant cultural spaces.”

The 1947 hotel is not on the city’s heritage register, but the land is zoned industrial, which gives the city considerable bargaining power with any developer who comes in wanting a rezoning to build condos.

The modernist-style hotel, with a restored Tiki lounge, two nightclubs and a restaurant, had generated an eclectic mix of activities since it opened in October of 2010, operating almost like a giant arts community centre.

There were concerts by local performers such as Grimes, Black Mountain and the Japandroids, other shows by leading arts figures such as Douglas Coupland and photographer Rodney Graham, a gallery, food-truck festivals, arts-group gatherings and more.

The hotel operators’ news release commented bitterly on the fact they had helped create the conditions for developer interest.

“The irony that the Waldorf was taken over by a condo developer in the very area we helped reinvigorate is obvious to anyone,” entertainment director Thomas Anselmi said in the release. The other hotel operators are Ernesto Gomez, Daniel Sazio and Scott Cohen.

Continue reading here.

Object(ing): The Art/Design of Tobias Wong

If you live in the Vancouver area and are the least bit into art — especially the dark humour/pop art type rife with social and cultural commentary, a la Banksy or Warhol — I’d highly recommend checking out the Tobias Wong exhibition, running now through Feb. 24 at the Museum of Vancouver.

A brief bio: Wong was born in Vancouver and attended the University of Toronto before moving to New York in 1997 to study art and architecture. There, he flourished, becoming widely respected in NY art circles. His parents were from Hong Kong. “He often would tell his mom that he had to work three times as hard as people here to get recognized,” friend Aric Chen told the New York Times. Wong was also a chronic sleepwalker, able to accomplish elaborate tasks while asleep. It is believed he was asleep when he hanged himself in his Manhattan apartment in May 2010. For more on him, read the linked NYT story, as well as Marsha Lederman’s piece on the exhibition.

About 50 pieces of his work are on display at the exhibition. Below, a few of my favourites.

This is a Lamp, 2001.

Wong stuck a light inside a Philippe Starck Bubble chair and dubbed it a lamp. This piece debuted the night before the actual Starck chair was presented to the public.  Lederman writes: ” By putting a lamp in French designer Philippe Starck’s much-anticipated Bubble Club Chair – just before the chair’s North American debut – and giving it a new function and name, Wong created an entirely new work. Or did he? Was this theft? Inspiration? Before you answer, consider Starck’s own design: essentially a sleek plastic version of the art deco club chair. In any case, it earned Starck – and, yes, Wong – a great deal of attention.”

Coke Spoons, 2005.

Urban legend has it that McDonald’s stopped using these stir sticks — which were popular among cocaine users — after Tobias Wong dipped one in gold and it landed in magazines and web sites everywhere. Artist Douglas Coupland says this is the piece that “broke him wide open.”

New York I love You But You’re Bringing Me Down, 2010

From artist Josee Lepage: “Based on LCD Sound System’s song ‘New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,’ the idea was to create a pendant made of a set of wooden beads of different lengths and shapes to form the title’s words in Morse code. The ‘bringing me down’ of the title would become, literally, the drop of the beads as they fell from ceiling to floor. … When he was planning the work, we talked back and forth about how it should look. He showed me a few pieces of wooden samples, and a few days later, he called and said, ‘It’s finished. I made it…but don’t remember doing it.’ I knew Tobi was a sleepwalker and often did things he didn’t remember. Still, when I saw this gigantic wooden pendant with its stunning message hung from floor to ceiling, I couldn’t help but wonder: How in the world did he manage to do this while asleep?”

Unauthorized Burberry Buttons, 1999

In a common jab at the big guys, Wong reduced a luxury brand into a cheap, everyday item by using the patented Burberry plaid design to make buttons. He handed out hundreds of these at New York Fashion Week events. While many big companies get up in arms over stuff like this, Burberry saw the traction it was getting and, in 2000, incorporated them into their advertising. They were visible in magazines, billboards and catalogues:

Burberry advertisement, spring 2000

Money Pad, 2000

From designer and culture writer Lauren Leon Boym: “Money Pad = $99.00 artist’s joke. To all innocent appearances at first glance, it was an iconic stack of money. The $100 worth of $1 bills were conveniently glued together in a peel-off, post-it note type format. Cool, right? When an unsuspecting (how could they otherwise be in on the joke?) design consumer bought the piece for $199 as a gift, there was a 100% profit immediately at retail. The overflow of cash was profit split by the artist, distributor, and retailer after sale.”

Anus Sign, 1998-2003

Not really a favourite, but let me tell you: It’s a neat moment watching arty types ponder the meaning of a neon “anus” sign.

So head on over to the Museum of Vancouver! $12 for an adult if you’re not a member.

Ken Foster

Very happy to have finally copped a Ken Foster painting this weekend.

For those who don’t know him: Foster is a well-known artist from the Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. According to his daughter, he has been diagnosed as having schizophrenia and turns to drugs, including crack cocaine, to self-medicate. He has produced roughly three paintings a day for the last 20-odd years.

Foster’s known for painting (latex, acrylic, oils, charcoal, spray paint, etc.) on found objects: street signs, posters, discarded pieces of wood and plastic. Such items are free, of course, but I like his explanation for choosing them better. From Megaphone Magazine:

It’s more interactive and has more life this way, more character. It’s not just a static canvas. I don’t like interacting with stores where they give you a receipt. A brand new canvas is strange to work with, whereas the things I use have a lot of life to them. For example, if you use an old kitchen cabinet door, then, someone for like 30 years has been opening and closing this door with their dinner plates behind it. Now you’ve got it and you’re holding it against your chest trying to make some kind of image on it. I think it affects how you create and what you do. I like it, but some people don’t. Many times people have said to me that they would have bought my art if it were on a canvas.

Paintings of DTES alleys have become his signature, their buildings and utility poles stark against soft light streaming in. He does a lot of hip-hop stuff too. He often sells his work on the street for $20, $30. People commission him to do plenty of work, sometimes for hundreds a piece. His hustle is admirable. He’s often found hawking his paintings in front of The Cambie in Gastown, east to Maple Tree Square where the statue of Gassy Jack stands.

I had meant to commission three works from Foster last year — with an idea to hang them side by side above my couch, as the focal point in my shoebox apartment — but things got in the way, as life usually goes, and it never happened. Which is why I was happy to see him heading in my direction, painting in hand, in Maple Tree Square.

I asked how much he was selling this particular piece for and he said between $20 and $2,500. (We settled on $30.) I asked which alley this was in particular, and he said Blood Alley, with the building on the right being the back of the Lamplighter pub. He said the buildings might not be geometrically accurate, but he painted that alley at that moment because he liked the way the light hit it. I like that bits of the original material, a McDonald’s ad, show through, helping colour this kind of bittersweet sunset.

A few other Ken Foster works, via a Google search:

Did Ray-Ban rip Stanley Cup “riot kissing couple” photo?

I’m a firm believer that most art, and creative ideas, have been done before, to some extent — i.e. even if one has never seen it, it’s likely something similar is floating around in this big bizarro world of ours.

That said, I can’t help but think Ray-Ban’s new ad, which features a couple kissing passionately amid a violent riot, is directly influenced by Rich Lam’s iconic “riot kissing couple” image from last year.

Lam’s photo of Scott Jones comforting his girlfriend Alexandra Thomas, who had been knocked down by riot police during the June 15, 2011, Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver, garnered international attention — as did the couple — and was named by numerous organizations as one of the top photos of the year. It’s pretty much impossible NOT to know about the image. Disclosure: Lam is a good friend, yaddy yadda.

Lam’s only gripe is that he didn’t get free shades. “I bet that photog got a pair!!!!!”


UPDATE: Tara Foslien tells me the photo is being used in a sweater ad in Italy. Yeesh.

Bonus: Lam offered some sage advice in a signed copy of the photo:

The Gastown Project is out!

Official trailer

If you read this blog somewhat regularly or follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably heard that I’ve been working my butt off on The Gastown Project since summer. It began as an idea to tell the story of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood through profiles of its residents, grew into a massive multimedia project including video, print, photo galleries and a concert series, and — despite some hiccups along the way and some tweaking to go — it’s here. It feels amazing to see it realized.

Shouts to videographer/creative director Mark Yuen and web designer/assistant digital editor Chris Parry for making it come to life.

Check out the project at

Hope you like it.

I want to live in a Fred Herzog photo

Also love this quote of his I came across:

“Take street pictures because it hones your instincts for speed, for quick composition, for [inaudible]. But above all what you bring in your mind to the scene is what makes your picture. If you don’t read, if you don’t have discussions with enlightened friends, you do not get there. There is a saying about seeing: Only a few people can see but most people don’t even look. And that says a lot to me. You can only see if you have something in your mind to bring to the picture. The camera is just the least important adjunct to your ideas. Your observations are important because they’re you. The camera is just a gadget you can carry on in your hand or around your neck or on a tripod.”