FOI reveals German artist paid $40,000 for "art" light show

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


Used car dealership, or City Hall? You be the judge

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When it comes to the new light display flashing on the outside of Vancouver City Hall, it would appear not everyone is loving what they see. We've had a number of people email and compare the new look at City Hall to a used car lot on Kingsway. You know...the kind that proudly says "Everything on sale at drastically reduced prices!" Other readers tell us they miss the previous light display which helped to make City Hall a landmark building after dark. Many folks simply thought it was a temporary display which would be turned off after the Games were over. However, it's our understanding this art display is now permanent.

In fact, the light show was actually commissioned by the City of Vancouver as part of their Olympic celebrations. It's considered one of the "legacies" of the 2010 Games. No local artists were deemed worthy of working on the project (an independent panel apparently made that decision) in which Gunda Forster, an artist from Germany was selected. An FOI filed by reveals that Forster was paid the princely sum of $40,000 to design the controversial light show. It goes without saying a few local artists must be wondering if they could have designed something a bit more inspirational for less.

Some of the comments on our blog during the Games in reference to the light display included:

That light display looks like something you'd find at a tacky used car lot on Kingsway. All we need is a big "closing out sale" draped on the side of City Hall and the artwork would be complete. I agree with Citizen Vancouver that this is pretty uninspiring and we could have found a local artist who could have done much more. It certainly ain't jaw dropping. Perhaps hypnotic?

When I first moved to Canada 24 years ago, the greenish "ghostly" lighting of the city hall is one of the unique aspects of Vancouver skyline. I'm actually proud of it and always made it a point to show to tourists. If you can see it from downtown or Queen Elizabeth Park, it actually looks like it was floating. I can currently see this building from my bedroom window and I always liked the view. WHO APPROVED THE NEW TACKY LIGHTING!!!

While one commenter summed it up by saying:

Definitely looks cheesy!

City officials claim the new light display will eventually save them money as it costs them less to operate than the previous one. As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When it comes to the new light display on city hall, I guess it will just have to grow on us. What do you think? Let us know by leaving a comment below.


The art industry at work.

Guest Professor Gunda Forster's rationale for this "waterfall of light" is a classic of its kind, though without any striking advances in the field of pretension. Her observation that a 'City Hall' is often an important building with a clock that "signals the start of every new hour with an acoustic signal" is nonetheless a remarkable insight likely to challenge the perceptions of the everyday citizen to the very core. Note the repetition of "signals", the way the very intonation of the 'words' mimics a clanging bell.

Her concept of lining the "horizontal external edges" of the 'arkitektur' with flashing white strip lights is astonishing in its innovative originality, while proclaiming solidarity with the 'volk' by robustly refusing to put lights on the internal edges where they would be visible only to the 'elite'. As a final note, emphasing her foresight and sensitivity to nature as well as challenging our preconceptions (again), the lights are "set in motion" only when it gets dark!

Some might regret that for the 'cost' of this artist's genius, plus that of the technicians, surveyors and fabricators who did the actual 'work', the city could have kept open a few facilities actually 'used' by its citizens. Can there be such Philistines among us?

This is just her fees, but how much did this whole project cost? Could this money not have been better spent keeping the Bloedel Conservatory or Stanley Park Petting Zoo open? I bet the total cost of this project was close to half a million dollars. At least that's the number floating around city hall these days. It will take a lot of energy saving to recoop those costs. Another NDP budget fiasco.

This kind of light show works along Granville but not on a city hall building. They spent 40 thousand for this trashy display. This shows that the people that works in that building are all jokers.

Waste of funds, shame on city hall. Local artists should have had this contract. Then it could be called a legacy.

unreal. I did better work on my light bright as a child.

This is hilarious. Wow... are they serious? I'm fully convinced (dealing frequently with their frontline brainiacs) now that the COV is not exactly a well oiled machine.

Damn that Gordon Campbell. And Sam Sullivan too. Because of course, the by-law and policies that set up the selection of all public art projects was initiated and signed into law by Mayor Gordon Campbell in 1990.

And the specific Olympic project that set this competition in motion was initiated by the NPA administration under Sam Sullivan.

The thing is unless you're willing to settle for art that matches the tastes of a few councillors, you have to have open, juried competitions. And they rarely satisfy everyone. In fact they shouldn't.

I like the work. To my eye it's kind of ghostly and more interesting than the wacky lights lining English Bay. Plus it enhances the classic art deco lines of the McGeer era building.

And I notice that this site has used illustrations of other works chosen through exactly the same process. Shouldn't you complain about all if you complain about one?

I agree with Ian on this. It defines the lines of City Hall in a new way. Of course everybody isn't going to like it, but I can bet when it's changed in about 20 years people will complain about the new thing as vociferously as they complain about this.

Local artists had the chance to come up with something but they obviously didn't impress the independent panel enough, and it seems to me that "Welcoming the World" means stepping outside of parochial mindsets such as this.

Well I'm quite ready to say that this installation is not art in any meaningful sense. It is a product of the art industry, which is composed of self referential insiders who feed off the often very large sums of public and private money that can be disbursed for purposes of profit and ego. Not unlike a small, amorphous version of the IOC.

These lights, like the East Van cross, are essentially an industrial product. They were derived from an initial concept presentation and rely for their execution on an unsung group of draughtsmen, technicians and fabricators.

I once participated in the jury selecting artists and works of art for a very large building project. We determined that we would require some degree of direct participation by the artist in making any selected works, it was amazing how many people this choice excluded and how angry these people were.

We have been trained to believe that public or corporate subsidies for art are always a good thing but maybe they can sometimes be more like poison, corrupting both artists and their art. And I do resent paying for it, whatever the stripe of the politician who has his hand in my pocket.

The staggering incompetence of city staff to approve these blinking lights is astounding. Even more perplexing is how anyone could possibility find a $40,000 design acceptable for such trash is another decision I'm unable to understand. I would like to read all minutes from this secret "independent" committee who made this decision.

Only the design fee was $40,000 - does anyone know the cost of materials and installation???

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