Vancouver may be known as “no fun city,” but there’s definitely more to it than meets the eye — especially in terms of public art. The city is packed with interesting installations that are out there for all the world to see. Here’s the lowdown on 15 of them, some familiar and some off the beaten track.
Photo: Edna Winti/Flickr
Artists: Myfanwy MacLeod and Shannon Oksanen
Location: BC Children’s Hospital and BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre
Is it art or a playground? Vancouver-based artists Myfanwy MacLeod and Shannon Oksanen actually designed the five pieces that make up “Playtime” to be both, hoping that the 2016 installation would bring joy to children and adults alike at the BC Children’s Hospital.
The zebra-coloured blocks pictured above are called “The Magic Stones,” and it’s not hard to picture kids jumping and climbing all over them.
Photo: Faruk Ates/Flickr
Artist: Douglas Coupland
Location: Vancouver Convention Centre (adjacent)
If you keep up with Canadian literature, you’ve probably heard of Douglas Coupland, author of popular books like “Girlfriend in a Coma,” “jPod” and “Worst. Person. Ever.” What you might not know is that he’s also an artist — and a fairly prolific one at that. The piece above, completed in 2009, was designed to commemorate workers in and around Coal Harbour and Burrard Inlet.
Photo: Cameron Norman/Flickr
Artist: Yue Minjun
Location: Morton Park
Located near Morton Park right by English Bay, “A-maze-ing Laughter” was part of Vancouver Biennale’s second exhibition, which ran from 2009 to 2011. The non-profit organization’s goal is to increase the accessibility of public art, and its first exhibition ran from 2005 to 2007.
“A-maze-ing Laughter” was a favourite during the display, and ultimately a $1.5-million donation from Lululemon founder Chip Wilson and his wife allowed the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation to buy it from artist Yue Minjun. Interestingly, each of the 14 figures is intended to represent the artist.
The Words Don’t Fit the Picture
Photo: leo gonzales/Flickr
Artist: Ron Terada
Location: Vancouver Public Library
Have you ever walked by the Vancouver Public Library and wondered about this sign? Turns out it was partially designed as an homage to the city’s neon signs — while there were once 19,000 neon and illuminated signs lighting up Vancouver, the number is now much lower.
The message spelled out on the sign is a little more complicated. It’s the title of a Willie Nelson song, and is intended to call “the relationship between the library’s function and its architecture and its historical references into a humorous questioning.”
Photo: Ruth Hartnup/Flickr
Artist: Myfanwy MacLeod
Location: False Creek Olympic Plaza
Myfanwy MacLeod is also the artist behind “The Birds,” an Olympic Village sculpture that depicts a pair of giant house sparrows. However, this piece of art has a much more dire theme than “Playtime” — it was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror film of the same name, and is certainly intimidating.
“I think it boils down to wanting to make something sublime for the plaza — that is something beautiful, but frightening at the same time,” she said back in 2010.
Lao Tzu mural
Photo: Michael G Winters/Flickr
Artists: Designed by Kenson Seto and painted by Alex Li and Falk
Location: Gore Avenue and East Pender Street
Chinatown’s “Lao Tzu” mural is looking good in this photo, but it’s been the victim of vandalism in the past. In September 2015, it and another mural in Chinatown were defaced with graffiti. Luckily, while some believed the mural was unlikely to be repaired, it was fixed up in fairly short order — unfortunately, that’s not likely to be the end of its troubles. It will reportedly soon be blocked from view by a new six-storey building.
Photo: Ahmed Bukhamsin/Flickr
Artist: Alvin Kanak
Location: English Bay
Originally part of the Northwest Territories Pavilion during Expo 86, this inukshuk was moved to its current English Bay location in 1987. It’s since become a popular tourist attraction, and was the inspiration for the 2010 Olympics logo.
Nobody Likes Me
Photo: Jordi Bernabeu Farrus/Flickr
Location: Stanley Park
If you thought this piece was done by reclusive England-based graffiti artist Banksy, you’re not too far off the mark. Though it was actually done by Vancouver’s iHeart, the artist got a nod from Banksy when it first went up in 2014 — Banksy posted a photo of the stencil on his Facebook page, captioning it “#NotBanksy.”
Intended as a reference to society’s overblown focus on social media, the mural shows a boy upset over his lack of likes and comments.
Granville Island silos
Photo: Edna Winti/Flickr
Artist: OSGEMEOS (Gustavo Pandolfo and Otávio Pandolfo)
Location: Granville Island
The Granville Island silos are another product of Vancouver Biennale, though they were created as part of its third exhibition, which ran from spring 2014 to spring 2016. Created by Brazilian twins Gustavo and Otávio Pandolfo, the mural cost $126,000, with paint alone accounting for $46,000. The silos that it covers are part of the Ocean Concrete manufacturing and distribution plant.
Monument for East Vancouver
Photo: Chris Huggins/Flickr
Artist: Ken Lum
Location: Great Northern Way and Clark Drive
The cross above has long been a symbol of East Vancouver, but it hasn’t always been embraced by everyone. For decades, it was used mostly by rebellious teens who drew it on their denim jackets and tagged it on walls and sidewalks.
Today, it’s been taken up by a much wider variety of people, and the 57-foot sculpture created with Olympic funds by Ken Lum has been welcomed. “[I]t’s public art that the public actually likes,” says a Globe and Mail article published when it went up.
Photo: Kyle Pearce/Flickr
Artist: Christel Fuoss-Moore
Location: Spanish Banks
If you don’t make it out of downtown Vancouver very often, you probably haven’t seen this giant stylized anchor. Located at Spanish Banks near the UBC campus, it “metaphorically marks the spot where Spanish explorer Don Jose Maria Naraez dropped anchor in 1791.” Naraez was reportedly the first European to come to the harbour.
Brockton Point totem poles
Photo: David Ohmer/Flickr
Location: Brockton Point, Stanley Park
No story on public art in Vancouver would be complete without totem poles. Found in various places throughout the city, they’re a reminder of the city’s original First Nations residents. Pictured above is one of nine totem poles at Brockton Point in Stanley Park — collected over almost a century, the most recent addition was made in 2009.
Trans Am Totem
Artist: Marcus Bowcott
Location: Quebec Street and Melross Avenue
One of Vancouver’s stranger pieces of public art, “Trans Am Totem” is another sculpture created as part of Vancouver Biennale’s most recent exhibition. It’s made of five real scrap cars and a cedar tree and is 33 feet high — much larger than it appears in the photo above.
The structure can perhaps best be seen from the SkyTrain — take a peek out the window when you’re travelling between Main Street and Stadium/Chinatown — and that may have been intentional. Artist Marcus Bowcott has said that the piece “fantasizes a justified end to car culture.”
Artist: Lew Parry
Location: Cambie Street Plaza
The “Centennial Rocket” is another piece of Vancouver art with a long history. It’s modelled after another rocket that was designed by Lew Parry for a 1936 parade float. While that rocket was ultimately scrapped after being displayed from 1939 to 1972, Parry’s original plans were used to construct a new rocket in 1986.
Created to celebrate Vancouver’s 100th birthday, the new rocket houses a time capsule that’s supposed be opened 50 years after Expo 86 — only 20 years to go!
Everything is Going to be Alright
Photo: The Wing Sang Building
Artist: Martin Creed
Location: The Wing Sang Building, 51 East Pender Street
This permanent installation by British artist Martin Creed is located in the heart of the Downtown Eastside, and is intended to offer hope in one of Canada’s poorest postal codes. Creed has created similar temporary installations around the world in locations as diverse as the Tate Modern in London and Times Square in New York.