When we have visitors to the Chung Collection exhibition, we always tell the story of Yip Sang, and his large family and business that occupied 51 East Pender Street in Vancouver. This historic building fell into disrepair in the 1980’s-90’s, but has since had new life breathed into it as the space for the Rennie Collection. A couple of weekends ago a group of us local archivists took advantage of their free tours to explore both the current art exhibition as well as this historic building.
The Rennie Collection is one of the largest collections of contemporary art in Canada, and two exhibitions are held in the Wing Sang building each year. Two weeks ago was the last week for the Martin Creed exhibition, during which visitors were encouraged to walk through a room filled exactly half-way with pink latex balloons! It was an interesting experience to say the least. While the outside of the building has retained its historic façade, the interior has been extensively renovated. Here and there throughout the gallery, you can see exposed brick and other evidence of the former interior. From the roof top, where you can view the gallery’s three permanent exhibitions, you can see the elevated alley which connected the family business to the family home. This ran above Market Alley, a hub of economic activity (and opium trafficking, until it was outlawed in 1909) in Chinatown’s early days.
The Wing Sang building is a designated heritage site, so the renovations had to be done within the Vancouver Heritage Register guidelines. Beyond those requirements though, the Rennie Collection has made efforts to pay tribute to the historic natur e of the building, by using reclaimed wood and other features whenever possible. A collection of photographs from the renovation can be viewed in the lobby, framed with wood reclaimed during renovations. For passersby on the street there are photographs and interpretive stories on the exterior windows.
We had made special arrangements with the staff to see the staff areas in the building- knowing that an archivist from the Chung Collection and two from the City of Vancouver Archives, who also hold records of the Yip family and Wing Sang Company, the staff ensured that we were able to see the former school room, which is now used as a board room. The Rennie Collection worked with the Yip family to keep this room in tact as much as possible- the chalkboards are protected so that a message from the last Yip residents to future generations is preserved. The director explained that although the room had to be repainted because of lead paint, they used colours that were accurate to the last paint-job that the room had received from the Yip family.
Whether you visit for the art collections, the history of the building or the gorgeous view from the roof, a visit to the Rennie Collection is worth the trip. Their next exhibition, of Damian Moppett, begins on November 26.
Posted on October 18th, 2011 by sromkey