Installing Brian Jungen's Court

Brian Jungen’s Court was donated to the National Gallery of Canada by Vancouver businessman and art collector Bob Rennie. The Rennie Collection, housed in the Wing Sang building in Vancouver’s Chinatown, is one of the largest and most important collections of contemporary art in Canada.  Mr. Rennie, principal of the Rennie Collection, is the Chair of the Tate North American Acquisitions Committee and a member of the Tate International Council. He is also a member of the Board of Governors of the Emily Carr University of Art & Design in Vancouver and sits on the Dean’s Advisory Board to the Faculty of Arts at the University of British Columbia. Mr Rennie took some time to chat with us about Brian Jungen, Court, and the importance of supporting and collecting art in Canada.

What is it about Brian Jungen’s work that you like?

At our gallery in Vancouver we collect about 210 artists, 47 of which we collect in depth. Brian is one of the 47 and we have been working with him for a long time. When we take works into our collection they have to fit with the artist’s body of work, or with other parts of the Rennie Collection, and Brian sits well within the identity side of the our collection that often deals with race, injustice and prejudice – a theme that tends to occupy a lot of the collection.

In what way does Court speak to those themes?

With Court it’s a subtle reference. When you look at the sewing machine tables, how they are all used, you can start to picture what happened at those tables.  Even if nothing contravened social acceptance, it’s still a tough job to make the apparel these multi-million dollar, hundred-million dollar, basketball players wear. So Court comes out of the fact, or the myth, that child labour goes into making basketball shoes for professional athletes who have been monumentalized in our culture and that contrast of ideas really fit a discipline for us.

If it’s such an important work for your collection why donate it?

When you look at the sheer size of the work I am probably only going to be able to install it once every 20 years. And then you look at our responsibility as a custodian of these artworks and I just thought that maybe it should go to a safer place where it will be shown. And the National Gallery has made a commitment to Brian’s work already, so it really was the right home. I would also say that I am a really big fan of [NGC Director & CEO] Marc Mayer and what he is doing for my country. So that also helped us pick where it would go also.

What is it about Marc Mayer’s approach to running the National Gallery that you like?

I see him really understanding the curatorial practice and making tough acquisitions. That’s critically important for a national museum. Galleries, to an extent, survive on our similarities, they are all museums, but in the end they are all going to be known for their differences. I think that the National Gallery has a responsibility to serve a time, so that when we look back on this time we can see what was discussed in our day and Marc pays attention to that.

Why do you think it is important for collectors like yourself to make donations like these?

Prior to the economic crash of September 2008 we were in a completely different economy for philanthropy and giving, post-September 2008 all bets are off.  The way that giving is handled, and museums’ ability to raise funds has been made very, very difficult and I think that because of that reality, really great art collections are going to have to be built off the backs of collectors. The National Gallery, for example, has an $8 million a year acquisition budget, but unfortunately in the contemporary art world that is not a lot of money and if you start to look at pre-contemporary art it’s nothing so, we need collectors to help build collections.

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