Art & Culture
March 12, 2021

The Proud Youth

A new work from the Vancouver Sculpture Biennale has appeared on the False Creek seawall at the foot of Drake Street – a shocking bit of red against the aquamarine palette of the city.

The Proud Youth by Chinese artist Chen Wenling is named after a popular Wuxia (Martial Heroes) novel, The Smiling, Proud Wanderer (Xiao Ao Jiang Hu 笑傲江湖) – literally to live a carefree life in a mundane world of strife.  It’s always read as a political allegory.

From a distance, it’s initially difficult to make out what’s going on.

Close up, “the red figure, naked and free, fully reveals his honesty and fearlessness. The cheeky expression and arresting pose are a celebratory call to the audiences, inviting them to embrace their inner child.”

Or, of course, to photograph it.  If not already one of the most popular Instagram locations in the city, it soon will be.




In another era (c. 1966, in front of the Vancouver Sun building*), this work would shock (naked boy, penis!).  Today, not so much.

Along with another popular piece brought to the city by the Biennale (A-maze-ing Laughter, at English Bay), there are now two contemporary works that explore the Asian body.



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Every two years, Vancouver has been blessed with the sculpture Biennale – a celebration of art in public space.  And Price Tags has been documenting the Biennale since 2006, when we were still producing a magazine-style documentation of urbanism in the city.

Credit goes primarily to entrepreneur and philanthropist Barrie Mowatt, who has a long and accomplished history supporting the visual arts in this city, beginning with the establishment of the Buschlen Mowatt fine art gallery in 1979, and then the Biennale in 1998.  The latter would just be a good idea or a one-off without Mowatt’s ability to deal with the astounding logistics required to organize an international exhibition of this quality – especially one that takes place in some of our most prized public spaces, the waterfront parks of Vancouver, cautiously protected by layers of discretionary approvals.

But Mowatt has been aiming to do something more than just plop down big chunks of art on goose-strewn grass (or more politely, “transforming the urban landscape into an Open Air Museum.”)  He has expanded the scope of the exhibition to transform some of our leftover urban spaces into true gathering places for community – most notably “A-Mazing Laughter” (right) at English Bay.  The art truly does change how people see and use our public spaces.

He has also found a way to unite scattered pieces into something cohesive (that ‘outdoor museum’) by sponsoring the ‘Bikennale’ – so that numerous pieces can be viewed, appreciated and comprehended in a day.  With the pandemic making a single crowded event impossible, he has adapted the Bikennale (and Walkennale) into a month-long sequence of experiences – “SIX SUNDAYS THIS SUMMER” – that take cyclists not only along a route that connects the art but also brings in past pieces, the history of particular neighbourhoods and anecdotes about us as a people.

If you like to cycle or walk, sign up for the 2020 BIKEnnale/WALKennale Six Sundays (July 26 through August 30), check out to learn more – a great chance to get outdoors (with appropriate physical distancing) and explore the history, architecture, and culture of a neighbourhood or two.



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Not sure how long this piece from the Vancouver Biennale has been here on Point Grey Road, tucked in next to a hedge, easily missed, but I just discovered it this weekend:

It’s “Vancouver Novel,” by Joao Loureiro from Brazil.

The installation cycles through a series of 23 sentences which weave a poignant narrative of daily life.  These snippets of domesticity, by turns banal and ominous, underscore our ever-growing appetite for updated information and continuous content.  Intensely personal and yet broadcast for the world to see, Vancouver Novel asks us to consider the narrowing chasm between our public and private lives.


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