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Artsy Adventures for All

10 Pieces of Quirky Public Art + 10 Fun Activities= A Good Time for Everyone 

Jul. 2019

“The Birds” make for delightfully dramatic souvernir-photo companions. (Photo: KK Law)

Art appreciation isn’t always easy. Whether you’re standing in an endless Louvre line-up in Paris or staring at a piece of plywood called “Bogus No. 46” at some no-name gallery, you could wind up with cantankerous kids, a sulky spouse or a lonely feeling of “Why did I come here?” Happily, Vancouver’s quirky public art offers enough fun to enliven any summer day. Double your pleasure by hitting up nearby stores, restaurants or other attractions. Here are 10 suggested pairings.

The Birds + Earnest Ice Cream = A Sweet Reason to Scream

Birds can be expensive. Myfanwy MacLeod’s “The Birds”—two enormous sparrows installed in the Southeast False Creek Olympic Plaza after the 2010 Winter Olympic Games—originally cost $600,000, and needed $400,000 in repairs last year. (Please don’t ever climb or skateboard on them again.) “The Birds” were partly inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror movie. However, you’ll scream with delight when you roam from False Creek to Earnest Ice Cream. Try the salted caramel at this hipster-approved joint.

Aerodynamic Forms in Space + Stanley Park Seawall = Feeding Your Need for Speed

Local artist Rodney Graham made the abstract, 11-m- (35-ft-) tall tribute to a balsa-wood toy glider prior to the 2010 Olympics. It stands proudly at the entrance to Stanley Park. Use this speed-evoking oddity as inspiration when you start to run, bike or rollerblade around the seawall. Chanting “I am so aerodynamic!” makes you go faster. Try it!

When conditions are just right, the propellor on “Aerodynamic Forms in Space” spins lazily in the wind while the two wheels bob along.

Celebrating Flight + Vancouver Marketplace = First-Class First Nations Food

“Celebrating Flight” by Don Yeomans at Vancouver International Airport. (Photo: KK Law)

Whether you’ve just landed or are saying farewell, “Celebrating Flight” by Don Yeomans merits your attention at Vancouver International Airport. The magnificent Haida totem pole in the Graham Clarke Atrium innovatively incorporates Chinese script and Celtic patterns. To celebrate Canada’s original inhabitants, pop into Vancouver Marketplace in the international terminal, which sells traditional First Nations foods like maple syrup and smoked salmon. You’ll send your taste buds soaring.

Monument for East Vancouver  + St. Augustine’s = Beer as a Religion

Known by locals as the East Van Cross, this neon landmark is located at East 6th Avenue and Clark and was inspired by graffiti in this gritty area. Recently, East Vancouver has morphed into the heart of what beer guru Joe Wiebe calls BC’s “craft beer revolution.” It’s sacrilegious to get sloshed and climb up artist Ken Lum’s iconic sculpture, which was erected in 2010. But it’s totally righteous to make a pilgrimage to nearby St. Augustine’s and sample some brews. This bustling pub has more than 60 regional craft beers on tap, like Parallel 49’s Jerkface 9000 Northwest Wheat Ale. Have faith in the fine food.

Golden Tree + Cineplex Cinemas Marine Gateway = Gold-Medal-Worthy Movie-Going

A Douglas Coupland masterwork, this 13-m- (43-ft-) tall fibreglass sculpture is a gleaming tribute to Stanley Park’s Hollow Tree, an 800-year-old western red cedar. Unveiled in 2016, the piece took more than 6,000 hours to complete. You don’t have to spend that long at Cineplex Cinemas at Marine Gateway, right across Marine Drive, for a great night out. In the VIP theatre (ages 19+ only), recline in wide leather seats and enjoy spinach artichoke dip or Asian noodle salad with beer or wine while catching the latest Hollywood hits.

A-maze-ing Laughter + Kimprints = Belly Laughs by the Bay

Yue Minjun’s 14 bronze sculptures, more commonly known as the Laughing Men, were supposed to be temporary. But the outdoor exhibit got so popular that Lululemon founder Chip Wilson bought them for $1.5 million in 2012 to keep them in palm tree–laden English Bay. After snapping some photos, head to Kimprints  for more chuckles. This quirky gift shop sells everything from “Let’s Get Ready to Stumble” napkins to “Unicorn Versus Narwhal” socks.

Slow + Parq Vancouver = A Party Fit for a Panda

Stainless steel pandas outside Parq Vancouver (Photo: Caroline Toth)

Two mysterious stainless steel creatures stand outside the Parq Vancouver  downtown entertainment complex. They’re not aliens, horses or fearless girls confronting capitalist bulls. They’re pandas. Artist Zhang Huan delivered this striking piece called “Slow” in 2017. Pandas mostly eat and sleep. Good news: Parq Vancouver boasts several dynamite restaurants. Fill up on filet mignon at The Victor , or get local with BC honey mussels at Honey Salt . Then bunk down at the on-site JW Marriott or The Douglas, a nature-themed boutique hotel. Pandas don’t gamble, but if you do, the swanky casino offers some 75 table games and 600 slot machines.

A Long Conversation (for Oona) + Science World = Sluggish Kids Becoming Budding Einsteins

If your children claim they’re bored and tired, here’s what to do. Show them Peter Gazendam’s “A Long Conversation (for Oona),” featuring 40 large bronze slugs on the Terminal Avenue campus of Columbia College. Ask them: “Do you want to turn out like this?” When they howl, “No!”, march them over to Science World . Inside the huge geodesic dome by False Creek, excited youngsters learn about human biology in the BodyWorks gallery, play with parachutes and propellers, watch Omnimax movies about bears and volcanoes, and much more.

Digital Orca + Inuit Gallery of Vancouver = One Whale of a Good Time

“Digital Orca” playfully acknowledges both the province’s natural beauty and its evolving tech economy. (Photo: KK Law)

Douglas Coupland gained fame with the bestselling 1991 novel Generation X. Yet “Digital Orca,” his killer whale sculpture next to the waterfront Vancouver Convention Centre, looks like it was designed on a 1980s Apple II computer. Honouring pixelated eight-bit art, the 2009 sculpture features black and white aluminum cubes on a steel frame. It’s massively Instagrammable, with the North Shore mountains in the background. To keep the cetacean theme rolling, stroll into funky Gastown and visit the Inuit Gallery of Vancouver . Specializing in Indigenous art, this elegantly laid-out gallery marks its 40th anniversary in 2019—and it has whales aplenty. You’ll spout off to your friends after you purchase a gorgeous marble sculpture like Kelly Etidloie’s “Beluga Whale.”

Jimi Hendrix Mural + Pink Pearl Chinese Seafood Restaurant = Rockin’ Dim Sum, Baby

The Jimi Hendrix mural is a large-scale tribute to a larger-than-life musical legend. (Photo: KK Law)

Do you have a rock guitar–obsessed friend who makes lofty pronouncements like “Jimi Hendrix could play circles around Eddie Van Halen”? That friend must see the psychedelic, 5.5-m- (18-ft-) high Hendrix mural at 1030 East Cordova Street, a 2007 collaboration between Nelson Garcia and his wife, Xochitl. To build your street cred, say: “Did you know Jimi lived near here with his grandmother as a child?” If you get hungry, simply add: “Pearl Jam does a mean cover of ‘Little Wing,’ eh?” That’s the ideal segue to wing your way over to Pink Pearl Chinese Seafood Restaurant . At this 1980-founded East Hastings institution, servers bring scrumptious Cantonese dim sum to your table on push carts, including shrimp dumplings and pan-fried pork potstickers.

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