Brian Jungen: Vienna

October 4, 2014 to January 4, 2015

Brian Jungen, Vienna, 2003, white polypropylene plastic chairs, 125 x 850 x 130 cm Purchased 2004 with the Joy Thomson Fund for the Acquisition of Art by Young Canadian Artists, National Gallery of Canada Foundation National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

This fall, the WAG is thrilled to showcase Brian Jungen’s Vienna (2003) sculpture. Jungen was born on a family farm north of St. John, BC. His father was a Swiss émigré to Canada and his mother was First Nations, a member of the Dane-zaa Nation. Tragically, Jungen lost both parents in a fire when he was only seven years old. Raised by his father’s sister and her husband, he went on to attend the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, and later completed a residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts.

Jungen ingeniously reimagines found objects, disassembling and reassembling them into spectacular sculptures that often reference Indigenous traditions and culture. His now famous Prototypes for New Understanding (1998-2005) repurposes Nike Air Jordan sneakers to resemble Northwest Coast Aboriginal masks. Jungen was the winner of the inaugural Sobey Art Award in 2002 and the 2010 Gershon Iskowitz Prize.

The third in a series of whale sculptures by the artist since 2000, Vienna makes a statement about cultural hybridity and institutional displays of marine life in aquariums and natural history museums. As with the earlier Shapeshifter (2000, also in the NGC collection) and Cetology (2002, collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery), Jungen transforms hundreds of common white plastic patio chairs found in discount stores around the world into a majestic whale skeleton. Whales are considered by many Indigenous groups to be an animal of great spiritual power, while whales in captivity are popular tourist attractions. With Vienna, Jungen explores the intersections and fluid boundaries between Indigenous and Western cultures. Collectively, these ubiquitous chairs form a series of transactions, with each individual purchase then being broken apart and rejoined as something altogether new. By rendering this transmutation through his artistic process, Jungen leads us to consider our own purchasing habits and the cycle of consumption we support when we purchase disposable commodities.

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