Vancouver's Spinning Chandelier

Posted by Jhan Dudley on

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has called it “the most important piece of public art in the history of our city”. Located underneath Vancouver's Granville Street Bridge, the controversial Spinning Chandelier is the creation of artist, Rodney Graham.

The project was privately funded by Vancouver-based Westbank Corp. The cost, originally estimated at $900,000, ended up, by the time it was installed in November 2019, coming in at a staggering $4.88 million dollars!

Westbank founder, Ian Gillespie, has garnered a reputation for his 'artistic vision'. A huge supporter of the arts, he has been instrumental, world-wide, in changing attitudes about the 'environmental' responsibilities of developers. And he has been at the forefront in championing the role of art as an essential component in modern architecture and city planning. 'Spinning Chandelier' hangs adjacent to Westbank's Vancouver House, the ultra-modern, and astonishing, 60-storey condo development designed by architect, Bjarke Ingels.

The Details

The Spinning Chandelier is comprised of 600 polyurethane faux crystals, made at the Walla Walla Foundry in Washington State. It weighs more than 3,400 kilograms, and measures nearly 4.5 x 8 metres.  LED lamps illuminate the sculpture’s 600 faux crystals. But its not just a static lamp - no, indeed, it's a performance. Twice each day (at noon and 9 pm), as the chandelier lights up, it drops down from the bridge deck and rotates around, then rises back up. The entire cycle lasts for only three or four minutes. Then, after its performance, the chandelier’s LEDs remain softly illuminated until around 11 pm.

A Controversial Artwork

The chandelier is not without its critics, though. There are many examples of public art in Vancouver, but few have attracted as much controversy as this one. “I think it is worthy of the outrage voiced by many,” says UBC professor and environmentalist, Patrick Condon. “It can be read as thumbing its nose at those unable to enjoy the lifestyles of the Vancouver investor class.”

Eric Fredericksen, head of public art for the City of Vancouver, has a different take on its impact. "For the artist, I think he was thinking more abstractly about the sculpture and the light possibilities in the chandelier. I'm not sure how much the social implications are in there."

Although I understand Professor Condon's criticism of the chandelier, I don't view the installation as a symbol of affluent insensitivity. Rather,  sitting there underneath the bridge deck, it is meant to surprise and delight each unsuspecting viewer. After all, it's the artist's job to inspire each of us question the very 'purpose of art'. I'd say, the Spinning Chandelier does this perfectly! Hats off to Mr. Graham, and also to Mr. Gillespie.

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