Matron of the arts is moving on

Photo by Glenn Baglo

One of Vancouver’s best-known art dealers is closing shop after 30 years
By Lena Sin, The Province March 30, 2011

“I’m really, really content right now,” Diane Farris says, sitting in the centre of her eponymous art gallery. “The last three months have been really difficult. It’s just that this has been such a big part of my life for so long.”

She pauses to reflect, before adding: “But I’ll still be nurturing artists.”

After nearly 30 years as one of Vancouver’s best-known art dealers, putting B.C. artists such as Angela Grossmann and Attila Richard Lukacs on the map, the 68-year-old Farris will be closing her namesake gallery at the end of April.

Reasons for the closure are deeply personal, Farris having battled health problems since 2008 that have left her both physically and emotionally drained.

But she isn’t quite ready to let go of art yet.

Even as she’s working on selling the remaining inventory of art, preparing for another round of surgery and looking forward to some muchneeded time off, Farris’ gaze remains steadfast on the future.

As a sign of the times, her followup act will be focused online. Details have yet to be worked out, but she reveals that she will continue to represent artists, albeit in smaller numbers, through her website, which currently garners 8,000 unique visitors and 50,000 page views per month.

Since Farris announced the closure of her gallery in late February, emails and thank-you notes have been pouring into her inbox from art collectors and artists alike.

“We became her extended family, her special children. Diane and I did great shows together, that I think have gone on to being part of the fabric of Vancouver contemporary art,” said Lukacs.

When the contemporary Diane Farris Gallery opened in 1984 in Gastown, Farris was considered an outsider. With no formal visual-arts training or business experience, industry insiders gossiped about the 40-year-old housewife wading way out of her depth.

While Farris was no academic, her instincts were spot-on.

In the 1980s, she helped launch a group of Vancouver painters called the Young Romantics that included Lukacs, Grossmann and Graham Gillmore. More recently, her stable of artists have included internationally renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly and Emily Carr alumni painter Nick Lepard.

Her current database includes a list of 5,500 worldwide collectors.

“Diane has had a profound impact on both the Vancouver and international contemporary art scene over the past 20 years,” said Ron Burnett, president of Emily Carr University of Art and Design. “She’s launched the careers of many up-and-coming artists, including several Emily Carr alumni, and her dedication and support will be deeply missed in the community.”

Since December 2008, Farris has dealt with two hip replacements and a serious staph infection while keeping the gallery open during a global economic recession.

But it’s not economics that sealed the fate of her gallery, she says. It’s simply time to move on.

As Farris prepares to take time out from the business of selling art, she says she leaves the Vancouver art industry at an exciting time.

The web has made it easier than ever for artists to sell their work directly to collectors and online art fairs are revolutionizing the way art is sold and experienced.

But Farris is not likely to be absent for long.

“My highs are every time I see a new, young artist. Now I don’t know what I’m going to do with that. I may use that in my new website,” she says.

Which is just another way of saying, stay tuned.

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