Mónica Reyes is a longstanding figure in the Vancouver arts scene, having curated exhibitions all over the city and eventually opening the Mónica Reyes Gallery in Strathcona in 2013. Mónica Reyes Gallery is also one of the founding galleries of COMBINE Art Fair, held annually in December, since 2021. Last year, Reyes opened a second gallery location in the quiet residential neighbourhood of Mackenzie Heights.
The new gallery is located at the intersection of Mackenzie and West 33rd, along with a handful of family-run businesses, a barber shop, a market, a couple of bakeries – and not much else. Unlike her East Van location, there are no contemporary art galleries or artist-run centres in the immediate area, but Reyes aims to engage with residents in the neighbourhood and foster dialogue and fresh perspectives with local histories. From here, UBC’s rich cultural history (Museum of Anthropology, Belkin Art Gallery, Nitobe Garden, Beaty Biodiversity Museum, and all the on-campus public art) doesn’t feel so much farther and remote. (Side note, two other similarly situated galleries are Ceremonial/Art on West Broadway, and Unit 17 on West 4th.)
At both Mónica Reyes Gallery locations, you’ll find a wide range of art from emerging and established artists: on now in Strathcona is an exhibition by artist and activist, Tiko Kerr; at Mackenzie Heights, the gallery looks forward to celebrating their one-year anniversary with up-and-coming talent, Gillian Haigh, whose first solo show opens on February 18th, 2023. This will be followed by a solo exhibition by renowned artist, Mina Totino, opening on March 16th and featuring Totino’s kurinuki pottery and two large paintings.
On the occasion of the one-year anniversary of MRG’s Mackenzie Heights location, we took the opportunity to find out more about the gallery and its second West Side neighbourhood setting……
You’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of your second gallery location in Mackenzie Heights. Congrats! What attracted you to the neighbourhood?
I started coming to Mackenzie Heights (MH) to meet my trainer, and became acquainted with the neighbourhood. After a few visits, I was seduced by the charm of this location, the sense of local history (most of the shops in the area have been a fixture in the community for decades) and because there are not many places like this left in the city.
What was this space before you turned it into a gallery?
One day I noticed a sign had gone up with a rezoning application that never panned out. I decided to approach them with my interest in the space, and the next thing I knew, we were renovating what had been a property management office.
You first opened Back Gallery Projects (now Mónica Reyes Gallery) in 2013 in Strathcona. How did you know you wanted to open a gallery?
I started in the late 90s working for another art gallery that was located near Stanley Park, [while also] volunteering at the Art Rentals and Sales Department at the Vancouver Art Gallery, curating shows anywhere I saw an opportunity (typically creating them myself), and having pop-ups in South Granville and Gastown. It’s been a long and winding road. I can’t recall a time when I did not want to open my own gallery.
Will you continue to manage two gallery spaces?
So far, keeping both going has been manageable because they each offer different yet complementary opportunities. Also, with my 10th anniversary fast approaching this July in Strathcona, it’s important to have a place to celebrate this milestone.
Last year, you launched your Mackenzie Heights location with a solo exhibition by emerging artist, Maggee Day, then a recent Emily Carr University MFA grad. To mark your one-year anniversary, the gallery is presenting a solo show by another emerging artist, Gillian Haigh. Can you tell us a little more about Haigh’s work and what drew you to her practice?
We launched our MH location with a solo show by Maggee Day and we couldn’t be happier with the way that things are going for her. Maggee is a great success story, so for our first anniversary, we are thrilled to launch another up-and-coming young painter. What draws me to Gillian’s work is the atmosphere she creates in her paintings. They seem to exist in a parallel universe that is both dreamy and seductive — like walking on a foggy day towards the sun. Her paintings require us to slow down to appreciate what they are trying to tell us.
How do you discover artists and make the decision to work with and represent them, and how long does that process take?
I try to do as many studio visits as possible. I’m interested in learning about what artists are working on and what they are trying to tackle. I don’t have a time frame, but what’s imperative is the sense of trust and commitment. Long term relationships are the ones I enjoy the most.
It can sometimes be a little intimidating stepping into an art gallery…is it okay to come in and just take a look around?
Of course! Being a snob as an art gallery is so passé and quite frankly so boring. I too have experienced gallery assistants talking to their mascots instead of saying “hi” to me at a time when I was the only other human in the room, and it’s just wrong. If anything, we strive to be the exact opposite.
Assuming that I am interested in buying some art, is everything in the exhibition for sale? What’s the approximate price range of works?
We hint that something is not available by placing a red dot. That means the work is sold. We always have a price list at hand, and most of the artworks we exhibit and have on offer range in price between $2,000–25,000. We think of ourselves as the perfect place for those looking to start a collection, while being a source for the discerning collector at the same time.
What do you love about being in Mackenzie Heights?
I love that it’s a little intersection in the midst of a residential area. That makes it the perfect, quiet, tucked-away and lost-in-time destination. And the amazing light that bathes the space when the sun comes out. The free parking is just a bonus.
Gillian Haigh’s solo exhibition, the change that weakens the hour, opens on Saturday, February 18, with a reception from 12-4pm. Regular MH gallery hours are Wednesday to Saturday, 12-5pm.
While you’re there, put aside some extra time to explore the neighbourhood for yourself! Family-run Bigsby The Bakehouse is worth the trip for a slice of their citrus olive oil cake alone. Other favourites include their pop tarts and any of their fresh breads. Meanwhile, Butter Baked Goods offers fancy cakes and desserts; and there’s Windsor Meats for your butchery needs and more.
You’re also in close proximity to some great nature trails. A straight-shot west will land you at Pacific Spirit Park. The south end of the Sasamat Trail, located at Camosun and West 33rd Avenue, is a wide gravel path that’s easy to follow and stroller friendly, while the Hemlock Trail will take you deeper into the forest. Head south and you’re in Southlands, where you’ll find riverside views and horse stables along the Fraser River Trail.