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The Vancouver Dentist That Works for Art

Dr. Trylowsky’s office isn’t just a place to get teeth fixed. It’s also home to an eclectic collection.

Dorothy Woodend 8 Oct 2021 |

Dorothy Woodend is culture editor for The Tyee. Reach her here.

Art and teeth.

What do these two things have to do with each other? In Vancouver, the two collided in the office of dentist Dr. Zenon Trylowsky.

Trylowsky’s practice, located in the heart of downtown at Granville and Georgia streets, opened in 1996. His art collection, acquired by purchase or through exchange with different artists over the years, is currently on exhibit at the Griffin Art Projects in North Vancouver.

The show takes its title Teeth, Loan and Trust Company, Consolidated: The Trylowsky Collection from an incident that took place in 1919, when French artist Marcel Duchamp paid his dentist with a fake cheque for the grand sum of $115.

Duchamp’s dentist Dr. Daniel Tzanck, an art collector, knew that a “readymade object” from the artist was actually worth far more than the bill and happily accepted. The rest, as they say, is art history.

The curator Patrik Andersson uses the story as a point of entry into the exhibition, but it’s also a reminder that artists have a long-running history with the practice of trading work for services.

Andersson, a curator and educator, founded his mobile Vancouver curatorial platform Trapp Projects in 1997 as a means to upend the idea of conventional exhibition spaces. Over the years, all manner of somewhat unorthodox places — shopping malls, grain silos and a dental office — have been deployed as exhibition sites.

Andersson and Trylowsky met in university but have worked together since the advent of the dental practice. The work collected by Trylowsky is a startling cross-section of contemporary Canadian artists, from emerging creators to more established names like Rodney Graham and Attila Richard Lukacs.

Some pieces featured in the exhibit — like Kelly Wood’s Sucker or Kim Kennedy Austin’s exquisite rendering of a molar — take the toothsome connection with Trylowsky literally, while other pieces are more oblique in their dental connections.

The Tyee asked Andersson a few questions about the collection. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

The Tyee: Of all the work collected by Dr. Trylowsky over the years, how did you narrow down the selection for the show?

Patrik Andersson: The process for narrowing down the selection was not unlike a dentist looking inside the mouth of patient. We looked to see what was in the collection, and then we looked at the condition of the work. In some cases, we had to “fix some cavities” — faded photographic prints got reprinted, a sculpture that had some bumps and bruises got mended and painted, etc.

I tried to be as inclusive as possible in the exhibition by not focusing on whether the artist was famous or whether the artwork was large in scale. I wanted to show the diversity of the collection as much as it clearly represents the taste and interest of Dr. Trylowsky.

I decided to mix up work that was gifted (for pro-bono work) with work that was purchased directly from artists or at fundraising events. To me, all these activities represent an important support of the art community that Trylowsky is connected to.

Was it important to Dr. Trylowsky to collect the work of younger emerging artists as well as more established people?

This is a question that you would have to ask him, but I would venture to say that he has always been supportive of emerging artists as is evident not only by the collection, but by his support of Trapp Projects doing exhibitions in his dental office starting in 1997.

For some of those artists, it was the first opportunity to show their work publicly, or at least to an audience outside their immediate circle of friends. All of these artists have gone on to have impressive careers as artists.

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Kelly Wood, Sucker, 1996, transmounted C-print, courtesy of the artist. Image courtesy of Trapp Projects.

You’ve enjoyed a long collaboration with Dr. Trylowsky. How has your relationship changed over the years?

Yes, we have known each other for approximately 30 years. Well before he opened his practice. The relationship has not really changed over the years. We still inform each other about exhibitions and other social events happening around town. As both of us have developed our practices (him as a very busy dentist and me as a busy professor and curator) there has been less time to collaborate on this kind of exhibition.

Having said that, his office is constantly presenting new work from his growing collection. In this sense, Trylowsky Gallery has maybe become more like a museum. The Trylowsky Museum?

As your own creative projects (i.e., Trapp Projects) have developed, have you continued to work together or was this exhibition something of a reunion for you both?

Although our families see each other socially and my family goes to him for dental appointments, we have not been doing exhibitions together. In this sense it’s a bit of nostalgic reunion for both of us.

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Kim Kennedy Austin, Figure 1a p.23 (From K Structure Series), 2005, watercolour on paper. Image courtesy of Trapp Projects.

Has every work in the show come about through exchange, or have some been purchased directly from different artists?

No. Many works have been purchased from artists who are his clients directly, or from fundraising events in support of galleries that he frequents. I felt it was important to show the outcome of what I see as a broader philanthropic support.

The show is as much about the evolution of the Vancouver arts community as it is about Dr. Trylowsky’s collection. How important was this aspect of the show to you as the curator?

It was very important. I realized fairly quickly when doing inventory of his collection that it traces, in a different way than museums and other collections, the history of art in this city. That history includes visiting artists to this city, such as Lotta Antonsson, David Korty, Marcel Dzama, Tim Barber and others who have moved out of the city such as Jason McLean, Kelly Wood, Vikky Alexander, Tony Romano, Tyler Brett and Peter Schuyff.

In some cases, like Robert Linsley’s work, we see an artist who tragically passed away but had a huge impact on our art scene. A couple of the artists such as Mia Thomsett and Mark Gilbert have made their names in other fields outside of exhibiting their artwork. In other words, it’s a collection that gives a glimpse into an everchanging cultural ecology. It is, of course, important to note that as broad as the collection is, this is still only a sliver of the incredible range of artistic talent we have in this city.

The exhibition 'Teeth, Loan and Trust Company, Consolidated: The Trylowsky Collection' runs until Dec. 11 at Griffin Art Projects in North Vancouver.  [Tyee]

Read more: Art

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