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Once merely condo royalty, Bob Rennie emerges as Vancouver's cool king of modern art

Known as the condo king to some and chairman of the Tate Modern acquisitions committee to others, Bob Rennie, CEO of Rennie Marketing Systems,  takes immense risks as a businessman and art collector.  Here Rennie talks about the Olympic Village, the 2010 Olympic Games, the Vancouver Art Gallery, Mayor Gregor Robertson, and the Wing Sang Gallery, where he shows off his riveting collection of modern art. 

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It’s not surprising that Rennie would be drawn to collect works of complexity and ambiguity. His collection of more than a thousand pieces includes: Mona Hatoum, Thomas Houseago and Amy Bessone, Martin Creed, Damian Moppett, Andrew Grassie, Robert Beck, Glenn Brown, Brian Jungen, Ian Wallace, Rodney Graham, and Henrik Håkansson. Rennie Collection Canada has pieces on loan at  the Tate Modern, Pompidou in Paris, and Guggenheim in New York.  Born and raised on Vancouver’s east side, his way of being privileged is more Mahattan then Vancouver.  Yet he chooses to stay here. After earning a fortune, Rennie rejected Shaughnessy and  Point Grey with their empty streets and relentless tranquility  for  a penthouse overlooking the Molson Brewery parking lot.

“The third-floor penthouse (five penthouses, in fact, combined into 4,600 square feet) that Bob Rennie has called home for the past 11 years sits on a grim patch of Burrard Slopes, overlooking the Molson Brewery parking lot,” Matt O’Grady wrote in Vancouver Magazine.

Then he chose an office with Chinatown as its frontal view and East Hastings out the back window instead of West Georgia.  

“People with money should live and mix with people with less money,” he said, and the developments he has been involved with recently offer a mix of units priced to make that happen.

Despite the fact that Rennie has created a new way to be affluent in Vancouver, and opened worlds of possibility for himself through his art collection, some people I talked with were passionate in their conviction that has hadn’t given enough back to a city that had given him his wealth.

"Why didn't he make his gallery public, for starters," someone who has gone to Rennie for money for what he deemed a worthwhile project--- and been refused, told me on the condition of anonymity.  The same person suggested that I would have a hard time finding anyone to go on the record with a criticism of Rennie.  "He's way too powerful."  

Yet, to refer again to the biblical Vancouver Magazine profile, Rennie may not give as much as people wish.  But he gives.  O’ Grady writes that in direct political contributions, Rennie gave Vision Vancouver $75,000 for the 2005 civic election and the NPA $10,000. He’s also a major benefactor for various charities, schools, and arts institutions throughout town. No wonder, he said, that in Vancouver Magazine's, annual Power 50 rankings, "a condo marketer is neck and neck with the most influential business leaders and politicians in the city."  And the Emily Carr University web site speaks of Rennie's "long-standing and generous support."

Last month, in fact, he was welcomed by Emily Carr  to its Board of Governors, an institution he feels more aligned to aesthetically than the Vancouver Art Gallery.  In 2008, he received an Honorary Degree from the university. At some point he endowed a bursary for art students there and he said he thinks of the Wing Sang as a laboratory where aspiring young artists can see world class artists at work.

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