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| Letter from Montreal
by Charles Giuliano
|Montreal, a city of a million inhabitants, is a French oasis just a scenic few hours drive north of New England. It is a city of festivals, whether jazz, film or comedy, and now art. Since the legendary "Aurora Borealis" exhibition was first mounted in a sprawling underground shopping complex in 1985, the Centre International d'Art Contemporain de Montréal has presented a series of annual exhibitions in an ever-changing array of locations.
The latest manifestation of the Montreal art scene was a remarkable series of exhibitions dubbed "Lest Cent jours d'art contemporain de Montréal" that stretched for 100 days (natch) from late August through October. The tourist-happy event was overseen by the director of CIAC, Claude Gosselin.
At the tag-end of it all was "Le Biennale de Montréal 2000," Sept. 28-Oct.29, held in the soon to be razed Palais du Commerce. Also on view was "From Renoir to Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musee de L'Orangerie" at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. In the center of town one could see the permanent collection of the Musee d'art contemporain and a cluster of commercial and non-profit galleries located in two large buildings at 372 and 460 rue Sainte-Catherine O.
With his new 100-day-long, biennial format, Gosselin is conserving energy and his limited resources -- which total some $1.5 million in funds and services. This time, the Biennale was open seven days a week and attracted 1,500 people for the vernissage and 500 visitors the next day. The attendance, while small in comparison to the mobs of people for the MMFA special exhibitions, totaled 25,000 visitors -- a respectable number.
This version of the Biennale, while more concise than its predecessor, "Les Cent jours," was both powerful and exquisite. It comprised several elements, from a display of Canadian domestic architecture, a room of internet terminals, a gallery devoted to finalists in the design competition for a new library -- to be located on the site of the soon to be razed Palais du Commerce -- and a selection of 30 artists, half of whom were Canadian.
The exhibition "Tout le temps/ Every Time," curated by Peggy Gale, offered meditations on the ephemeral nature of life, death and the passage between. There was a strong emphasis on video projections and large-format photography. Gale selected sculpture and installations that ranged from sprawling and funky to dauntingly delicate and ephemeral, and also included large-scale figurative and conceptual paintings and drawings.
Considering the raw and difficult industrial space in which it was installed, the exhibition was a triumph of spirit and ingenuity. One of the most affecting works in the show is Felix, June 5, 1994, an enormous photomural by AA Bronson of the just-deceased body of his longtime friend and collaborator. Felix, who has succumbed to AIDS, is shown propped up in bed amid colorful pillows, wearing an Op Art shirt, TV clicker at hand, staring vacantly into eternity.
As if in contrast, nearby is a photomural of a single tree, a reaffirming metaphor for life, by Genevieve Cadieux. Further along is a single small leaf, meticulously carved by Yoshihiro Suda, and a heavy, chain-link chandelier by Barbara Steinman that cast a wonderfully light pattern of shadows.
Another darkened video gallery featured a hovering, ever-modulating, hypnotic nebula by Bertrand Lamarche. Then, the viewer becomes art of the art by passing through a series of suspended color gels by Michael Snow, creating complex changes of color through our cast shadows. Also amazing are the sculptures of Eric Cameron, made over a period of some 20 years by applying layer after layer of white paint over common objects.
After such a poignant and galvanic experience it was almost absurd to be jostled about by the vast crowds attending the last weekend of French painting from Renoir to Matisse and Picasso at the MMFA. That popular selection of work will be on view at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Nov.12, 2000-Feb. 25, 2001.
Next, the Montreal MFA hosts murder and mystery in what should be another blockbuster, "Hitchcock and Art," Nov. 16, 2000-Mar. 18, 2001, using the excuse of the 100th anniversary of the filmmaker's birth to focus on his "influence" on artists. It should make Montrealers scream in their showers and fear attack by seemingly benign birds.
The Musee d'art contemporain had a selection of works by the Spanish, New York-based video and conceptual artist, Antoni Muntadas. His conceptual meditations concentrate on the power brokers of the art world.
No Montreal art tour would be complete without a visit to Canada's most widely respected and influential art dealer, René Blouin, at 372 rue Sainte-Catherine O. His large space, with its two galleries, seemed literally empty until you find the tiny, carved flower by the young Japanese artist Suda, who is featured in the Biennale. He also represents Cadieux and ceramist Betty Goodwin -- and was the first to show Mona Hatoum. Currently, Blouin has an exhibition of abstract works by the recently deceased painter, Yves Gaucher.
Eperimental work by young Canadian artists is always available at the country's many government-sponsored "Parallel" galleries, which include such spaces as Optica, Oboro, Articule, Skol and Dare Dare. In particular, the work of sculptor Leon Perreault at Les Moderne L' Annexe, a series of vertically suspended, kayak-based forms, was inventive and engaging. And at the Galerie Lilian Rodriguez were absorbing, ephemeral, spider-like reliefs by Shelia Segal.
And, no trip to Montreal is complete without a smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz's, 3895 St. Laurent, which makes the Carnegie Deli seem like, well, chopped liver.
CHARLES GIULIANO is an artist, curator and columnist for Art New England.