9.11.2009

What I Saw This Summer, Part 7: Montreal

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Marketing Mondays will be back on the 21st. In the meantime, I hope you'll enjoy my accounts of What I Saw This Summer

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With a bad French accent, une vocabulaire élémentaire and no Canadian money, I drove to Montréal recently to visit two artist friends, Alexandre Masino and Yechel Gagnon, who had promised to show me around the city. I was returning two paintings to Alexandre, who had exhibited them in an event I’d organized in June.
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Old Montreal: The history is in the wall
Newer Montreal: The writing is on the wall
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Travelwise, it could not have been an easier trip. From Manhattan you head north on 87 all the way to the border. I had a brief detour at les douanes, customs, where the guard said, "Bonjour, madame. Please get out of the car." He then proceeded to search my entire vehicle—everything except the box with the paintings, which I had declared and for which I had the requisite paperwork. Each step forward to see what they were doing as they went through my stuff was met with a "Stay behind the line, madame." Madame? Moi?

Back on the highway, U.S. 87 became Canadian Rt.15, and then Rt. 20, a little bit less smooth than on the U.S. side, but otherwise a straight shot. As for the money, pas problem: I had my credit cards.

You'll see Alexandre and Yechel, their work and studios in the next post, so here let me give you a few highlights of my visit, with them as my guides.



Le Musée d'art Contemporain de Montréal
At this new museum we saw three shows: Betty Goodwin, whom the museum has called "the grande dame of Canadian contemporary art"; Robert Polidori, the Quebec-born photographer who has shown widely in New York (and elsewhere); and Spring Hurlbut, whose installation, Le Jardin du sommeil was a surprisingly poetic room full of beds.
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The Contemporary Art Museum of Montréal, set in a Lincoln Center-esque plaza downtown
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.Betty Goodwin was represented by a lifetime of work, from Kounellis-like canvases, to enormous figurative pastels. Her prints of actual clothing, which at first appear to be x-ray photographs, were the most evocative. Seeing the work of this famous Canadian artist whom I'd never heard of in the U.S. was a reminder that the art world can be uncomfortably like high school: showering a small group of popular kids with all the attention when in fact there's a whole school full of quirky, interesting students.

Betty Goodwin, Vest Two, 1970, soft-ground etching, 6/10. 86,7 x 69,5 cm. Collection Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Photo: MACM from the musée's website
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Spring Hurlbut's Le Jardin du sommeil, the Garden of Sleep, consists of 140 old-fashioned, metal-frame cribs and cradles set in the plan of an English garden—a center of cradles, all rounded shapes, flanked by rectilinear rows of cribs and baby beds interspersed with a few doll beds as well. The lights are low, and at first my thought was of hospitals, then of all the bodies that had slept on those beds but that were no longer there; there were no mattresses, only the skeletal bedframes. After walking around the in the low light, I understood the work as a metaphor for the passing of time, of the transition from one state to another, cradled by eternity.
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The big sleep: Two views of Hurlbut's Le Jardin du sommeil


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Robert Polidori's photographs are also about the passing of time. Extraordinarily beautiful, with saturated colors and panoramic views, they express decay and decline. His images are of a Havana that seems to disintegrate before your eyes, while those of New Orleans and Chernobyl record the aftermath of a specific cataclysmic event. The contradictoriness of their beauty and tragedy keeps you looking even while you feel as if you should look away.

I saw Polidori's grand Havana photographs at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., in 2004, and his New Orleans After the Flood exhibition at the Met in 2006, but this was the first time I’d seen these bodies of work together along with photographs of Versailles, Beirut, and Amman, Jordan. Polidori, whom I believe is a staff photographer for The New Yorker, takes long exposures, which would account for the extraordinary richness of each image. You're seeing not just one isolated moment in time but something like a short film captured in each frame. (The shadows may appear to travel across the wall, outside foliage to appear as a dreamlike blur.)


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Robert Polidori. Above 6539 Canal Street, New Orleans, March 2006
Below, 2520 Deslondes, New Orleans, September 2005
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Polidori. Above, Velours Frappé, Salles Du XVIIeme, Versailles, 1985.
Below, another view of the palace
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A salon, once grand, Havana
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Chernobyl, below. You probably can't see it in this small image, but those consoles are crudely constructed out of plywood. Nuclear technology in a box! It was funny on the old Star Trek series; frightening in real life
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At this non-profit contemporary art venue, the work of Michal Rovner was on view. I showed Rovner's work in my Armory Report in 2008, but this is the first time I'd seen it in a museum setting. With digital projection, Rovner shows DNA and petri-dish cultures aswarm with movement and life. It comes as a shock on close inspection to realize that what you are seeing are tiny projections of human figures, or perhaps a digital replication of human figues—the macro forming the micro, which of course composes the macro. In a similar way, her projections of script on stone—cuneiform? Hebrew? something more ancient?—surprise you. That tiny text is composed of human figures in a constant range of motion.
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Rovner does the impossible: She creates a bridge that connects you, virtually with each individual work, to the whole history of human culture.

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Rovner. Installation view, above, with specific "artifacts" below



The text is a digital projection. If you could look up close in real time, you'd see those letters move; that in fact the letters are formed by human silhouettes
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Next "What I Saw" installment: Montreal studio visits

5 comments:

Barbara Cowlin said...

I so appreciate your blog. Being in a small town in the Southwest, I can feel pretty isolated. Your visits to artist studios and homes, your visits to galleries and museums helps me to feel connected to a larger art world.

I particularly like your comment about the attention the "popular kids" receive, and the many who don't happen to be in the in- crowd, but are doing wonderful work. Thank you for bringing some of them to our attention.

lisa said...

Two of my favorites
Polidori and Rovner
Saw her show at the Whitney-one of the best I have ever seen-
thanks for these new images

Bradley said...

I enjoyed reading this article, and particularly,Hulbut's "Le Jardin du sommeil," and your sentiments about the work.

Anonymous said...

Joanne-Your blog rocks!!! Keep on trucking....
Best, Ted Larsen

Gwendolyn Plunkett said...

Thanks, Joanne, for this post. I was not familiar with several of the artists in this post including Rovner and Hurlburt, whose work I found quite moving. Rovner's "artifacts" are quite amazing. I would love to see this installation in person.
I always loved Betty Goodwin's figurative pieces but did not know that she has died. After reading your post I googled her name and found that out. I have included a link to an article about her life and work with more images.
http://www.ubishops.ca/BaudrillardStudies/vol-6_2/v6-2-passings-goodwin.html