With its affordable rent, bilingual milieu and incredibly cold winters that drive residents inside to create diversions of their own, it’s no wonder that Montreal has become a hotbed for creative productions, both musical and visual. The number of music festivals in the city, such as the annual jazz festival and this past weekend’s Pop Montreal series, are rivalled only by the multiple art world events, like the Quebec Triennial, that take place across town. So it makes sense that Montreal is the only Canadian venue to host “Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967,” a group exhibition of more than 100 works, organized and toured by Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, that explores the connections between avant-garde art practices and rock music.
The exhibition includes musically inspired pieces by some of the obvious “rock stars” of contemporary art (Andy Warhol, Pipilotti Rist, Douglas Gordon and Jeremy Deller among them), but it is the work of younger and mid-career artists, who often grew up during the heady days of the Rolling Stones and David Bowie, that offers a fresh perspective on how the aesthetics of rock and roll and the post-1968 avant-garde have followed parallel trajectories. Christian Marclay’s Untitled installation of dozens of vinyl records spread across the gallery floor, for instance, simultaneously references two outdated modes of production: the manufacture of albums themselves and the making of minimalist 60s floor sculptures, epitomized by the work of artists like Carl Andre. Artist and DJ Jim Lambie’s sculptural installations, on the other hand, cover everyday objects with messy, tactile, Grateful Dead-inspired psychedelia. Meanwhile, pieces such as Rikrit Tiravanija’s silent recording studio that is open for public jam sessions, and photo works by Canadian artist Rodney Graham (a front man for his own bands UJ3RK5 and the Rodney Graham Band) blur the line between musical and artistic personae, proving that rock and roll performances have their own unique aesthetic appeal.
In tandem with two other musically themed exhibitions opening in the city this fall—“Warhol Live” at the Musée des beaux arts de Montréal and a Christian Marclay solo show at the DHC-Art Foundation —“Sympathy for the Devil” promises to make good on the slogan that “art rocks in Montreal” this season. (185 Ste-Catherine O, Montreal QC)