Up until this announcement, the Biennale de Montréal, which was founded in 1998, had been an independent entity and was produced in spaces such as the former École des beaux-arts building, abandoned offices beneath a roller rink, and the Montreal Gazette’s former press building. Curated by a mix of staff and guest curators, it aimed to show international artists alongside national and local creators. At last notice, it had been planning to launch its next event in October 2013.
For its part, since 2008 the MACM had been producing the Quebec Triennial, a project focusing solely on Quebec practitioners. Curated by museum staff, it received generally positive reviews in Canadian media (making Canadian Art‘s year-end best-ofs multiple times) and was due to return again in fall 2014.
In the wake of the announcement, the plan is to eliminate the Quebec Triennial and switch the main venue of the biennale to the MACM. The next biennale will now take place in fall 2014, coinciding with the MACM’s 50th anniversary. It is due to be curated by the two guest curators already contracted for the upcoming biennale (Peggy Gale and Gregory Burke) alongside two MACM curators (Lesley Johnstone and Mark Lanctôt). The promise is to include “75 per cent” Canadian and Quebec artists, along with international artists.
Reactions have been mixed.
Éric Clément of La Presse opined that the biennale had poor attendance in 2011, and that it agreed to the arrangement in order to avoid losing its provincial funding.
In an interview with Canadian Art, biennale board chair Cédric Bisson said that La Presse has it wrong.
“The reality is that the two events had their own challenges,” Bisson said. “You had the Triennial, which was a Quebec-focused event, which seemed to be reaching maximum capacity. And you had the biennale, which had to grow and become more present on the international scene.”
“Both events,” Bisson continued, “Came to the conclusion that there is no room to create two small, nichey events, both underfunded and both failing to receive the attention they deserve. Instead, you have one well-funded biennale that has the local Quebec and Canada component [as well as the international component].”
Bisson made the announcement alongside MACM board chair Alexandre Taillefer. A board change also accompanied the announcement, with Taillefer and two other members of the MACM board—artist Marc Séguin and curator Marie-Justine Snider—joining the Biennale de Montreal board. Three other biennale board positions are held by members of the board of CIAC, which founded the biennale. Three independent positions on the biennale board are yet to be filled.
Bisson says that he and Taillefer were familiar with each other prior to their respective board chair appointments thanks to professional connections. Taillefer has been an IT entrepreneur and is currently managing partner at XPND Capital, a growth capital fund focusing on media, entertainment and technology. Bisson is venture partner at Teralys Capital, an investor in funds focused on IT, life sciences and clean technology.
“We have known each other from many years before,” Bisson said. “I was the relatively new chairman at CIAC and Alexandre was also a new member of the MACM board, so I guess our stars were aligned at the same time.”
Taillefer—who promised big changes for the MACM, including staff cuts, in a recent interview with Canadian Art—told La Presse that his objective is that within 10 years, the Biennale de Montreal will be one of the “20 or 25 biennales that you absolutely have to see worldwide.”
Bisson says that he hopes to announce a new general and artistic director for the biennale by end of July; Nicole Gingras departed this post in February.
Taillefer has said that the MACM has also begun the recruitment process for its own new director in the wake of Paulette Gagnon’s recent decision to step down as of June 1.