Canadian Art

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The Quebec Triennial: Altmejd, and Alternatives

Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal May 24 to Sep 7 2008
David Altmejd  <i>Le Berger</i>  2008  Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York /  photo Ellen Page Wilson David Altmejd Le Berger 2008 Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York / photo Ellen Page Wilson

David Altmejd <i>Le Berger</i> 2008 Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York / photo Ellen Page Wilson

With David Altmejd creating one of the biggest Venice coups ever for the Canadian pavilion last summer and Michel de Broin winning the Sobey (as well as some court cases around his pedal-car) this past year, it’s clear that Quebec artists are at the forefront of our national scene.

Now the Quebec Triennial, opening in Montreal this weekend, offers viewers a chance to see the work of these youthful mavericks—as well as that of their compatriots, competitors and up-and-comers—under one roof. It’s taken an intense year of studio visits by Musée d’art contemporain curators Josée Belisle, Mark Lanctôt, Pierre Landry and Paulette Gagnon, but the list is now complete: the entire museum will soon be filled with 135 works by 38 artists.

As with any show of this type, of course, it is interesting to see who made the cut and who didn’t.

In addition to art from familiar names like Nicolas Baier, Julie Doucet, Adad Hannah, Isabelle Hayeur and Carlos and Jason Sanchez, there are many interesting works from emerging artists: Romeo Gongora’s photographs of imprisoned men, Cynthia Girard’s fantastical paintings, Emanuel Licha’s photographs and installations on war tourism and Jon Knowles’s record collection for Robert Smithson being just a few.

There’s also some engaging interactive components to the exhibit. Karen Tam’s new work Tchang Tchou Karaoke Lounge invites viewers to sing along with various vids, while Women with Kitchen Appliances, a collective existing since 1999, will close the exhibit with a battle conducted using blenders and food processors. The program is also rounded out by screenings of video artworks province-wide on the Télé-Quebec television channel.

As for those who didn’t make it in, it must have been a tough call, as they’re a engaging bunch too. The artists you won’t see at the triennial range from BGL, Les Fermières Obsédées and ATSA to Radeq Brousil, Francois Simard and Mathieu Beauséjour. Whether there will be any fallout or controversy around these omissions (and others) remains to be seen.

Another challenge facing these kinds of surveys is the potential, on the one hand, for disastrous, motley behemoths, or, on the other (as seen at the Whitney this spring) for shows that are too tightly controlled. The title for this year’s triennial seems to head off these concerns, borrowing a modicum of wiggle room from the Greek philosopher’s saying “Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed.” If that kind of alchemical trust in art can transfer to viewers through these works, this will be a very accomplished triennial indeed. (185 rue Ste Catherine O, Montreal QC)

This article was first published online on May 22, 2008.

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