Canadian Art


Michael Merrill: Nights at the Museum

Galerie Roger Bellemare, Montreal Sep 4 to Oct 9 2010
Michael Merrill <I>Ducts 1</I> 2010 / photo Guy L'Heureux Michael Merrill Ducts 1 2010 / photo Guy L'Heureux

Michael Merrill <I>Ducts 1</I> 2010 / photo Guy L'Heureux

With the resurgence of painting in Montreal, and on the heels of the recent successful swell of “Extreme Painting,” it seems that galleries here are awash in paint this fall. One is often hard-pressed to distinguish between a refreshing vitality in painting and a current propensity towards highly polished, aesthetically calculated condo art.

Occasionally, magical pieces can be had for the viewing, with Galerie Roger Bellemare being a consistent bellwether of understated excellence. The same goes for his current exhibition of Michael Merrill’s work, “In-between Paintings.”

A participant in 2008’s Quebec Triennial at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Michael Merrill is known for small, tightly configured paintings that serve up contemporary art mitigated by its surroundings. A wide-angle installation view at a blockbuster MOMA exhibition or a lone Josef Albers sitting in the storage racks of a museum provide subject matter. Notions of appropriation are tweaked: a well-known work is seen not as a vaulting horse for intellectual gymnastics, but as an object embedded in a context more mundane than aesthetic, wryly asserting an earlier, more elemental way of constructing paintings—by observation.

Merrill, who has gleaned much of his imagery during his tenure as a gallery technician, has produced a series of medium-to-large ink-on-paper works that examine the structure of the museum itself. They are parallel studies between shows, a bridge to a future exhibition at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal in 2011.

In three successively numbered works—Ducts 1, 2 and 3—the storage-rack area of a museum is laid out as an integrated whole: paintings, racks, windows, ducts and other structural forms emerge from the puddling of layered washes. The pictorial structure breathes out of a delicate, overlapping web. The stacked and ducted guts of the museum, held in volatile tension with the loose play of medium, underlines the title of the exhibition.

The Scaffold series uses the construction site underneath the MBAM’s newly acquired Erskine and American United Church, which until recently was resting on temporary supports during a massive excavation underneath. The inks balance as precariously as Merrill’s subject; the overlapping washes intimate structure but also fight the emergent image. In Scaffold 1, the surface is unified by a precarious tension between the constructed image and a gentle buildup of ink washes. The one-off nature of the medium makes the works hover evocatively between idea and execution, construction and collapse.

This article was first published online on September 23, 2010.


  • Québec Triennial

    The new Québec Triennial occupies the entire Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal and reaches across differences in medium, language, age and gender to get at the strongest aesthetic currents in the province. And currently, as a province, we look rather like Duchamp on crack.

  • The Quebec Triennial: A Coming-Out Party for Concordia & UQAM

    The Globe and Mail’s Sarah Milroy wondered this year whether Montreal could be crowned the new art capital of Canada. Certainly its Quebec Triennial was one of the top shows of the year. Here, Canadian Art Online offers an indepth look at which UQAM and Concordia alumni and faculty made what for the breakthrough exhibition.

  • Michael Merrill

    Spiders spin webs and shake their booty with restless abandon in Michael Merrill’s paintings. For his spring exhibition, the gallerist Roger Bellemare chose recent works from the artist’s Paintings about Art series and assembled them in a breathtakingly spare hanging that is a powerful statement in itself.



[an error occurred while processing this directive]


  • Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller: Black Birds

    New York critic Joseph R. Wolin heads to the Park Avenue Armory where Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller are creating a buzz (and other sounds) at the US premiere of a dark, nightmarish installation originally created for the 2008 Biennale of Sydney.

  • Grange Prize 2012: Hot Shots

    One of Canada’s largest cash-value art prizes—$65,000 in total with $50,000 going to the winner, $5,000 to three runners-up—announced its finalists this week. Take in their wide-ranging works in this slideshow.

  • Wanda Koop: Into the Woods

    A visit to Wanda Koop’s cabin near Riding Mountain National Park in southern Manitoba proves intriguing for Vancouver critic Robin Laurence. There, Laurence writes, Koop bridges old Grey Owl myths with a new series of paintings on our increasingly digital culture.

  • Brad Tinmouth: Survival Strategies

    The basement of an art gallery may seem an unlikely place to create an emergency shelter. However, Xpace's lower gallery is an ideal setting for Brad Tinmouth's “If Times Get Tough or Even If They Don't,” which evokes a cold-war bunker.

  • Wim Delvoye: Blame it on Paris

    Silk-covered pigs, lattice-cut car tires and a tattooed man are just a few of the works that Belgian artist Wim Delvoye has shuttled into the old, Gothic wing of the Louvre this summer. Jill Glessing reviews, finding a terrific amalgam of high and low.

More Online

Report a problem