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“This is Montreal!”: Fantasies of La Belle Ville

Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Montreal Mar 14 to Apr 19 2008
Clockwise from top left: Image from “Montreal Greets the World” <i>National Geographic</i> May 1967;  Zbigniew Blazeje  <i>Audio-Kinetic Environment</i>  1966  Installation view  Courtesy artscanada;  Expo 67 site construction  /  photo Marilyn Manchen;  Image from <i>The Conquering Canadiens: Stanley Cup Champions</i>  1971  Courtesy Prentice-Hall;  Image from “Montreal Greets the World”;  Image from official souvenir book for Expo 67  Courtesy Benjamin News Company  Clockwise from top left: Image from “Montreal Greets the World” National Geographic May 1967; Zbigniew Blazeje Audio-Kinetic Environment  1966 Installation view Courtesy artscanada; Expo 67 site construction / photo Marilyn Manchen; Image from The Conquering Canadiens: Stanley Cup Champions 1971 Courtesy Prentice-Hall; Image from “Montreal Greets the World”; Image from official souvenir book for Expo 67 Courtesy Benjamin News Company

Clockwise from top left: Image from “Montreal Greets the World” <i>National Geographic</i> May 1967; Zbigniew Blazeje <i>Audio-Kinetic Environment</i>  1966 Installation view Courtesy artscanada; Expo 67 site construction / photo Marilyn Manchen; Image from <i>The Conquering Canadiens: Stanley Cup Champions</i> 1971 Courtesy Prentice-Hall; Image from “Montreal Greets the World”; Image from official souvenir book for Expo 67 Courtesy Benjamin News Company

Montreal might be best known right now as the epicentre of a primally themed indie-pop explosion overrun by vintage-clad wild things identified as everything from We are Wolves and the Besnard Lakes to Les Breastfeeders and Creature.

To post-punkers like these, the city’s visual legacy of Molinari modernism, heroic Habitants and brown-vinyl bineries likely means very little. But to Waterloo-based curator Andrew Hunter, these symbols of Montreal’s polyvisual past mean plenty—enough, in fact, that Hunter has curated a whole show, “This is Montreal!”, harking back to his own youthful, Ontario-bred fantasies of La Belle Ville.

Hunter creates his dreamy look à l’envers using objects drawn from the permanent collection of the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, including works by Marcel Barbeau, Yves Gaucher, Denis Juneau, Guido Molinari, Françoise Sullivan, Claude Tousignant and Nancy Herbert as well as photographs, furniture, films, magazines and tourist brochures. Souvenirs from that ultimate example of Franco-utopia, Expo 67, are also on view.

Overall, the show is positioned as “a flawed, yet dynamically bold and convincing articulation of an idea of a place seen and imagined by an outsider.” While this frank acknowledgment of the show’s (and Hunter’s) limitations is appreciated, it doesn’t quell the fact that an in situ group effort, as Montreal’s youth of today have demonstrated, is often more compelling than an imported solo act.

This article was first published online on March 27, 2008.

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